Bloodbath at the House of Death 2: Another P.O.V.

Amongst the former Open Slather writers not to contact us about the recent writer’s cull was Doug MacLeod, who’s previously written for Full Frontal, Fast Forward and various other well known shows from the “glory days” of Australian TV comedy. However, MacLeod did write about his experiences of working on the show on his blog In The Front Room last Saturday night. Interestingly, a day or so later that post was taken down, although not before Google had cached it here. Now it’s back online in edited form.

Why, we wonder. Many of MacLeod’s tales of working on Open Slather are similar to those we’ve heard from other writers on the show: i.e. they wrote a bunch of sketches which they thought were pretty good but none of them made it to air, and yet they were still credited as writers – how annoying/weird! Other areas of concern in the blog are more specific and its these about which MacLeod seems to have had a re-think. Fair enough, he’s allowed to change his views, but we ran the text of both versions through Diff Checker anyway to try and work out why. Here’s a summary:

  • In the first version MacLeod is sometimes casually critical or off-hand about some of the key players on the production team (a comedy writer, being critical or off-hand about management – that never happens!), whereas he tones things down a little in the second version (not that he was savagely critical about any of them to start with!).
  • In the second version he’s removed much of a (seemingly) not-very-controversial and actually pretty interesting section about writing sketches for a Magda Szbanski character based on the British fashion journalist Suzy Menkes. His only real criticism in the first version was that Szbanski couldn’t hang around for long when they met up to write and that she seemed a bit off hand…maybe. He also thought he’d left the iron on at home and was worried about that, or something. Either way, he says some good material came out of it.
  • MacLeod is more positive about the work some of the younger cast members are doing on the show in his second version. He is quite critical of Ben Gerrard’s style guru character Johann in the first version, but less so in the second version. He also adds in a section praising George H. Xanthis in the second version. (Actually, his real gripe about Gerrard seems to be that Gerrard got in first with a fashionista parody, meaning the Suzy Menkes sketches couldn’t be used. Fair enough, that must have been quite annoying from MacLeod’s perspective.)
  • He puts more blame on the critics for the show’s falling ratings, and in particular blames Bruce Elder of the Sydney Morning Herald (we love it how the production team never blames itself for attracting bad reviews in the first place!). Having said that, we couldn’t find the review by Bruce Elder that MacLeod is referring to. This SMH one by Craig Mathieson isn’t exactly positive, and it’s quite recent, so we’re going to assume this is what he’s talking about. It’s certainly a big contrast to Fairfax’s earlier pieces about the show which were very positive in tone, such as this article by Amanda Dunn.

And that’s pretty much it. Even we’re wondering if all this is worth noting as it seems like fairly typical behind-the-scenes-of-TV-show-type gripes and anecdotes. But in the interests of fairness – or even just providing some first-hand evidence for the scuttlebutt we ran earlier this week – allow us to point you in MacLeod’s direction.

Although, we are still wondering what caused MacLeod to re-write his piece so significantly. Did someone put the hard word on him, or did he just have a re-think after mature reflection? And is any of this likely to effect the public’s perception of Open Slather now anyway? From what we can see, the public (and the critics) have seen more than enough to make a call. Getting them back watching the show now will be near impossible, especially as the one thing that could improve things – changing the sort of material on the show – clearly won’t happen. The people who wrote those endless Downton Abbey sketches seem to have kept their jobs while everyone else has been fired. So another typical day down the Australian comedy salt mines, then.

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