Time was, the idea of having a long-running show was that you’d be able to tweak the format to improve things. Not on the ABC: after last weeks shock discovery that everyone there seems to think that How Not to Behave was a show that reached perfection with episode one, we turned our attention to The Weekly. Surprise surprise: it’s (long-running) business as usual there as well. We know the ABC’s not supposed to be concerned with ratings (and yet…), but we had hoped that attempting to improve their on-air programming was still on their shopping list.
[here’s an interesting tidbit: according to those in the know, the admittedly tiny world of torrenting Australian television shows has given up on torrenting The Weekly. Either ex-pats and TV hoarders aren’t big Charlie Pickering fans, or they figure you can see all the worthwhile bits scattered across the internet captioned “THE WEEKLY NAILED IT AGAIN”]
Then again, considering the format was lifted wholesale from The Daily Show – and you’d have to think recent US comedian guests Bill Hader and Amy Schumer would have raised at least an eyebrow there – why mess with success? And so, aside from shifting around the segments of Kitty Flanagan and Tom Gleeson, there remains little to update when it comes to the basic structure of the show.
Likewise, the content remains filed firmly under “more of the same”. Sure, politicians’ entitlements have been in the news, and then shifting the focus of the segment to target fund-raisers was smart. But what we actually got from all this was a basic political primer – “what’s that? Political campaigns are all about advertising and advertising costs money?” – that didn’t really go anywhere funny. It’s painfully clear that topics and not jokes are the starting point here, which would be fine if the writers were good enough to make any topic funny. They’re not.
Also, forgive us for having no idea whatsoever how television comedy works, but last time we checked there were two main components to creating topical jokes: topical stuff and funny stuff. The previous paragraph pointed out this is a show that hasn’t been great on the funny stuff, and when there’s five minutes on “drugs in sport” it’s not doing so well on the topical side either. You can find an excuse to do drugs in sports jokes every single week. That means that whenever you do decide to do them, it looks like you’ve got nothing better to do.
And if you were taking bets on what big issue would be the centrepiece of The Weekly this week you’re out of luck, because “that lion that dentist shot” was so obviously going to be the frontrunner the bookies shut up shop five minutes after it happened. An internet furore, you say? A hot topic with a clear right side? An issue that has zero effect on how Australians go about their daily lives? Nailed it. We wouldn’t be surprised if The Weekly brought it back next week as a regular segment.
But The Weekly‘s general gutlessness is nothing new. Which is the real problem here: there’s nothing new about any of this. Here’s a scary thought – what if this is the new way that television works? With it becoming accepted wisdom that you’ll never pull a bigger audience than you do on opening night, where’s the incentive to actually work on a show week after week to make it better?
It increasingly seems as if we’re in the worse of all possible worlds, one where long-running comedy series are the norm but they never try to get any better. Why should they? The only people watching by week four are the people who thought weeks one to three were good enough. Improving things might just put them off – and if they leave, there’ll be nobody left watching.
You’d think Australian comedy would be used to that by now.