Despite our amazingly persistent reputation for “shitting on” just about everything, we’re not intentionally cruel people at Tumbleweeds HQ (also: we are people, plural – there really is more than one person writing this stuff, honest). When a show comes along like Hard Quiz, we know why the ABC has made it and we sympathise with their motives. Yes, the result is garbage and yes, this result could have easily been avoided. But at least they tried to make a good show, at least they-
Oh wait, they gave Tom Gleeson a quiz show. What the fuck?
The ABC is, as we all know, amazingly strapped for cash. They’re also the people who let Spicks & Specks die and replaced it with Randling. So while we understand their need for cheap programming that can run forever, their track record when it comes to creating and maintaining such shows is, we say again, garbage. Anyone remember How Not to Behave? And now we have Hard Quiz, a show even more misbegotten only it’s a quiz so hey, it’s back for a second season. Frankly, we’d prefer Randling.
(fun fact: we find even first rate quiz shows pretty boring. So 1): we’re going to focus here on the host-contestant interaction side of things and 2): quiz show fans should totally ignore every word we say)
We know absolutely nothing about what it’s like to work at the ABC – ok, that’s not strictly true: we know nothing remotely publishable about what it’s like to work at the ABC. But it seems safe to say that management there will often play favourites, and it also seems likely that some comedians would rather not deal with the ABC if they could help it. So there’s almost certainly a very limited pool of people who can get to host a show at the ABC. And in that pool, Tom Gleeson should be roughly seven kilometers away giving a talk to a room full of bored generic middle management types.
Pretty much anything we say these days is going to be read as hating on our subject so it’s really, really tempting to steer into the curve and just let fly. But that wouldn’t be fair: Tom Gleeson has had a solid twenty year career in comedy with regular television appearances on pretty much every network so he must be doing something right. Maybe we should ask Charlie Pickering, he seems to have a pretty good idea what it is.
Let’s just say that if we were looking for a someone to host a quiz show where pretty much the only thing going on that might possibly appeal to people not in love with fucking quiz shows is the host’s banter with the contestants, he would not be on the list. Or near the list. Or allowed to be spoken of by anyone within earshot of the list. In fact, Tom Gleisner wouldn’t be allowed on the list in case someone mis-read it, and Tom Gleinser is an actual good host.
While this just seems like more pointless bile from us, the important word here is “contestants”. If it was a HYBPA? style show with comedians answering questions, then sure, put him out front. In fact, that’s something we’d really, really like to see: Gleeson trying his smarty-pants act in a scenario where professional comedians can fight back hard. It’ll never happen, of course: on his Hard Chat segment things were designed so that he had the upper hand even when he was being insulted – having them bite back eventually became the whole point. Still, we can dream. And Gleeson can do smarm.
But with regular folk Gleeson can’t really do his usual act – at least, not at a level that generates actual humour. He can make a few cracks here and there, but after you’ve seen maybe half of one episode even that loses its edge. Oh no, he was mean about regional New South Wales! He pulled a face during an embarrassing anecdote! Hey, isn’t Tony Barber still looking for work?
Much as they can take a joke and Gleeson is good with a quip, the contestants are still regular folk who can’t compare snark-wise with a seasoned professional: while it’s “all in good fun”, anything remotely mean is going to feel really unpleasant. As we said before, Gleeson has been on television for close to twenty years, so he knows the score: the Gleeson on Hard Quiz is a much cuddlier, friendlier version of the snarky jerk he usually plays, and that’s totally the right move for this show.
Unfortunately, that means there’s absolutely no reason why he’s hosting this show. Whatever success Gleeson has today comes from his work on The Weekly, and all he does on The Weekly is act like a jerk. The unique selling point of Hard Quiz is that it’s a generic low-stakes nerdy quiz show hosted by a guy who’s going to be a jerk to the contestants, only he can’t really be a jerk to the contestants because the contestants aren’t arrogant smart-arse know-it-alls looking to be taken down a peg but regular folks who think they know a lot about a mildly obscure topic. This week one of them was an expert on Friends, for God’s sake.
So why is he hosting this show when the format doesn’t let him do the one thing he’s good at doing? Why isn’t the ABC worried that mis-casting him as a cuddly game show host is going to, as they say, “damage the brand” that he’s worked so hard on with The Weekly? Because no-one aside from us gives a shit: it’s a quiz show on the ABC.
It’s going to rate moderately well because ABC viewers love quiz shows, and while it’s not going to do better than that because it’s hosted by Tom Gleeson and not Wil Anderson or Adam Hills, no-one cares because everything else the ABC has tried has been a horrible disaster (see every other show mentioned here). It’s a show you put to air when you’ve given up and Gleeson is the host you hire because he’s already hanging around the office.