It’s All Fun & Games Until Someone Gets Hurt

Press release time!

ABC APOLOGISES FOR THE CHASER’S MEDIA CIRCUS

ABC TV has today issued a pre-emptive apology for the whole series of the Chaser team’s new show, The Chaser’s Media Circus, which starts on ABC on Wednesday 15 October at 8.30pm and continues for 8 weeks.

“Looking forward a few weeks, we’ll definitely have to admit that in retrospect it could have been prevented,” said the ABC in a media release with an intentionally misleading headline.

“This is a group that not only does evil, it revels in evil,” said Prime Minister Tony Abbott in comments which appear to have been taken out of context.

The Chaser’s Media Circus is a new format by the team’s production company Giant Dwarf, makers of The Hamster Wheel, The Checkout, and election specials Yes We Canberra and The Hamster Decides.  

“The Media Circus format is kind of like The Hamster Wheel… of Fortune,” said host Craig Reucassel. “It combines the Chaser team’s take on the week’s news and current affairs with the satirical comedy and media analysis of The Hamster Wheel and chucks it all together in the form of games. For the Chaser team, news really is a game now.”

“We’re hoping it will be a new low in the decline of news into entertainment,” said executive producer Julian Morrow. “We can’t destroy news, but degrading seems achievable.”

Filmed in front of a live studio audience each week shortly before broadcast, The Chaser’s Media Circus sees a mix of journalists, comedians and members of the program’s team (including writer/performers from The Checkout Ben Jenkins, Zoë Norton Lodge and Scott Abbot) dissect the week’s news and media through games like:

 

●        Out of Order: Where teams have to organise news stories in the order they appeared in a TV news bulletin. Which is deemed most important – Syria’s civil war, the AFL results, or a neighbourly dispute over a garage roller door?

●        Press Pack: Where a team member plays the part of a public figure at a press conference defending an embarrassing gaffe. Or whatever Jacqui Lambie said that particular week.

●        Evil Mastermind: A fun game for the whole family where you have to decide whether a quote about “evil” is by Tony Abbott or a cartoon super-villain.

Each episode of Media Circus will also feature Chas Licciardello in the role of a one-man media brains trust, a sort of cross between Dickie Knee and Rain Man.

“It’s a shame that all the ABC’s good work for Mental Health Week (5-12 October) will be immediately cancelled out by the return of the Chaser team,” said ABC Director of Television Richard Finlayson.

The Chaser’s Media Circus is a Giant Dwarf production for ABC TV. The Executive Producers are Julian Morrow and Martin Robertson. ABC Executive Producer Sophia Zachariou.

Nice to see the ABC press department is still running with that whole “pre-emptive apology” gag when it comes to announcing The Chaser’s new projects. Also, it’s going to be more of a game show? Yeah, we’re not exactly loving that news, but we’ll hold fire there until we’ve actually seen how it turns out.

So what have we learnt from all this? Well, it seems like the long-held dream of The Chaser (core membership) to step into the background a little and pass on the performing duties to a new generation (AKA the guys from The Checkout) seems to be finally taking place. Making this series slightly more important than usual for The Chaser: if there’s any serious drop in ratings or interest, it could be taken as a sign that viewers only want “original brand” Chaser. What that would mean for the future of the team – would they break up, give up, or stick to doing their on-air work themselves – would remain to be seen.

Working Dog is usually the model for this kind of transition, but those guys hit the ground running with new cast members with Frontline (which was also a clear break from The Late Show) – this is more like the rumoured plans to keep The Late Show going with new cast members, only that never happened because most of the original cast bailed and wanted to let the format die. For a comparison with something that actually happened, this seems like the rolling casts that the various Fast ForwardFull Frontal series had throughout the 90s, and the quality there was a lot more variable – once the quality performers left, the audience fell off too.

The reason why Australian television comedy is all about the writer-performers is largely down to money. The whole Saturday Night Live model of a big team of writers plus a big team of performers has never really happened at the ABC (seriously, we’re struggling here – maybe stuff like The Sideshow?), so it’ll be interesting to see if The Chaser (which is a pretty big comedy team even with all but one member also appearing on-air) manage to pull back to behind-the-scenes stuff. Andrew Denton managed it for a while, but apart from him Australian comedy has largely been a performers’ game – if you’re not willing to stick it out in front of the camera, it’s time to find a new line of work.

Speaking personally, we’re not all that worried. The Hamster Wheel has been the most consistent (and impressive) work from The Chaser to date, so if the writing team remains the same (yes, we know that’s a biggish “if” based on that press release), we’re confident the on-air material will also remain decent. And it’s not like The Chaser have ever been universally strong on the performance side of things; it’ll be interesting to see if different performers put a different spin on their work.

As for that whole “it was going to be ten episodes but due to ‘scheduling’ it’s been cut back to eight” deal, let the rampant speculation begin…

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4 Comments

  • simbo says:

    Well, in the case of Fast Forward to Full Frontal, it didn’t immediately drop off. Just checking my research, Micallef didn’t even show up until the third series in 1995. It’s true that there’s really only two performers who created anything that was particularly memorable, Micallef and Eric Bana, and the two years at channel 10 are as forgettable as anything in the five years of Comedy Inc – but certainly, a rolling format does create a space for talented people to excel (or untalented people to disappear).

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Well no, but – without actually taking the DVDs down off the shelf to check – it feels like the first series of Full Frontal had a bunch of performers who’d already made names elsewhere (Greg Fleet for one), and then Bana stepped up in s2 and s3, Micallef hit his stride in s3, and then when they moved on… nothing.

    More importantly, those guys were able to do their own thing, which seems a little less likely for newcomers on a Chaser project.

  • simbo says:

    Fleet left midway through series 1 and, again, it’s not a show that used him particularly well (why he left, I don’t know, but given his personal history it’s probably not hard to get). The Matt’s Parkinson and Quartermaine were also in season 1, and, again, if you were asked what their best work was, I don’t think anybody would be thinking of their Full Frontal work. So yeah, there were quality ring-ins (and this continued through to the Channel 10 years, nobody’s saying Julia Zemiro isn’t a talented woman) but none of them really excelled in the format. The only names that stick out in the later years of the cast are Julia Morris and Gaby Milgate, neither of whom did a lot of work that can be described as “good” so much as “annoyingly omnipresent”.

    It is always possible lightning could be caught in a bottle. I’m pretty sure Full Frontal is where Micallef met Garry McAffrie, for example. All it needs is for a writer and a cast member to creatively fire off one another. The chaser writing team is pretty large ande it really just needs the one pairing to make it interesting.

  • Faz says:

    Micallef and McCaffrie met at uni in Adelaide, not on the Full Frontal show. I think I remember reading that it might even have been McCaffrie who got Micallef the job on the FF writing team.

    As for this new Chaser show, it sounds like more of the same, only in a slightly crapper game show format. Micallef proved with TBYG that it is possible to make a game show funny, but we all know The Chaser boys aren’t in that league. My prediction is that it’ll be more akin to the time that Roy & HG squeezed out that awful turd Win Roy & HG’s Money? Remember that show? No, didn’t think so.

    I noticed Chris Taylor isn’t in the Media Circus photo, which suggests he’s either the second person after Charles Firth to get fed up and leave, or maybe he’s busy filming more of that Plonk web series he does. Taylor’s often cited as the main writer in the group, so his departure might explain why they’ve moved to a less scripted game show format for Media Circus. Of the newcomers, Zoe Norton Lodge looks like the one to watch.