Got the Love, Got the Love

Ben Pobjie would be the first to tell you he isn’t a TV critic. Rather, he’s just a guy with an opinion about television and who really cares what he thinks because everyone’s opinions are equally valid and it’s just television anyway, right? Let’s pause to salute the Fairfax press for giving someone with such commitment to television reviewing a job as a television reviewer.

But with his long-standing commitment to “so what?” as a guiding principle of reviewing, it was something of a surprise to see him take a firm stand in this week’s column – in the form of this sentence:

And then there’s our current best comedy, Laid, centred around the hapless Roo McVie.

“Current best comedy”? Laid? That might seem like a controversial statement, but let’s do the math. Pobjie would have to submit his Saturday column ahead of time, so it’s certain he wrote it before Mad As Hell went to air on Friday night. Laid didn’t start until May 2nd, so both Woodley and Santo, Sam & Ed’s Sports Fever had finished before it went to air. Agony Aunts started May 2nd too, but it started after Laid (at 9.30pm). Therefore, from all this we can deduce that if Pobjie wrote that Laid was “our best current comedy” during – but not one second after – the very first episode of Laid, he would have been correct. Wow, tight deadline.

Of course, there’s a slight chance he wrote that sentence at some other time, in which case what the hell? His view isn’t one supported by the ratings – even fellow writers at Pobjie’s employer The Age have noted the decline of the ABC’s Wednesday line-up, though clearly the ABC itself doesn’t seem to get that people first and foremost want to watch shows that aren’t crap:

Brendan Dahill, controller of ABC1, tells Green Guide the performance of Randling should be understood within a broader context of the evolving free-to-air offering.

”The media landscape has changed dramatically,” he says.

”It is hard to launch any new show at this time, so we need to be patient … The audience needs time to find new shows and be comfortable with them. We need time to assess them as well.”

(A problem: Randling’s 27-episode season is in the can, so there’s little chance of fine-tuning to alay viewer concerns.)

Dahill adds Spicks’ February 2005 debut had an average of just 669,000 viewers. By the time it ended, the ABC had arguably become over-dependent on it as the anchor of Wednesdays. It also may have erred in giving people so long to wean themselves off the habit, announcing the series was coming to an end in May 2011 but not screening the last episode until November.

Nothing it has thrown at the slot has held the audience to the same degree. The ABC has been struggling since. At some point, it will get the mix right or try something else – or accept the audience has moved elsewhere. Dahill hasn’t given up the fight. ”Inevitably we have to refresh our schedules. If we don’t try new programs, we’ll be criticised for playing it safe.”

In contrast to being criticised for airing shows no-one is watching? In contrast to being criticised for giving second series to shows no-one was watching the first time around? Or just in contrast to being criticised for having no idea what people actually want to watch on television? And as for this:

”It is hard to launch any new show at this time, so we need to be patient … The audience needs time to find new shows and be comfortable with them. We need time to assess them as well.”

Since when? For at least the last decade the rule across the board in television is that if you don’t get viewers in early, you don’t get them in at all. He’s right that the new media landscape has made it difficult to launch new shows, because people no longer have to stick around to see if a show is going to get better. If it’s a dud that doesn’t improve fast, viewers move on to something else and they don’t come back. As any look – even ours – at the ABC’s Wednesday night ratings will tell you.

But ratings are completely separate from a reviewer’s deeply held opinions, right? Reviewers shouldn’t be swayed in the slightest by a show’s ratings whether they be good or bad – they should stick by their personally held view of a show’s quality no matter what the outside world is saying. Which brings us back to Pobjie. Hang on, why? After all, as he reminds us every now and again, opinions – especially about television – don’t really matter. As he famously said:

It’s only TV, after all – it’s important but it doesn’t matter.

Well, for one thing, television helps pay both his and Laid creator Marieke Hardy’s bills; presumably where their next meal is coming from matters a little to them. For another, typing [“ben pobjie” “marieke hardy”] into google gets you (after four hits for a news aggregation service), a link to a tweet from Hardy saying “I love you, Ben Pobjie”. Again, so what? It’s not like she has a history of professing her love (check the comments) to Pobjie. Or Pobjie’s on record giving the love back to Hardy’s work.

Snark aside – wait, come back! – there’s nothing at all wrong in any way with this mutual love-in. So they admire each other’s work: big hairy deal. Surely that just makes it MORE likely that Pobjie’d be a massive fan of Laid? Just take this quote from Pobjie (from his “Top 10 Funny Moments of 2011” – Laid was number three) about Laid‘s thinly veiled Marieke Hardy surrogate Roo:

Alison Bell… played angel of death Roo with a smashing mix of awkwardness, bewilderment, irritation and adorably hapless embarrassment that made her intensely easy to fall in love with.

Especially if you already had a stockpile of tweets from Hardy professing her love for you.

Nice as it might be to pretend that opinions are just opinions and television “doesn’t matter”, television is a massive, expensive, time-consuming business that reviewers like Pobjie have at least some small influence on. Then again, nice as it might be to pretend that reviewers and television creators should stay well away from each other, in Australia’s tiny media pond the two are bound to overlap – and even become friends.

Again, there’s nothing actually wrong (or surprising) about any of this. Very worst case scenario, it might dent any credibility as a reviewer that Pobjie might have had. It’s not like he spotted the conflict of interest and decided to keep quiet about his friend’s show; he’s inserted a reference to Laid into a column that could easily stand without it and called it “our current best comedy” without providing a single word to back up his view.

But it’s not like Pobjie’s a reviewer. He’s just a guy with an opinion about television and who really cares what he thinks because everyone’s opinions are equally valid and it’s just television anyway. Right?

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1 Comment

  • Felix says:

    Great article. It’s so refreshing to read reviews and criticism written by someone who actually cares, and who stands apart from the hopelessly conflicted circle jerk of industry folk.