Pilot Week’s final installment Bring Back… Saturday Night was in many ways the least surprising: Rove doing a live tonight show. Now there’s a fresh new format.
The show itself was… fine? Rove is Rove, which is to say he’s the best light entertainment host in the country so long as you don’t expect him to be funny. The show itself moved along at a decent pace, which we actually liked – it seems for some people out there “live TV” means “endless fucking waffle why not just bring back Daryl Somers while you’re at it”, but shouty and frenetic is no bad thing when you’re being filmed in a tiny shed – and while the various segments were a bit hit and miss, for a 70-minute show it generally held together well. Our advice would be more Judith Lucy, less Merrick Watts, no Tom Gleeson, but that’s a good motto in general.
The problem with live variety these days is… who’s it actually for? Especially when “variety” basically just means a talk show with a musical number thrown in. Variety television worked when television was most people’s only home entertainment option and so a show that lumped a bunch of things together could expect to pull a wide audience: these days people only watch shows that feature things they actually want to watch, and “variety” in and of itself is rarely one of those things.
That said, this is one of the few Pilot Week shows we could see actually working. Saturday night is a television dead zone, so if they could make it cheaply enough – and with Rove’s company already making The Project for Ten, there may be a way to spread the costs – the pressure would be off as far as dumping it for something more profitable (well, until Ten got some sporting rights back at least). And this kind of show has a bunch of side benefits for a network: it’s handy for cross-promotion, it gives overseas guests somewhere to appear (which advertisers always appreciate), and it gives the network a friendly face or two that helps for branding purposes. Plus it’s Rove: you give him a show like this and he’s not going to mess it up.
On the flip side, no-one cares about variety and no-one gives a fuck about Saturday nights. Tough call.
So what about Pilot Week as a whole? Well, as a publicity stunt from a cash-strapped network who got to throw on a bunch of shows that cost them basically nothing and let them pretend the audience was going to have a say in which ones went to series, it was fine. But if you were expecting anything more than that, you were shit out of luck.
Sure, maybe Network Ten really will pay attention to ratings and social media reactions when it comes time to deciding which one of these pilot to take to series*. But if you watched any of Pilot Week as it happened, you probably noticed a commercial or two promoting Ten’s upcoming Footballers Wives-esque drama series Playing For Keeps. Funny how that didn’t have to go through Pilot Week before getting picked up. Funny how it was only a collection of below-par garbage shows that Ten threw out there to fight for your love.
But if we were given the power to choose, which ones would go to series? Trial by Kyle was a prank played on the viewers; no. Skit Happens was the same sketch show we’ve been making in this country for a decade without success: no. Dave was Dave O’Neil’s vanity project, and while it showed promise Dave O’Neil is not currently a leading man; no. Disgrace was well titled: no.
After that things get marginally more interesting. Taboo was a decent show… for the ABC or SBS. On Ten? Bit iffy. Likewise, Drunk History would probably work well on Foxtel or Stan, but on Ten it felt a little slight – especially as it wouldn’t have the star power of the similar True Story with Hamish & Andy. If Ten picked up either it’d be a bit of a break from being the network that commissioned Cram!, that’s for sure.
We’ve made our case for Bring Back… Saturday Night above: that just leaves Kinne Tonight. We couldn’t say this was the best show of Pilot Week with a straight face, but it was probably the best all-round product: it was a better sketch show than Skit Happens, Kinne is a decent host and the “live” side of things was strong, and it wouldn’t take much to incorporate a “true story” segment into the show if they didn’t want to go all in on Drunk History. if it had just been funnier it would have been the clear winner: then again, if it had been funnier it wouldn’t have been part of Pilot Week.
Really though, none of these shows in their current form deserve another shot. Comedy on the commercial networks is still a tricky business to get right, and compared to previous years we’re living in a golden age, what with True Story, Have You Been Paying Attention and Russell Coight’s All Aussie Adventures doing well. The last thing we need is yet another crap unfunny comedy lurching onto our screens and stinking up the place so badly all anyone takes away from the mess is that Australian commercial television should leave the funny stuff well enough alone.
And if you disagree… well, Pilot Week may be over, but there’s still new episodes of Street Smart being shown each week.
*the answer, obviously, would be ‘none of them” as nothing in Pilot Week did better than 500,000 ratings-wise, which technically makes them all flops – especially as most did worse.