Vale Have You Been Paying Attention?

What can we say about Ten’s comedy stalwart Have You Been Paying Attention? that we haven’t already said during its long and stellar run? It’s the kind of comedy show that we happily tune into each week, but one of its big virtues is its consistency – which means that once you point out all the good things about it, there’s not a lot new left to say.

It must be slightly galling for the ABC, which has tried to get a show like this to work for the last decade or so, that Ten and Working Dog hit a bullseye first time out. Presumably their success came about because being on a commercial network means they had to come up with something that was entertaining – which sounds like one of our typical cheap shots but… okay, it is. But it’s not just that: whereas pretty much all the ABC’s endless run of failed quiz and panel shows (and you can probably add Hard Quiz to this bonfire) have stressed personality, HYBPA? stresses jokes.

The ABC’s efforts all took their time, giving the contestants time to tell personal stories and anecdotes; aside from the brief intros and the start of each episode, HYBPA? doesn’t care who’s making the news-related wisecracks. There’s been a tiny amount of character development – mostly involving Sam Pang (who, if HYBPA? was on the ABC, would have been given his own show where he wanders around abandoned football grounds or something by now) – but it’s a sidebar, not the main course. There’s been zero attempt to build up any contestants into “personalities”: you come on, give a bunch of snappy answers that may or may not have been provided to you by the crack Working Dog writing staff, and leave with nary a spin-off or Christmas hosting gig in sight.

It doesn’t hurt that HYBPA? is staffed almost entirely by radio personalities who already have personalities, and when comedians do appear they almost never do on a steady basis. It gives the show a feeling that the show itself is what’s important – it’s not a showcase for a bunch of people looking to move up or a way for the network to find talent to host some other lame idea. It exists to amuse the viewer, not as part of some management strategy to develop the brand or promote a stable of stars.

… and at this stage those of you that actually watch HYBPA? are spluttering into your soup because hang on a second, isn’t this the show that now regularly shoe-horns in two or three “guest quizmasters” each week to promote some dodgy Ten show, outside event, or just their own damn selves? And yes, good point: there’s little doubt that part of the reason the show has lasted so long – and it’ll be back next year – is because it provides Ten with a decent opportunity to cross-promote shows people like us would never watch on a show that people like us tune in for every week.

But Working Dog have been around this block a few times already, and most of the time with the guest quiz masters they manage to walk a fine line where the ones who are funny get to be funny and the ones who are jokes get to be made fun of. They’re rarely a highlight of the show, but host Tom Gleisner is extremely good at being funny without making fun of the stiffs he’s lumbered with, and their role on the show – read out some questions – means that when someone is no good they only slow things down rather than derail the show outright.

At it’s core, HYBPA? is a delivery method for jokes. There’s just enough proper quiz answers to make it feel like an actual quiz, with just enough banter between the contestants to make it clear it’s not a real quiz. It’s edited for pace so there’s no dead air – and that includes the kind of attention-seeking waffle from guests that other panel shows indulge – and it has a host that keeps things moving along while making it clear that he’s not the focus of the show. It’s a competent show made by professionals who are there to make a good show, not a good showcase for themselves. Once again, it’s been one of the comedy high points of the year.

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