One of the rarely mentioned but screamingly obvious factors behind the success of most of the ABC’s local comedy ventures over the last few years is the timeslot. No-one wants to point it out because it’s kind of embarrassing, but it’s about as close to a fact as you can get in television: being on at 9pm after Spicks & Specks sure doesn’t hurt.
First, some facts: Spicks & Specks rates extremely well across the nation and it starts at 8.30, which, thanks to the way Australian television generally works in prime time, is a changeover point. Everyone has a new show starting at 8.30, so if you want to change channels that’s the time to do it. Sure, plenty of people channel-surf once a show gets boring or the ads are on, and most networks try to get sneaky by having their shows drag on until 8.35 or so in the hope that’ll put people off changing (if you’ve missed the start on the other channel, why bother changing at all?). But generally speaking, if you’re going to lose or gain viewers in bulk, 8.30pm is the time when it’ll happen. And it doesn’t happen Wednesdays on the ABC at 8.30pm, because people like Spicks & Specks.
9pm – when shows like The Chaser’s War on Everything, The Librarians and The Gruen Transfer are on – is a different matter. Everywhere else is showing hour-long dramas in that timeslot, so if you’ve come for Spicks & Specks, unless you want to jump into a show that’s half over you’re going to stay for whatever’s next. Shows on the ABC at 9pm on Wednesdays don’t have to do the hard work of gaining a viewing audience, they just have to prevent the one Spicks & Specks delivers them from wandering off to check out YouTube. So it’s fairly safe to assume that the ABC is going to continue to have a string of home-grown comedy rating hits at 9pm right up until the moment people get sick of watching Spicks & Specks.
This old news is still news because at the moment there’s a rare opportunity to watch what happens when people with no idea what they’re doing attempt to engineer the same scheduling scenario. Over on Seven on Thursday nights we currently have Double Take at 8.30pm, and the Ed Kavalee-hosted TV Burp at 9pm. As mentioned earlier, Double Take is yet another flavourless yet gristle- packed sketch comedy sausage from the Comedy Inc abattoir – the kind of show that’s completely forgettable yet… nope, it’s just forgettable.
In contrast, while TV Burp has its flaws and plenty of them – a lot of the gags are weak, the pace drags and Kavalee can’t quite sell some of the sillier jokes in the way that, say, Shaun Micallef could – there’s a passion for television that comes through every now and then which grounds the show in a way that the slicker Double Take lacks. Kavalee seems like an actual person interested in television and in poking fun at it, which sounds obvious until you stop and think about how few TV presenters show any real emotion about what they’re doing on camera. That alone instantly makes him far more likable than most comedy figures doing the rounds (does Hughsie ever show any interest in anything past collecting a check?), and it’s amazing how important likability can be in making a show work. TV Burp is super-light entertainment that should probably be on when Funniest Home Videos is over, but on Seven’s Thursday night comedy double it’s the show that shows real potential.
Unfortunately, it’s also the one on at 9pm, and no-one’s going to tune in for it at 9pm. Double Take will more than likely suffer the exact same fate as every other commercially produced sketch comedy show since the turn of the century, and it’ll take TV Burp down with it. Which would be a shame: considering the seemingly vast number of clearly-insane people who want Hey Hey it’s Saturday to come back, a show with such a similar, gags-n-clips-and-general-silliness vibe should find a niche somewhere. Just not on Seven Thursdays at 9pm.