It’s in the stars

TV networks don’t like talent. They’re in the business of making programs, not making stars. Which is hardly surprising: once you’ve seen Eddie McGuire become a household name, clearly that side of things is in the hands – or tentacles- of some kind of morality- and sanity-free Lovecraftian Elder God.

But so ingrained is the notion that shows make stars and not the other way around that… well, let’s take a step back for a second. Last week on ABC radio Green Guide writer Debi Enker suggested that Ten’s 7pm cooking show Master Chef was doing so well its high ratings were lifting the ratings of the shows around it.  The show that she used as an example was the Shaun Micallef hosted ratings smash – and there’s a phrase we all never thought we’d read – Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation.

That’s right: supposedly fans of a cooking demonstration wrapped in a soft-sell reality show are sticking around to watch Shaun Micallef do his Woody Allen impersonation. And yet, from a TV insider’s point of view, this obviously dim-witted statement makes perfect sense. That’s because from a format point of view – and for insiders format is king – TAYG is hardly the stuff ratings dreams are made of.

It’s yet another limp comedy quiz featuring a collection of mostly also-ran guests, with question segments that drag on too long and an angle – generational facts and fads – that covers all the viewing demographics without doing much to make it appealing to any of them. So if you’re of a mind that the format is what viewers are coming to see, then clearly TAYG’s success (and it’s bringing in around 1.7 million viewers each week) must be slipstreaming from an earlier, even more successful show where the format actually is the reason why people tune in. After all, if viewers only tune into shows for the format, why aren’t they also tuning in for SBS’s mostly-ignored sports-themed comedy quiz The Squiz?

Leaving aside why Enker’s Green Guide fails to bring this angle up when covering every single locally-made ABC comedy shown at 9pm Wednesdays – where the slipstream effect from equally successful comedy quiz Spicks & Specks should apply just as strongly – this view pretty much sums up why so much Australian comedy each and every year is nothing more than steaming clumps of dung dropping from the gassy rectum of a bloated milk cow.

Who cares if the latest sketch comedy show is nothing more than the same old hack faces scraped together to do exactly the same face-pulling that failed the last time? Who cares if the latest panel show features the usual kak-handed suspects drivelling away with the jokes they couldn’t get up on their breakfast radio gigs? It’s the format that counts, not the people plugged into it.

(By the by, this is also a large part of why sitcoms hardly ever get up on Australian television: even at their most generic, a sitcom usually doesn’t look a lot like another sitcom. Kath & Kim didn’t lead to a new dawn for the Aussie sitcom, and yet The Panel spawned a good half-dozen knock-offs and Spicks & Specks is still spitting out imitations to this day.)

It’s little wonder that TV insiders are starting to put out the notion that TAYG’s success has something to do with what’s going on around it; the only other possible explanation for its success (bearing in mind that as a comedy quiz goes it’s hardly surprising or new) is that Shaun Micallef is a funny guy. And if viewers are tuning in to watch a funny guy be funny… well, what’s left for the people who think up (read: rip off other) TV formats to do?

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