Three Minute Warning

Remember when Australian comedy used to appear on networks that weren’t the ABC? The Family Law? Here Come the Habibs? Weren’t they meant to be back on air by now? Eh, they’ll show up eventually: so long as we’ve got the ABC and their rock-solid commitment to Australian television comedy there’s nothing to worry about.

The thinking follows that these generations are growing up without broadcast television, distracted by social media, streaming and gaming, and consequently will be lost to television forever. So all news, drama, entertainment, music, everything has to be digital, ideally edited into chunks no longer than three minutes.

Privately, [ABC managing director Michelle] Guthrie has told television makers that broadcast television is dead, a notion that put producers back on their heels. Publicly, she presaged the ABC needing to “partner with third parties so our journalism and TV are available everywhere. The idea that the customer has to come and find you has been turned on its head”.

Certainly within the ABC, employees say, if you’re not on board the digital train, you have little future there. An ABC executive defends Guthrie, though, noting the managing director’s modus operandi is to be “provocative” by asking “really hard questions” of staff to up-end conventional thinking. “Her job is to make people alive to the challenges,” the executive said.

Oops.

But hey, if you’re not already ignoring a sense of impending doom you’re not paying attention in 2017, so let’s focus on the good news: a week or so ago the ABC put out a series of big announcements about their line-up for 2017. Probably the biggest news – so big it was covered as an actual news item on various pop culture sites which trust us, is not a regular occurrence when it comes to Australian television comedy – was that The Katering Show Kates have a new show:

Having conquered the cut throat world of satirical online cooking shows, The Kates (McLennan and McCartney) are ready to take their trademark sassy swipe at breakfast TV with Get Krack!n’.

With no sense of on-camera technique, the Kate’s will shuffle through a roster of unsafe demonstrations, surly guests, underprepared experts and the over-lit decomposition of the duo’s already rocky relationship. Like any televisual format that The Kates put their rough, manly hands to, things on Get Krack!n’ will go downhill fast. Frankly, whatever the hour, an audience deserves better.

But that wasn’t the only show the ABC announced… though it was pretty much the only show we hadn’t already known was coming for at least six months. Finally, almost a year after Shaun Micallef confirmed it in an interview, a second season of The Ex-PM is official!

After the surprising success of his autobiography, Ex-PM Andrew Dugdale (Shaun Micallef) answers his party’s call to stand for election in a marginal Murray Darling electorate. They tell him they want a ‘sure thing’ in the contest.
With his entire household in tow, all of them working on his campaign, Dugdale sets up house at the local sewage farm and begins engaging with the local community, particularly over a contentious plan to expand a national park that will wipe out the local Nandos.

Amongst Dugdale’s campaign team are his best friend and campaign director Henry (John Clarke), his speech writer Ellen (Lucy Honigman), his PR manager and daughter Carol (Kate Jenkinson), his right-hand man Sonny (Nicholas Bell), his steel-capped bus driver Curtis (Francis Greenslade) and of course his First Lady, Catherine (Nicki Wendt).

Although his team are desperate for him to avoid saying anything substantive in the campaign, will Dugdale be able to stay silent when he discovers the park expansion is being funded by an eccentric local billionaire and the race is a hotbed of corruption?

And if you thought Utopia was running out of ideas by its second season then the announcement of a third season won’t exactly fill you with confidence:

Tasked with overseeing and implementing our nation’s infrastructure needs, The Nation Building Authority team return with a third series of uncosted, inadequately planned and fundamentally flawed schemes – and passing them off as “Nation Building”. One white elephant at a time…

There’s also a bunch of shows listed under “short and snappy”, which universally look shit. Which is weird, because as far as the ABC’s concerned they’re all aboard the digital train and we all know what successful short-form digital comedy looks like. Yes, it also pretty much looks like shit, but it’s noisy dickheads shouting about politics or mocking hipsters or re-enforcing racial stereotypes: if you want to be successful with online comedy and that’s the kind of stuff that works, does this sound the way to go?

Almost Midnight is a coming-of-age romantic comedy, with each of the six episodes set a year apart against the backdrop of that glorious moment when boundless promise, personal reflection, and uninhibited drunkenness combine – the final five minutes of New Year’s Eve.

Or this?

Harry (Brendan Williams) is a friendly Uber driver. Too friendly. In fact, he’s convinced that every passenger will be his next best friend. Harry is also on the autism spectrum.

Or this?

What happened on the edge of the bush? Something so powerful it will bring the Watts Family calisthenics dynasty to its knees… Created, written by and starring award-winning comedian Anne Edmonds (Have You Been Paying Attention?), get ready for a comedy series like nothing you’ve seen before. Suspenseful and Scandi-noir-inflected, with Anne – in the tradition of Catherine Tate – playing four members of the Watts family: Karen, Dusty, young Rebecca and their very old dad / grandad John.

Wow, it’s almost as if the ABC’s vision of itself as a venue for alternative voices in the Australian media is colliding head-on with management’s push to come up with successful online content right in front of our very eyes. But at least they’ve hired someone who has been successful online:

John Luc’s The Chinaboy Show is the first ABC sketch comedy written from the perspective of a Vietnamese–Chinese Australian. Front and centre of this series is online sensation John Luc (AKA Mychonny), whose content has enjoyed more than 300 million views, easily making him one of Australia’s most loved YouTube stars.

There’s a book to be written on the way that last sentence somehow makes the leap from “content” to “most-loved” (and how does content enjoy anything, let alone views?). Colour us disinterested beige, especially as we’re still waiting for the first ABC sketch comedy written from the perspective of someone who’s funny.

But let’s end on a high note: there will be twelve episodes of the Tumblie-award-winning Mad as Hell in 2017!  There will also be twenty weeks of the increasingly erratic The Weekly.

Whoops, guess we ended on a brown note by mistake.

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