Time for John Clarke & Bryan Dawe?

John Clarke doesn’t do many interviews, so it’s interesting that he was the subject of a long article on TV Tonight the other day.

EXCLUSIVE: Comedian John Clarke has paid tribute to former Current Affair host Jana Wendt for supporting his mock interviews with Bryan Dawe, more than two decades ago.

Wendt’s belief in the bold concept as part of a current affairs programme on a commercial network saved the pair from getting the axe. This year the duo mark 25 years together on radio and television.

Although the TV Tonight interview makes no mention of it, it’s worth remembering that a recent article in Crikey suggested that the Clarke & Dawe segment on 7.30 could be facing the axe. According to Crikey 7.30’s contract with John Clarke and Bryan Dawe ends at the end of this year, meaning the pair could only be on air for a few more weeks. In this context, the liberal quotes from Clarke talking about how the Clarke & Dawe segment was at odds with the commercial culture at Channel 9 in the 1990s, and how crucial Wendt’s support had been in keeping them on A Current Affair, seems almost like a plea to 7.30 host Leigh Sales for support. The Crikey piece gave no indication as to Sales’ likely influence over the decision, stating that:

…[the Clarke & Dawe segment’s] future is being keenly debated by heavy-hitters in Aunty’s news and current affairs department — including 7.30 EP Sally Neighbour and current affairs boss Bruce Belsham.

After a difficult post-Kerry O’Brien year in 2011, 7.30 has been turned around by Neighbour this year. According to Craig Mathieson’s recent article for Fairfax the show’s ratings have risen from lows of 500,000 at the start of 2012 to more than 800,000. Mathieson wrote:

Sally Neighbour’s 7.30 is producing strong current affairs for a younger audience. But instead of trying to pander to them with gimmicks, the show is offering timeless basics done well with strong interviews and newsworthy stories. But that doesn’t mean 7.30 should dispense with John Clarke and Bryan Dawe’s interview slot on Thursdays. The satirists were the best thing about the show in 2011, and should be allowed to share in 7.30’s revitalisation.

A recent interview with Neighbour for The Power Index also highlighted the drive to improve ratings for 7.30, particularly amongst younger audiences:

Increasing the show’s appeal to younger viewers has also been a priority: out are the interviews with ageing rockers, in are stories about a trampolinist with AIDS or a one-armed pole dancer.

In this context perhaps two men in their 60s doing in-depth satire is at odds with the rest of the show? Not that it should be…head over to the Clarke & Dawe channel on YouTube, which has more than 13,000 subscribers and is heading for 3 million video views – each of their videos gets thousands of views within hours of upload. And with the majority of Australian YouTube users being under 40 the pair’s work can’t be a turn-off for younger viewers. John Clarke may be worried about the future of the Clarke & Dawe segment on 7.30 (well, we assume he is, why else would he give TV Tonight the interview?) but the producers shouldn’t be – Clarke & Dawe are pulling the kind of audience they want. And if they’re foolish enough to dump them any number of media will be bidding for them – rival current affairs shows, radio stations, news websites – this time next year Clarke & Dawe could be regulars on anything from 3AW to theage.com.au. Breathe deeply. Everything is fine.

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