Yesterday TV Tonight published an exclusive interview with Ben Elton, in which Elton defended the first episode of Live From Planet Earth:
Apparently the principal criticism is that it was too smutty, and to be honest I actually put my hand up to that. I do think we got the mix wrong.
Sadly, Elton had nothing to say about the quality of the material, which was the show’s real downfall – plenty of people will laugh at smutty material if it’s funny, it’s unfunny smutty material that gets their backs up – but if there’s a man used to defending his patch it’s Ben Elton, so that wasn’t much of a surprise.
Perhaps of more interest was this section of the interview:
If the show is given time to find an audience Elton says it could uncover new talent that will benefit all of the industry.
“If I find some good new people they’ll be on TEN and Seven next year, so that will be good for everybody. But apparently TEN and Seven program against Nine and Nine programs against Seven and TEN trying to kill new stuff. I think that’s incredible. This is such a small industry, so the idea that it’s not a good thing for anyone to have a success…they’ll be on the other channels next year and it will promote local writing and local acting. Otherwise it will just mean they get more American stuff,” he says.
And while the whole “we’re promoting local talent” thing is pretty much the standard defence for any lacklustre local comedy, there’s a grain of truth here: commercial radio and television networks in Australia almost never provide opportunities for new comic talent. Even providing opportunities for established comic talent is something networks haven’t been terribly good at over the years. If you’re wondering why Australian comedy’s default level of quality is “average”, lack of opportunities to gain experience or try out new ideas is a big part of it. Still, at least there’s the ABC.
Say what you will about the ABC’s recent history of comedy – one of increased ratings-chasing and making programmes that wouldn’t be out of place on a commercial network – but at least once in a while they do something a bit different. On Saturday night Radio National broadcast the first episode of The Lonely Hearts Club, a new improvised comedy staring Angus Sampson, Sam Pang, Tony Martin and Stephen Curry. If you haven’t heard about it that’s not surprising (we ourselves are indebted to reader Daniel G for pointing it out to us), because despite the relative fame of the cast the show doesn’t appear to have gotten any publicity, apart from a couple of tweets from Tony Martin. And that’s a shame because of this week’s comedy debuts it’s the one most worth your time (you can download episode 1 from the show’s website).
Sampson, Pang, Martin and Curry play a group of middle-aged men who have “tasted the highs and lows of life and love”, and are now hosting a radio chat show for men. Not surprisingly, Martin as Duncan Jardine (“one of Australia’s most frequently used second unit directors”) is the stand-out, but the rest of the cast do a good job too. And as the show and the characters develop, they’ll probably get better and better.
The Lonely Hearts Club is also a pretty good send-up of the kinds of programmes that litter Radio National and ABC Local, with their whispering hosts and their over-long and slightly dull discussions of “issues”. The show’s segment on coeliac disease didn’t quite work (because the guest expert seemed to be quite genuine) but the other “discussions” in the show were pretty funny.
So, kudos to whoever it was who got the show on air – as we’ve long argued on this blog there should be opportunities to make comedy on radio, whether it’s four mates improvising for a couple of hours, or something scripted like The Blow Parade. The ABC should be doing more of this and it’s time to establish a regular slot for it.