The Host With The Most

Showing the hard-nosed journalistic skills that have put them in the fore-front of “who’s wearing what at fashion launches” coverage, today the Melbourne Herald-Sun‘s “Confidential” put two and two together then wheeled out a giant multicoloured symbol that just might be a four. Or a squiggle:

SHAUN Micallef’s bid for a variety show on Channel 10 has fallen flat.

The Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation host said he was in talks for a Rove McManus-style show last October.

But there was no mention of the show in Wednesday’s gala program launch. Micallef admitted: “It doesn’t fit in with what they (Ten) want so I’m not doing it. Bit of a pity, but that’s it.”

How this counts as news considering Micallef actually gave that particular quote in an interview that took place a few days earlier – before the actual launch of Ten’s 2012 line-up – remains, as with much of the content of the Herald-Sun, a mystery. But it does highlight a more than slightly depressing trend in Australian television at the moment: why aren’t people falling over themselves to give Micallef anything he wants?

Let’s look at Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation for a moment. Despite Ten shuffling it around timeslots pretty much at random and putting it on then yanking it off a couple of times a year – neither of which counts as behaviour that encourages people to actually tune in – it’s been a solid ratings hit for the network. People want to watch it; it’s a commercial television success story.

Now take a look at the actual show itself: what we’ve got is your basic stock-standard comedy game show, a la any number of failed efforts over the last few years (The White Room, The Trophy Room, and so on). The only concrete difference is that it has Micallef’s fingerprints all over it comedy-wise. Top to bottom, side to side, from the increasingly bizarre segments to a host’s chair with ‘Tyrell Corp’ written on it, there’s no possible way to avoid the comic sensibility that Micallef (and his long-time writers Michael Ward and Gary Maccaffrie) bring to proceedings.

Here’s where things get tricky. Two things make TAYG different from The White Room and The Trophy Room: Micallef’s comedy, and the fact that the show itself is a success. Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that what makes TAYG a success is – wait for it – Micallef’s comedy. Shows like this done without Micallef fail; shows like this done with Micallef become hits.

[and let’s pause for a moment to consider how much better TAYG would be if not for the dead weight of at least two out of the three team captains – you can pick any two, they’re all roughly equally useful as an anchour. Josh Thomas is the most annoying, but he and Micallef have somehow managed to develop some kind of antagonistic relationship that works as comedy; Amanda Keller and Charlie “I’ve stopped laughing hysterically at everything Micallef says because they’ve stopped used those clips in the promos” Pickering just exist without adding anything substantial to proceedings. Imagine what the show would be like if Micallef and the captains had an actual back-and-forth going on; it’s a great way to fill in time]

And yet, despite his ability to make a format that’s killed off titans of television comedy like Peter Helliar work, Micallef can’t seem to get a break. He’s been the only worthwhile thing at the last two Logie Awards; he did a New Year’s special that went well enough for Ten to ask him back to following year (he was too busy); he’s even made the Australian Census Website worth a smirk. And yet, as far as giving him a go on television…

Part of the problem is that in interviews Micallef actually talks about future projects. Not everyone does. So it sometimes sounds like he’s facing a unique wall of knockbacks when the very nature of television means only a very limited number of show ideas get up. But still: Micallef pitched a two-hander sketch show starring him and his Newstopia cohort Kat Stewart to the ABC. Despite sounding pretty damn promising and starring two of Australian televison’s biggest draws, the ABC said no – or to be more accurate, “yes, if you can make a sketch comedy on the budget of a studio-based panel show like Spicks & Specks“. Ah ha ha ha no.

Shaun Micallef’s New Year’s Rave was a psuedo-pilot for a talk / variety show at Ten; they weren’t interested. Then there was a talk show concept involving a number of different hosts, including Micallef and Hamish & Andy; never happened. Micallef spent a lot of time earlier this year talking about his hopes of trying a variety / talk show format on for size in 2011; not only didn’t it happen, Ten’s big 2012 line-up launch features not the slightest hint of an expanded role for Micallef on the network. Young Talent Time‘s coming back though. Bet you’re excited about that.

Little wonder that now all the talk is about Micallef visiting the USA “for a mix of business and pleasure” and rumours that he might host a UK version of Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation. Despite the fact that he’s already proven he can make a go of at least one format that’s proven to be ratings death in other hands, no-one in Australia wants to let him loose in a format where he might really be funny. Because who wants to laugh at a television show when you could be learning about cooking pasta or watching someone re-grouting the shower? Who wants to make a show that isn’t a format that’s worked overseas or a format you can sell overseas? Who, in short, wants to rely on actual, proven, on-air talent over faceless executives?

[yes, in theory the ABC does. But they already have the colourless, odourless, flavourless Adam Hills hosting their chat show. Sure, Micallef would do the job a dozen times better, but that’s not how it works at the ABC. Being easily the best thing in the generally pointless and consistently laugh-free Laid is as close as Micallef will be getting to Aunty for the foreseeable future]

During the two-and-a-bit years that TAYG has been on air, Micallef has kept himself busy. He made a comedy CD (who does that these days?), wrote a novella, toured a stage revival of a Peter Cook & Dudley Moore sketch show, turned up on a bunch of other people’s shows and generally looked like a man taking full advantage of the spotlight to do a whole lot of things he wanted to do. We’ve all benefited from this. Even if you don’t find him funny, having a comedian out there trying new things (or re-trying old things) opens doors for others to follow.

It’d be both a shame and a disgrace if we lost this unique talent – a talent uniquely interested in actually making Australian comedy rather than simply hosting ideas stolen from foreign television – to overseas simply because our television networks would rather continue to swing wildly between shows about cooking, shows about building, and shows about singing than give a proven talent a real chance to shine. Or just the chance to make jokes about Caesar Romero without having to cut to Dave Hughes.

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1 Comment

  • Josie says:

    Shaun Micallef is one of the few Jimoein-era writers/performers who has survived the blast, talent-wise. I was so, so sceptical about TAYG when it first aired. Even though it does have its sucky “channel 10 moments” (ie, dull/shit guests and tedious cross promotion), it is Micallef who really makes it.

    During his brief stint on Channel nine, there was certainly whiffs of promise for him as a variety host, but the whole thing felt very limited (remember that Chaser sketch, “The Chaser’s War on Everything Except Our Sponsors”? Basically that). Perhaps now that commercial audiences have warmed to him on TAYG, he would be given more freedom, were he to host a variety show?

    I know there are comedy nerds everywhere who would much prefer him to Rove. Please, not again…