It’s fairly easy to overlook Rove’s stranglehold on Australia comedy at the moment. Even on Ten, Good News Week and Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation aren’t from the Roving Enterprise stable. But Nine has no Australian comedy to speak of, and Seven’s efforts are token at best (Kath & Kim every few years and Thank God You’re Here if it ever comes back, leaving the struggling Double Take and TV Burp their first original efforts in years): if you want Australian comedy on a commercial network then Ten is all you’ve got, and at the moment Rove is providing well over 50% of Ten’s product.
The upside of all this is that Rove seems at least partially aware that the best way to get the best out of the talent he employs is to let them do what they want. Even the individual segments on his talk show seem a lot closer to what the performers want to do than you might expect from a prime-time gab fest. Judith Lucy’s first segment as a regular was, well, pretty much exactly what you’d expect from Judith: jokes about her crap personal life, heavy drinking, and looking for a shag. Considering she’s the replacement for Dave (“I’m ongriiiiiiiii”) Hughes and will be appearing alongside the cheap celebrity gags of Peter Helliar and the offbeat whimsy and editing tricks of Ryan Shelton’s occasional segments, it’s hard to argue that Rove has a house style he asks his contributors to conform to.
The range of Roving Enterprise’s product is another argument for Rove as benign dictator: Before the Game is easily the best of the lightweight footy shows out there (admittedly not difficult when The [AFL] Footy Show is your competition), Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader is a solid lightweight family-friendly gameshow (which shows that Rove’s real skills lie not in comedy, but as a gameshow host), and The 7pm Project is, well… a work in progress. The upcoming Hamish & Andy specials will no doubt be the usual collection of Rove segments and footage from their US Caravan of Courage roadtrip, which might not be compelling viewing but counts as yet another example of the variety of product Rove gets to put his name on.
Not knowing much about the internal workings of Ten, it’s difficult to know if the network’s current focus on comedy would be as strong or as wide-ranging if not for Rove McManus. After all, there have been non-Rove comedy projects on Ten in the last few years – Mark Loves Sharon and Andrew Denton’s “David Tench” talkshow come to mind (in a ‘Nam-style flashback way)- and just because they for the most part stank doesn’t automatically mean that without Rove there wouldn’t have been others. But in this universe, Rove rules commercial comedy in a manner unlike anyone since Steve Vizard. Except without the exploitation vibe and overseeing of various high-end crap factories (Skithouse aside).
And yet… while Steve Vizard presided over the rise of Eric Bana, Shaun Micallef, and the first stirrings of what would turn out to be Kath & Kim, what has Rove given us? Peter Helliar and Dave Hughes. Hughsey at least has succeeded out from under Rove’s umbrella with his radio work and run on The Glasshouse: Helliar’s radio career has been a string of failures, all his TV work has been with Rove, and if his upcoming movie I Love You Too flops surely questions will finally be asked about just how funny Helliar is when he’s not glued to Rove’s hip. Everyone else in the Rove stable is either a tried and tested name (Mick Molloy, Judith Lucy), someone who’s made it on their own in another medium or TV show (Hamish & Andy, Charlie Pickering, Hughsey), someone whose association with Rove is their big shot (Carrie Bickmore) or Ryan Shelton, who’s easily the best thing on Rove but is mostly working on radio these days. For all his power and reach, Rove is yet to unearth a talent capable of stepping out from his shadow and doing worthwhile work.
Of course, getting any kind of comedy up and running without powerful friends is extremely difficult, and Rove should (and despite the general tone of this blog, is) be praised for helping people get their own personal comedy on air. But whether it’s a savage indictment on the quality of the current crop of Australian comedians, a sad reflection of just how difficult it is to get a show up without help, or a sign that Rove likes to surround himself with funny people who aren’t too funny, the fact remains: no matter how many shows he might have up and running, no matter how many mates he gets to help out, the way things currently stand… he’s no Steve Vizard.