So farewell then TV Burp, the bought-in British format that could have worked. Some have argued that TV Burp wasn’t good enough to care about but, while it wasn’t the funniest thing ever, it was getting better. It certainly got more praise than its partner show Double Take (admittedly, not difficult), hence Seven swapping the two programmes to see if Double Take was dragging TV Burp down. But in the end it wasn’t getting good fast enough for Seven’s liking, hence the quiet axing of the show this week.
As for Double Take‘s survival, it’s only still on air because it’s already in the can. If it were made in the week of broadcast as TV Burp was, it and its 5000 crap parodies of The Biggest Loser would be history.
But as someone who’s watched the evolution of the original TV Burp, hosted by British comedian Harry Hill and aired on ITV-1, I think Seven’s pulled-out too soon, and made a number of mistakes with the programme.
The pilot of Harry Hill’s TV Burp aired on ITV-1 in late 2001. Three series of the show followed over the next three years, airing in late evening week-night slots. The show was criticised for being too family-friendly, so ITV-1 repeated series three in an early evening Sunday slot. From series 4 onwards the show aired in an early-evening Saturday slot, gaining increasing popularity and being the lead-in to populist Saturday night family favourites such as The X Factor and Dancing On Ice. In the past few years the show has won three BAFTA’s, and Series 9 is scheduled to start next month.
Given TV Burp‘s UK broadcast history, Seven’s decision to air the show in adult timeslots was a major mistake. Like The Goodies, TV Burp is the kind of family-friendly comedy show which appeals to both children and adults. People tuning in to see comedy at 9.30pm don’t generally expect silly shows with sing-a-long endings.
The fact that Seven chose Ed Kavalee to host is probably a factor too; while he’s funnier than Hughesy on Hughesy & Kate, he’s not really a writer/performer. In contrast the UK original was created by host Harry Hill and is very much in his style. While many TV formats can be bought and re-made in any country, comedies tend to be more personal affairs. Seven should have chosen a comedian to host, who could then adapt the show to suit their style. Shaun Micallef or Tony Martin would have been ideal, and would certainly have understood why the Harry Hill original worked. But Micallef was busy with Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation, and Tony Martin…well, he seems to be invisible to most comedy producers.
But in Seven’s defence, something like TV Burp is perhaps a hard sell to an Australian public who largely haven’t been exposed to the less mainstream end of British comedy for a decade or so. If more Australians had seen The Day Today, Brass Eye, Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge, Fist of Fun, The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer, The Mary Whitehouse Experience and Harry Hill’s Fruit Fancies, then maybe the leaps of logic and surreal aspects of TV Burp wouldn’t have looked so weird. Maybe Micallef Tonight wouldn’t have looked so weird.
Tony Martin may have driven Ed Kavalee mad on Get This by endlessly slagging off the ABC for not showing I’m Alan Partridge, but the now sacked Kavalee probably now realises how right his former colleague was to be angry. Any Australian working in comedy and trying to do anything a bit British these days has a problem; more and more people just aren’t familiar with that kind of humour. Which probably explains why promotional puffs for Ed Kavalee’s TV Burp compared the show to US comedy The Soup rather than, er, Harry Hill’s TV Burp.
Another problem for Australian comedies on commercial networks is that they have less and less time to get it right. Sometimes, as with the 2005 two episode shocker Let Loose Live, this is justified. But TV Burp was as improving show which needed a bit more time, a different time slot and probably a different host. Seven got it wrong.