Vale Tonightly with Tom Ballard series 1

After almost six months, we’re going to declare Tonightly with Tom Ballard a success. Not in terms of ratings

Tonightly, which aired four days a week on ABC 2, pulled low ratings during its debut run. An average episode got less than 50,000 people watching, which meant it didn’t make it into the top 20 shows on any given day.

Not one to let any opportunity for a joke to slide, however, Ballard poked fun at the show’s ratings on air.

“I don’t know why I’m talking… nobody’s watching,” he joked at one point.

…but definitely in terms of comedy.

Tonightly with Tom Ballard

We watch/listen to various satire programs from around the English-speaking world and Tonightly is up there with the best when it comes to laugh rate – something all the more astonishing when you remember that it’s on-air four times a week.

If you’d told us a year ago, or even six months ago, that we’d be saying this, we’d have laughed in your face. For one thing, Australia has almost no heritage of doing this kind of thing successfully. For another, up until Tonightly aired, we’d not been great fans of Tom Ballard.

So, why has this show worked? Basically, it’s about attitude. Tonightly is a show that first and foremost wants to be as funny as it possibly can. It’s the kind of show where you suspect the team are putting in overtime to make the show as good as it can be, rather than working the hours they’re paid for and then downing tools.

It’s also a show that isn’t full of itself. It’s punching up; partly because it wants to, because it’s angry about the terrible things that politicians, big business, etc. are doing, and partly because it’s got a budget of about five cents.

And if you’re in any doubt, this is the sort of attitude a satire program should hold, and the sort of position it should be in. If a satire program isn’t speaking truth to power – and sometimes that means calling a member of the Australian Conservatives a c*nt – it’s not doing its job. And if it’s so drowning in budget and obsessed with slickness (rather than good writing) that it builds itself a shiny set and commissions expensive new graphics that tell you what topics the host will be talking about in his opening monologue (to the extent that you can guess the jokes before he does them – oh hai The Weekly with Charlie Pickering) then it’s got its priorities wrong.

Tonightly is a show that wants and has to make you laugh any way it can – archive footage, YouTube clips, lighting effects, sound effects, on-screen graphics, props, cheap costumes, running gags…and it worked. Tom Ballard did that “I’m just going to have a nice glass of refreshing water” gag at least six times, and it was still funny. Ditto, showing that mattress dominoes footage during the Commonwealth Games, footage so perfectly bizarre that here it is for you to enjoy in full:

Of course, it’s not all been good. The sketches have been a weak point of the show and few have been really, truly funny. We hope this is something the team can improve in series 2.

Perhaps that’s one of the things Dan Ilic intends to do when he becomes showrunner?

Or maybe his plan is to make more of the show’s sketches and segments NAIL IT to the extent that they go viral?* Whatever. As long as Tonightly still approaches the issues of the day with the right attitude, we’re onboard.


* Despite its low ratings, a surprising number of Tonightly sketches have been circulating online and turning up in all sorts of places, so kudos.

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