It’s unusual to hear a TV executive say anything like what we’ve been saying about Australian comedy for years, so we wanted to note this interview for TV Tonight with Foxtel’s Brian Walsh:
Last year Foxtel rolled a big gamble on its sketch comedy series Open Slather produced by Laura Waters and Rick McKenna.
Despite an impressive launch the show nosedived in the ratings with disappointing reviews. Over its 20 episodes the show never managed to find a sustained audience.
TV Tonight recently asked Foxtel Director of Brian Walsh what he felt was the show’s key problem?
“The writing,” he admitted.
“They had a lot of issues with the writers room and changes in personnel.
“On paper it was all there. You had all the big names, with Laura and Rick. We gave it our all. But in the end the audiences just weren’t there for it.”
“Audiences just weren’t there for it”? Oh, Brian. You were doing so well with all that reflecting on how the poor writing had been the problem, and now you turn it around and blame the audience? Why the hell should be audiences “there for it” if the writing’s bad?
The interview continues…
Open Slather was Foxtel’s biggest investment in local comedy in years. But it is in discussions on new projects.
“My take on it is that Drama in this country has evolved and developed because we keep investing in writing,” he continued.
“All of the networks have been heavily committed to Drama. But Comedy has been very hit and miss.
“It’s very hard to build an industry of Comedy writers if the commissions are few and far between.”
Hard to argue with Brian, there.* We’ve long argued that under-investment in TV comedy has made it harder and harder for new local programs to be any good. Writers, producers and production teams make good shows when they’ve tried and failed and learnt what works a few times, not when they’re chucked into a writer’s room after a six-month stand-up career.
But, it looks like that experience those up-and-comers need is just around the corner…
“But we uncovered some great comedic talent. We said to Princess and Rick McKenna, ‘Let’s not lost the talent we’ve invested in.’ So many of the cast of Open Slather are involved in the new pilots that we’ve been funding.”
In addition to new projects in development Foxtel has animated comedy Pacific Heat from Working Dog and Whose Line Is It Anyway Australia from Roving Enterprises both due this year.
“I’m confident we’ll continue our commitment to Australian Comedy and we’re exploring fresh ideas,” he added,
“Open Slather was a risk, as all Comedy is. We’ve just got to keep working at it.”
And as much as we’re skeptical that any of the above will actually be worth watching, we’re happy to hear that Foxtel is investing in new comedy. Even if a lot of the money seems to be going to established production companies (who in one case, are making a local version of a program which first aired on UK radio 28 years ago).
But, any new comedy that gives new or relatively inexperienced people opportunities is a good thing. As is a TV executive reflecting on where something’s gone wrong. It would just help if the audience didn’t get blamed in the process.
* Unless you want us to start blogging about where Australian TV drama’s going wrong.