No so much a backflip as a Somers-assault

With hindsight the upcoming return of Hey Hey it’s Saturday to our screens (link) was obvious, an excrement-laden juggernaught bearing down on an unwilling nation like a strident university student’s clumsy rape metaphor.  Some might like to console themselves with the knowledge that – as far as we know – there’s only going to be two one-hour specials (shown in the ratings deadzone of November no less), and that once our nation is reminded of just how dull Chooklotto, Red Faces, Molly’s Melodrama, Dickie Knee, et al actually are then hopefully this brief flirtation with recycled shite will pass.

(Then again, John Farnham keeps on keeping on despite having nothing new to give for the last two decades, and no doubt he’ll stop in for a chat with his old mate Daryl to give the ratings a boost.)

But we’d rather take a look at how this nightmare actually came about in the vain, desperate hope that by documenting the horror we might be able to avert a similar disaster next time. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we…

A): Daryl Somers. Usually when a show is axed, those involved go quietly.  Partly because the battle is over, partly to safeguard what little chance they might have of being re-invited to the ball.  Not Daryl.  Over the last few years of Hey Hey’s run, when the show was clearly struggling to attract viewers who could stay awake into the second hour, Daryl was constantly out there talking about what a shame it would be for Hey Hey to not reach 30 years on air. He fought long and hard to keep it alive when even the on-air staff clearly didn’t give a shit, and when the axe finally fell he wasn’t afraid to go on the record about how disappointed he was in pretty much everyone but himself.  The dirt had barely settled on the show’s grave when he started talking about a revival, slipping it into conversations about pretty much anything else, constantly talking about how good old fashioned variety needed to make a comeback to our screens – under his guiding hand, of course.  Frankly, he wouldn’t shut the fuck up about bringing Hey Hey back despite a general indifference from everyone he spoke to. Well, everyone apart from…

B): Channel Nine: In ratings terms, they’re been struggling for years now. Reviving an old favourite isn’t exactly a difficult move to make, and when the host is basically camped on your front door begging to be let in, giving a revival the green light is a lot easier than having to have an actual idea. Of course, the time has to be right…

C): The Current Televisual Climate: with Thank God You’re Here rating solidly even after four series, and Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation the second biggest hit (behind Master Chef) of 2009, clearly audiences are in the mood for a lot of lightweight piss-farting around in a semi-live format.  Bad news for Nine is, those shows are on other networks and their attempt to cash in with Wipeout Australia made no impact whatsoever.  But if bringing back Hey Hey is such an obvious move, what was the hold-up…

D): The Gavin Disney Sex Trial: as co-creator and producer of Hey Hey, (not to mention Somers’ manager) it would have been near-impossible to bring back Hey Hey in anything like its original form without his involvement.  And it would have been difficult to secure his involvement if he’d been locked up for raping a teenage male employee. Fortunately for Somers and for Nine, on July 9th Disney was found not guilty of all charges. Barely a fortnight later, the Hey Hey revival was officially on.  But still, did the public really want Hey Hey back…

E): The Herald Sun: barely a week after Disney’s acquittal Melbourne tabloid The Herald Sun suddenly seemed to find a Facebook group calling for the return of Hey Hey surprisingly newsworthy. The largest story on page three of the July 15th edition was headlined “Hey, hey –  we want Saturday back”.  And we quote:  “FANS of legendary TV variety show Hey Hey its Saturday have launched a campaign to pressure a commercial network to bring the program out of hibernation”.  By The Herald Sun’s own admission this Facebook page had been in existence for at least three months; why all the coverage now?  And written not by some junior journo but by Darren Devlyn, editor of the Herald-Sun’s TV liftout?

It hardly seems likely that a busy man such as himself would spend his days cruising Facebook looking for sites calling for the return of long-axed Australian variety shows.  So did someone bring it to his attention as a way to build public support for the show’s return?  Maybe even Somers himself, who is quoted in the article and certainly wanted to bring Hey Hey back?  Which raises yet another question: if this was basically a self-promotion exercise, why did this story get such a free kick in the Herald-Sun?  The only two people quoted are Somers himself and the Facebook page’s creator, both calling for the show’s return; couldn’t they find a TV insider or Nine spokesperson to provide another angle?  After all, this wasn’t a puff piece to fill a gap in the TV Guide – this was on page three of the nation’s biggest-selling tabloid and it reads like nothing more than a paid ad demanding the return of Hey Hey.  And let’s not forget to follow-up news items that ran, letting us know that the Facebook groups numbers were growing off the back of the Herald-Sun’s efforts: barely a week later the paper reported that the group’s membership was well over 20,000, and a few days after that… well, now we’ve got new Hey Hey to look forward to.

Like we said, in hindsight it’s all so clear.  And it’s not like Somers doesn’t have an extensive track record of playing the Melbourne media like a harp: if anyone out there can confirm or deny the rumours that Somers was the one pulling the strings (maybe directly, maybe he just had some media mates wanting to do him a solid) behind the media campaign that led to the axing of The Mick Molloy Show – a show broadcast in a Saturday night timeslot following Hey Hey during 1999 and clearly seen at the time as a possible replacement / threat to Somers – we’d love to hear from you…

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