“Bogans! Scum of the Earth or YOU!! Find out tonight!”
(and now that we have your attention…)
There’s been a long-term trend in program making over the last half decade or so of taking the risk out of live (or the more common, “live-on-tape”) television. In much the same way that Thank God You’re Here took all the danger – and with it, the interest – out of theatresports by locking down the improv to just one topic and not letting anyone deviate from it, so does Can of Worms lock down the good old panel chat format by giving out topics and making sure the guests only talk about them.
While this seems like a good method of quality control – less chance of the conversation wandering off into boring areas – in reality it means that to tune in, viewers have to be interested in not one but two things: the guests and the topics discussed. You’ve got Craig Reucassel on? Sweet! Oh wait, you’ve got Craig on and he’s going to be talking about whether it’s an insult to call people bogans? Well, I dunno… is he going to be telling funny stories? Talking about stuff he knows something about? No… just bogans then… huh.
Don’t worry though, it’s not like your favourite celebrities are actually being put on the spot here – well, not unless “do you think the view that black men have huge penises is racist” is putting anyone on the spot. Despite a segment titled “The Moral Minefield”, pretty much all the tough questions here are roughly on par with your average breakfast radio shit-stirring session. Looks like we can thank the Andrew Denton who gave us David Tench Tonight for this one.
So what we get is a bunch of piss-weak, middle-of-the-road topics served up to a bunch of B-grade celebrities who can’t really let loose. And then, just when you’re about to nod off, suddenly we get “we’ve got to keep an eye on our kids on the internet OR CYBERBULLIES WILL KILL THEM AMIRITE?!?” as we hear about Jason Akermanis being on the brink of suicide when he was 15. It’s the show where anything can happen!
Actually, obviously it’s not: considering the point of the show seems to largely be the chance to see your fave B-listers opening up, why is the show so heavily – and obviously – edited? We’re not technical experts, but even we can spot the many, many edits, often taking place in the middle of people’s replies. No doubt they’re done to keep things ticking along, but when the show’s selling point is that the guests are speaking freely on the issues, the heavy hand of the producers kind of undercuts the “they’ll say anything” approach. Not to mention defeating the purpose of keeping everyone to pre-determined topics – if you’re going to edit it down afterwards, why not let them just waffle on about anything and keep the good bits?
The most interesting thing about this show – conceptually, not actually – is the heavy use of survey results and vox pops (look, it’s Dan Illic! Does the man ever sleep?). The idea of a show that’s basically holding a mirror up to (multicultural) society and saying “this is what you think on this topic – or is it?” seems pretty cutting edge in this social media age – until you remember that was basically the idea behind the late, utterly unlamented Spearman Experiment...
I saw an ep of Thank God Your Here being filmed and there was one retake the entire episode. Essentially they missed a good close up and redid that section of the scene, about four seconds so they could get the shot. The actual introductions and scenes otherwise played out live and apart from gaps between the segments to change the sets and moving the cameras around a little it was all pretty much what you saw on tv. The important parts were live though obviously without the excitement of live tv. The edits of Can of Worms were so obvious and awkward. Compare it to Adam Hills which apparently shoots for hours but is cut together pretty well considering.
TAYG always seemed more about bolting down the idea the performers would be working with – big names didn’t need to worry about looking too much like a tool because there was always the safety net of the situation (unlike regular theatre sports where anyone can take things in a different direction at any time).
Can of Worms seems to be trying the same thing, only with the subject matter – the panel doesn’t have to worry about being stuck with nothing to talk about (like on a regular talk show) because Dicko will always have a topic for them to speak about. Like TAYG it’s safer and makes for more reliable television than the raw form (where there’s much more risk of dead air), but when it’s just people talking who wants to watch safe?