The Resistable Rise of Hamish & Andy

Over the last few weeks word has been filtering back from the UK division of 21st Century Daryl Worldwide about the massive – well, noticeable at least – impact Hamish & Andy’s recent visit has had over there. Supposedly they made a surprisingly good impression on The Graham Norton Show (shown recently on the ABC… not that they bothered to publicise H&A’s appearance), making the usual guff reported back here about them sounding out UK work seem slightly more plausible than usual.

[That’s not to say the rumours that they’re headed overseas are on-the-money, of course. Every single time Rove McManus opened a magazine containing a picture of an aircraft the media started talking up the massive career that awaited him the second he decided to fly to the US, and yet now that Rove has finally decided to take a chance in the big leagues all he seems to be getting over there are tiny guest roles and doomed pilots.]

The real issue here is, if you were Hamish and / or Andy, why the Hell wouldn’t you be looking overseas for the next step up? They’ve dominated the radio ratings here for years, and continue to do so in such a convincing manner (yes, that is 20% of Melbourne radios tuned into H&A) that there’s no competition left – in fact, all their competitors are putting to air remarkably similar teams. Remember just a few years back when guy/guy radio teams would have a woman shoe-horned in to provide some balance / dead air? Triple J’s Jay & The Doctor gained Myf Warhurst, Nova’s Merrick & Rosso were teamed with a series of soapie actresses… bad luck ladies, looks like that door’s closed shut once again.

Not only have H&A put their stamp on Australian radio so firmly that it’ll take, oh… at least six months from the point of their departure for every station to revert back to a drive time schedule based on bloky DJs playing 45 minutes of non-stop cock rock every hour, they’ve also ruled the school with their television specials. Okay, it’s not like they’re pulling in those figures every week, but it’s fair to assume that if they did turn their hand to television – as many expect them to – they’d be a powerhouse it’d be hard to defeat. And yet…

Let’s step back in time a decade or so to a radio duo known as Martin / Molloy. The Hamish & Andy of their day (only slightly less good looking and slightly more interested in making actual comedy sketches), Mick Molloy and Tony Martin helmed a drive-time radio ratings juggernaut that dominated the airwaves nationwide. When they went off-air at the end of 1998 it was a): their own decision, and b): generally seen an opportunity to take their skills to the next level. After all, they’d totally dominated Australian radio for close to four years; what couldn’t they do next?

Put together a successful television show, for one thing. Actually, that’s not fair: 1999’s The Mick Molloy Show had a very sloppy start but pulled itself together quickly, though even that wasn’t enough to save it from a tabloid hate campaign of rarely seen vitriol. Still, both Rove McManus and Shaun Micallef – hardly slouches when it comes to the Australian television scene – had their (far better received) shows on Nine axed from under them at around the same time, so there’s a good chance Mick’s show would have got the chop no matter how smooth its run.

After that Tony Martin made a movie that didn’t do well at the box office (Bad Eggs) , Mick Molloy made a movie that did do well (Crackerjack) so he got to make another one that didn’t (Boytown), they both returned to radio (separately) where they either fizzled out (Mick) or got the chop (Tony), and these days they’re either making appearances on sports-themed panel shows (Mick) or directing other people’s television shows (Tony). Hardly career trainwrecks there, but they never quite managed to hit it as big elsewhere as they did on radio – which is the lesson you’d have to assume Hamish & Andy would be taking away from the whole thing.

Even if H&A did decide to make the move to television in Australia, what kind of show would they be allowed to do? Television’s once-seemingly endless battle between format and personalities has been firmly won in recent years by formats: you don’t make a show about a chef (Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares) anymore, you make a show about cooking (Master Chef). And on the commercial networks at least, comedy formats are as appetising as used food: remember The White Room, The Bounce and Australia Versus? Neither do we, and the last one’s still going… just.

Making the leap to television has always been tricky for radio personalities, but the gap between the two in this country has never been bigger. Radio is largely personality-driven, while unless you’re Bert Newton “television personality” is about as thriving a career as “professional dragonslayer”. It’s the shows that make the stars in Australia, not the other way around, and even massive media personalities are lucky to get to rub shoulders with music industry nobodies as judges on talent shows in 2010. In that kind of environment, scoping out overseas opportunities is the smart thing for Hamish & Andy to do.

For the rest of us… well, having the biggest comedy team in the country basically say “there’s nothing for us here” and pull up stumps would be a huge wake-up call to the fact that something is severely wrong with comedy in this country. If you can call getting belted in the face with a shovel a “wake-up call”. Then again, considering the “intelligence” Australian commercial television brings to making comedy, a belt in the face with a shovel would most likely make no difference whatsoever…

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