The Flim-Flam King of the Rim-Ram Room

Press releases are supposed to be full of over-oxygenated waffle designed to fan the flames of interest in a program that otherwise would barely rate a grunt as your average viewer clicked past it to repeats of Seinfeld.  And don’t we love Go!’s programming policy of all-Seinfeld, all the time. But occasionally, along comes a press release that sets a new bar for heights of wankery, and wouldn’t you know it, Andrew Denton’s involved yet again.

The show is called – wait for it, ‘cause it’s worth the wait – Hungry Beast.  The excuse for this crap title is that “The media is a hungry beast – it devours everything and is never satisfied.  Now, 19 newcomers to television [only not really, but more on that later] – recruited after a nationwide call for young talent [which seems to have served up a lot of familiar faces – but again, more later] are being given the opportunity by the ABC to feed the beast”.  And a nation says as one: “huh?”

Behind the funky new – or if you prefer, lame – title lies the same old story: yoof news.  But not your regular yoof news: according to Denton himself, it’s “an unusual hybrid of journalism, comedy and… something else”  though considering there’s going to be ten episodes of it in the regular ABC comedy timeslot of 9pm (starting September 30th), the smart money’s on a more manufactured, less funny (how? – ed) more desperately “cool” version of The Chaser’s War on Everything.

Hang on – where’d you get The Chaser from?  Why, the press kit filled in that blank for me: “A lot is being asked of this group.  They know that they will have to deal with being compared with The Chaser”.  By who exactly?  Denton yelling at them “you better be like The Chaser”?  And if you wanted to make a show like The Chaser, surely universities are teeming with ready-made packs of smart-arses – why manufacture a no-doubt chemistry-free group?  Oh wait, this is a producer-driven show, so it’s just like all those other successful producer-driven manufactured teams – you know, on commercial radio.

(by the by, it now looks like Safran’s 2009 show is either not getting the locked-in ratings boost of a Spicks & Specks lead-in, or isn’t out until 2010.  Which is a shame, as that sounded like it was going to do everything this show claims to do only with, you know, thought and laughs)

To help wise the team up to the challenges of being compared to The Chaser, Denton wheeled in “a wide range of guest speakers”, including John Safran (“can I have my timeslot back”), a couple members of The Chaser (“here’s a bunch of old scripts to study”), various journos and PR types, and, most terrifyingly of all, Richard Neville. Bad language alert, but what the fuckety fuck? Dusting off that old fossil to lecture a team of under-30s on anything should be a national disgrace.  Neville’s pathetic, single-minded obsession with his brief flicker of relevance in the late sixties has made him a ghastly joke to anyone under 45, so unless Denton let him croak out his dusty views on the primacy of the Baby Boomers as an example of the kind of stories to avoid like the sex plague this counts as a massive cock-up and total PR failure once word gets out.  So please, tell your friends.

Anyway, according to this press missive that’s all miss the Hungry Beast team “have been given one editorial instruction: ‘tell us something we don’t know’”  So I guess that rules out “we suck”.  Though to be fair to this press release, not only does it acknowledge that we’ve seen this kind of thing many times before as it name-checks everything from This Day Tonight and Beatbox to Race Around the World, Fly TV and The Chaser’s various projects, but also lets us in on a little secret: “our deeper hope is, regardless of the show’s success, many of the team will go on to contribute great ideas to Australian television for years to come”.  And no doubt keep on kicking back 25% of their earnings to Denton.  Not that anything like that is going on here, of course. He’s just nurturing their careers out of the goodness of his heart. Wait, that sounds even snarkier. THERE ARE NO KICKBACKS GOING ON. Denton is nothing at all like the dodgy resturant owner in Heat who employs then rips off that ex-con who was the President of the United States on 24 back when it was good.

