Will Channel Ten Turn To Comedy To Restore Their Flagging Fortunes?

Well, probably not. But first, the flagging fortunes:

The host of Ten’s evening panel show The Project, Charlie Pickering, is stepping down and will finish up next month.

“The Project has been an incredible ride,” the 36-year-old said in a statement.

“As a stand-up comedian I have never planned to do one thing for five years, let alone five days a week. At the end of last year it was clear to me that I needed to find new challenges.

“Our show has been able to provide a voice to many in our community who go unnoticed. And of that I am immensely proud,” Pickering said.

Ten has confirmed that Pickering will not be replaced, and only Carrie Bickmore and comedian Peter Helliar will carry the show forward.

… for the next few months until the show is quietly put down, we’re guessing. But we’ve been wrong before.

As you’d expect from Michael Idato, there’s a bit more than the usual bitchiness going on in that article – seriously, what’s up with this bit:

When it began, in July, 2009, The 7pm Project was a patchwork of entertainment news, comedy and, inexplicably, a commercial star vehicle for the MTV presenter Ruby Rose.

Remember original panellist James Mathison? What, no hate for him despite his rapid demotion from on-air panellist to “entertainment reporter”? What is it with Sydney people hating Ruby Rose? News flash Sydney-based national media: the rest of Australia couldn’t give a shit.

Anyway, Idato is on the money with this:

His loss, coming so quickly after Hughes, will be deeply felt by the show.

Aahh, that’s right. Hughsie bailed on Ten at the end of last year in what felt like pretty much exactly what he said it was: a man taking a break because he was burnt out and wanted to focus on live performance. But with Pickering – not exactly a man known for his live work, despite regular cash-in appearances at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival – also heading for the door (presumably with a hearty cry of “without Hughsie this show is fucked”), perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at Ten’s wider situation.

Short version: they’re screwed.

Puberty Blues was one of Ten’s most anticipated series returns in 2014 but it has failed to live up to expectations.

It is one of a string of failures for Ten with So You Think You Can Dance, Secrets & Lies and The Biggest Loser: Challenge all battling to crack 400,000 viewers.

And suddenly what in better circumstances might have just been a natural turnover of staff burnt out after close to five years of nightly television suddenly looks more like people getting the hell away from an overstuffed crapsack that just fell off the back of the sewage truck. At the moment Ten has the stink of failure about it and pretty much everything they try is vanishing with nary a trace.

Sound familiar? Okay, probably not, considering we’re talking about 25-odd years ago. By the late 80s the never-all-that-successful Network Ten was struggling in the ratings pretty much across the board. In desperation, they turned to Ian McFadyen’s Media Arts company to create a one hour weekly comedy show – well, actually the desperation came when they put the end result (The Comedy Company, natch) on up against Nine’s ratings juggernaut 60 Minutes. Then in a shock twist it promptly hammered the much-vaunted news program in the ratings, swiftly pulling in a massive audience and becoming one of the foundations of the television comedy boom that ran well into the 90s.

So… could Ten try something like that again? Probably not: back in the 80s there was a thriving live comedy scene that television could plunder at will. These days if you’re even halfway competent you’re being snapped up to quickly burn out on panel shows or you’re heading overseas where funny people can actually find work being funny. The Comedy Company worked in part because it was a bunch of new faces (for television) who were really good (thanks to years of working off-screen); that’s not a combo that’s readily available now.

Considering we were outlining the reasons why we don’t think scripted comedy is coming back to the commercial networks any time soon barely a week ago, we’re hardly going to be saying “Ten totes needs to get a comedy show on the air, stat”. Which is a shame, because at this stage they could easily do worse.

Of course, knowing our luck if they did try a comedy it’d just be a beefed up version of the usual panel show crap – or worse, they’d re-resuscitate Good News Week. A decent comedy effort could revive their fortunes, we’re in no doubt of that. We just don’t think they have the guts – or the vision, or the ability to see beyond the usual suspects – to go all in and put on-air something funny and topical and engaged with society that people could get excited about.

You know, the exact opposite of The Project.

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12 Comments

  • Andrew says:

    I like The Project but I think it’s a good time for CP to move on. I find him a bit heavy on the editorialising in recent times. I mean a bit of a throwaway comment here and there is fine but I find sometimes he’s just been a bit pushy in that regard.

    Channel 10 would not want to get rid of the show though. It’s ratings are average but Ten’s brand is so tarnished these days they’d be thrilled with its performance. And it fills five hours of airtime a week. I suppose the alternative is well worn reruns of The Simpsons. No thanks.

    Whatever happened to Ruby Rose, anyway?

