It’s already become established wisdom that the failure of Live From Planet Earth comes down to one man: Ben Elton. (ok, and twitter, but let’s come back to that later) LFPE stunk on ice not because of Elton’s actual stand-up – generally acknowledged to be the best thing about the show and the only thing really worth saving from it – but because he was also the man writing all the sketches. Or was he?
In late 2010 a “comedy insider” passed on the news to one of us that a bunch of 7pm Project writers – some of whom had come across from The White Room and The Bounce – had left that show to go work on Elton’s upcoming project at Nine. At the time, it was interesting mostly for the way it suggested that The 7pm Project was moving even further away from its original comedy concept. But in the light of the repeated line that Elton was writing everything over at LFPE– parroted by critics across the land – this info was a little puzzling.
Had they hired writers then sacked them without them ever putting pen to paper? Were writers just sounded out but never hired? Did the writers get the ball rolling before being shunted aside? Had our source got things totally balls-up? Was this our big chance to pitch an All The President’s Men-style movie about a massive cover-up in the comedy biz? Well, kinda. Except for the movie pitch part, that’s definitely going to happen (only about Hey Hey it’s Saturday).
We’ve since discovered – thanks to another “comedy insider” – that there actually was a writers room on Live From Planet Earth, but that they had “very little influence or input” regarding the finished product. So it seems Elton shouldn’t shoulder all the blame after all – there was a team of writers helping (to some extent) put the sketches together. But why weren’t they credited in the first place? Rumour has it that Elton has it in his contracts these days that he be credited as the sole writer on his television shows – but that’s just a rumour (if anyone knows more either way, we’d love to have it confirmed / denied).
Unsurprisingly, as the show went to air it seems those involved were increasingly pleased that they weren’t being credited for their involvement, and it’s hardly likely they’d be rushing to put it on their resumes now. So we’ll probably never know how much real involvement the writers had on the show; Elton’s hardly likely to suddenly say “I blame my writers” (and who would believe him), while the writers themselves weren’t credited at the time so why ‘fess up later to such a train wreck?
It’s hard to feel bad for Elton in all this, even if he’s been attacked for something that wasn’t (strictly, entirely) his responsibility. He was the man in charge, and his stamp was all over the finished product. Still, he wasn’t alone on this particular sinking ship, so the blame should be spread around at least a little. “A little”, by the way, doesn’t mean “to people on twitter”, who… I mean, c’mon…
Seriously, having people like The Age‘s entertainment writers Karl Quinn and Jim Schembri claim that the evil hordes of twitter whipped up a hatestorm that sank Live From Planet Earth only makes sense once you realise they’re so scared that twitter will make their jobs as taste-makers obsolete they’re running the kind of scare campaign that usually features the dead rising from their graves.
Let’s break their version of events down: Twitter is full of nameless people who get off on their own hate, so when an easy target came along like #LFPE they whipped themselves into such a frenzy of baseless hate that the show itself didn’t stand a chance. Only hang on: Twitter isn’t like some guy with a megaphone strapped to the roof of his car circling your block – you have to actually be part of Twitter to see what people are saying on Twitter. And if Twitter is mostly used by haters, how does their message of hate get outside the circle of hate to infect the rest of the viewing public? Who, let’s not forget, have to have been incapable of realising on their own that the show was no good for this theory to make sense?
Live From Planet Earth seems to have been such a disaster that for once the blame has to be laid somewhere. Problem is, what we’ve got is the media attacking outsiders – whether on the internet or from overseas – instead of trying to figure out what exactly went wrong. It might help the press paint the picture they’re interested in painting, but how does it help ensure that this kind of disaster doesn’t happen again? After all, some of us would actually like to see Australian comedy on our televisions again…