So, let’s meet the team who, according to this release, not only have the vital skill of “bullshit detection”, but are “natural piss-takers” – because, as series producer Andy Nehl (who worked on both Beatbox and Blah Blah Blah, so you know he’s down with the kids… well, the kids in 1989) “We can’t wait to see how new people, raised in the Google, Twitter and cable universe, interpret the world”.  Gee, if you really wanted to see that, perhaps getting in a series producer who wasn’t old enough to be their father might have been a sign of good faith there.

Ooh, quick sidebar: it seems that to get on this show you had to complete an application form, and “to complete the application form in any meaningful way would take at least three days, thus weeding out the lazy, the half-hearted and the people who thought this was going to be a reality TV show.”  Considering that this show was looking for people in their twenties, this process would also serve to weed out anyone who actually had a full-time job (or a couple of part time ones) – unless they already worked in the media and could work on their application at their actual work.  But surely Mr “tell us something we don’t know” Denton and company wouldn’t just want the same old would-be media hacks for their new cutting edge look at the world through the eyes of Da Kids?

Of course he did. Out of the seven on-air presenters – five guys and two girls, so I guess anything approaching a gender balance was too cutting edge this time out – seven come from the media!  What a fluke! Here’s a quick rundown on the people you’ll come to know and love, then gradually get tried of and eventually dump for someone cooler and sexier:

Jessicah Mendes “recently returned to Australia after six years of inciting mischief and mayhem while searching for stories and journalistic meaning”; Dan Ilic is from Ronnie Johns (so yeah, comedy’s probably out of the question); Veronica Milsom: “Studied broadcasting last year and worked as a Producer / Announcer at Nova after her graduation”; Kieran Ricketts interned on Q&A and describes himself as “the bastard child of Tony Jones and Liz Hayes”, so no doubt he’ll be hysterical (PS: he’s the one who looks like Matt Tilley); Marc Fennell is the JJJ film reviewer and, according to this bio, a “wanker”; Chris Leben “studied acting and film” but dropped out to make videos of himself that he posts on-line; and RMIT graduate in Media and Design Kirk Docker “likes to communicate without bullshit” but clearly can’t judging by the solid stench of crap that wafts off his bio.  Did you know that his website ViveCoolCity “broadcasts three five min documentaries a week, covering topics they wanna see but the media won’t touch, then doing it in an uncensored, ballsy way”?  My eight cents a day is being spent on this?

There’s a few web content producers listed as well – don’t worry, they’re all media graduates too – and special bonus points must be given to Scott Mitchell, who honest-to-God looks exactly like a teenage version of Tim Ferguson in his promo shot. But why hate on them? They’re just cogs in a machine – a machine that seems to have woken up earlier this year and realised that The Chaser weren’t going to be making The Chaser’s War on Anything much longer and hip news satire wasn’t a niche they wanted to give up without a fight.

There’s about seventy obvious things wrong with this kind of thinking, up to and including the fact that any members of “the yoof” who want to watch the news aren’t really going to want to watch a dumbed down, hipster-injected version when the real deal is already readily available. Thinking that it was the news angle that made The Chaser work is the kind of thing you might think if you were Andrew Denton and produced The Chaser’s early shows, but when people think of ‘The Chaser’ these days they think of the high-rating pranky-prank show packed with pranks that probably involved politicians but it’s kinda hard to remember.  The costumes were funny though.

This kind of show is a big steaming plate of vegetables broadcast in digital hi-definition: it’s no damn fun but you’re supposed to choke it down because it’s good for you.  It’s the kind of show you can imagine being used as a teaching aid to try and get the kids to watch news, only the kids would rather watch The 7pm Project.  And even the press kit admits that part of the aim here is to train up a new generation of ABC talking heads.  So why is the ABC’s one dedicated slot for locally-made comedy being given over to what is basically a training exercise for future Arts presenters during the last ten weeks of the rating year? And why didn’t Denton dust off all that expensive David Tench technology rotting in his shed and just use that to create the presenting team? Oh wait, he doesn’t want us to talk about that…

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