  • Billy C says:

    I pretty much agree with you but I think – “not exactly a man known for his live work”- is a bit harsh. Yes not perhaps publicly known like Hughes or Anderson as a stand-up, but the guy is a Perrier Newcomer and Barry nominee and a former Piece of Wood Winner. He has done years and years of live work.
    Sure not so much in the last few years but it’s pretty hard to do shows when you’re on air live every week of the night.

    But yes 10 is screwed. Maybe they should try some cheap new things on their digital channels or just front the cash and get Hamish and Andy back. They are in such trouble that it’s hard to know what they should do as nothing has worked. Maybe Offspring will help but who knows.

  • EvilCommieDictator says:

    Holy crap, 10 will now have to find TWO vacuous gits in suits powered entirely by smug for The Project. How many Gruen people need more work?

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Maybe they can poach the MAH crew by giving them the bigger budget, 5 days a week and year long run Micallef wants.

  • Rutegar says:

    Could CHANNEL 10 be suffering from the dirty stinking taint of Rinehart money ?

    http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/03/dirty-money-from-rockefeller-to-koch/284244/

    We are living, we are frequently told, in a new Gilded Age. There is yet another hallmark of the Gilded Age, a product of these others, that also marks our own: the development of a robust public debate about the relationship between the giver, his gift, and the public’s responsibility in policing it.

    Debates about “tainted money” were by no means a modern phenomenon. The Old Testament, for instance, warns against the acceptance of offerings from unclean hands—“Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore…into the house of the Lord thy God for any vow” (Deu. 23:18).

    In the more recent past, during the antebellum period, American denominations had argued over whether to accept financial contributions from slaveholding congregants.

    The protest also sparked an increasingly sophisticated discussion of the power wielded by benefactors. Some had focused on whether Rockefeller’s gift came with explicit strings attached. But others pointed out that philanthropy could exert a more subtle pull. Not only would a code of “gentlemanly ethics” prohibit recipients from biting the hand that fed them, but the promise of prospective gifts would exert its own silencing effect, leading institutions away from taking positions that might alienate future benefactors.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    No doubt Pickering has been acclaimed for his stand up, but unlike Anderson or Hughsie it’s extremely implausible that he could quit a high-profile TV gig and make up for the lost income through stand-up, at least in the short to medium term.

    The handful of actually financially successful stand-ups in this country have worked long and hard to build their fanbase, and whatever Pickering’s abilities he’s not there yet. He may want to work on his stand-up, but that’s probably not going to pay his bill unless he’s been saving his Project money.

  • Billy C says:

    I think you greatly underestimate how much money can be made as a stand-up with a decent profile and overestimate tv money. Pickering was packing out a 140 seat venue 6 nights a week in Melbourne for a month a few years ago. He and Waleed Aly were selling out a 600 seat venue once a week last year. I don’t know what kind of money you get on the project, probably not as much as people think. Stand-Up has very few costs compared to most live entertainment. It’s a mic and a theatre. During festivals it’s often just a room. No he wouldn’t be anywhere near Anderson or Hughes but I don’t think he’ll be struggling to pay his bills. He was selling decent size venues before he was on the project. He’ll do okay.
    I’ve seen a couple of his shows year ago. They were okay. He kept the laughs rolling and I enjoyed them. I could never really stand him on the project though. But I couldn’t stand any of them.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Seriously? You think presenting a prime time television show on a commercial network five nights a week is roughly equivalent to “packing out” a 140 seat venue six nights a week?

    Pickering may not have been making a million dollars a year, but if Ten could pay Paul Henry that much to be on their (failed) breakfast show Pickering would be making six figures, and probably not with a “1” at the front.

  • BIlly C says:

    Not not roughly equivalent of course not. But I don’t think he’d have to go get a job down mine.

  • Rutegar says:

    PS : Don’t you just LURRVE that this whole Sydney Biennale kerfuffle has erupted in the same week as the movie THE MONUMENTS MEN is released and the Australian National Gallery refuses to return some stolen art.

    Now that is the kind of juicy irony Jon Stewart would feast upon !!!

  • UnSubject says:

    Channel 10 won’t take on a sketch show comedy or satire show because (as mentioned above) look who controls it. The current board isn’t going to like the idea of one of their shows constantly skewering the Coalition Government and / or the wealthy Australians connected to Channel 10. At best they might commission a bland new sitcom (although why bother, when you can buy those in from overseas) or another panel game show.

    “Have You Been Paying Attention” may be the exception to that rule, but mainly because such shows are pretty unmemorable on an episode by episode basis – someone makes a gag, then moves on to the next joke. A sketch show would arguably try to include recurring characters, which can be much more devastating to the public people they target.

  • Rutegar says:

    Try watching a TV show on Channel Ten’s website and you’ll quickly see why the network is tanking.

    I swear every three minutes they run ads — even chopping scenes in half.

    Astonishing !