Vale Randling

Here’s the thing: on the day after the final episode of Randling aired we went through all the major metropolitan newspapers looking to see on which page they announced the winner. A 27 week prime-time competition featuring many of Australia’s premiere comedians and social commentators had all been building up to one big result: of course this was going to be seriously front-of-the-paper newsworthy.

And so we looked and looked and looked. And found nothing. Not one single word about who’d won the Randling trophy the night before. How could this be? The winner of Masterchef is basically front page news. Prime time talent shows get almost daily updates. Even goings on in the Big Brother house receive serious news coverage and they’re a pack of nobodies; Randling was hosted by Andrew “much-loved” Denton. What was going on? Why wasn’t this being treated as news? And then it finally dawned on us.

No-one gave a shit about Randling. Not one single. Solitary. Squishy. Shit.

It wasn’t just the mainstream media either: a quick check of the twitter hashtag #randling reveals a heavy dose of jokes about the show’s endless run on the ABC and its predictably shitty ratings. A google search for “Randling winner” reveals the grand total of one story on the result. It fizzled out and pretty much everyone on the planet was more than happy to sweep it under the carpet for good.

Let’s just lay it out there: Randling was a disaster for the ABC. A ratings flop on a massive scale, it has become synonymous with failure, a catchphrase for television so dull and drawn-out its continued presence on our screens was less about simple incompetence and more about giving the finger to the very idea of airing television that people might want to watch.

It should have been pulled by week eight and every single executive responsible fired, while host Andrew Denton should be so ashamed of his failure to create something fitting even the broadest dictionary definition of “entertaining” the next time he’s seen in public should be sixty years from now when a televisual salute to Elle McFeast accidentally features a snippet of footage showing the back of his head in the distant background. And even then there should be such an outcry that this utter failure of a compare had somehow snuck back onto our screens that the very medium of television itself should be shut down completely and every remaining TV set kicked in by donkeys. Though to be fair, this would be the distant future and no-one would be watching television as we know it anyway. Mostly because people still remembered how Randling was so determinedly crap.

Randling wasn’t just bad television. It was bad television anyone could see coming from a mile away. Let’s say it one last time: “Word-based game show”. How was this a television show? How was this prime-time viewing? How was this such a sure-fire hit that all 27 episodes were filmed before a single one went to air? How hasn’t someone been sacked for this massive cock-up? Let’s run through the obvious issues:

*The Concept: the days of bunging on cheap and cheerful space-filling programming in prime time and expecting people to tune in are over. It just doesn’t work any more. What was the last panel show that worked on any network? Gruen? Which basically just added panel chat to the always successful World’s Wackiest Commercials format anyway. There’s just too much competition out there – the internet, TV-on-DVD, better shows on other networks whether live or recorded earlier – for a show that just looks thrown together on the cheap to attract viewers, unless there’s something really special going on. Basing it on sports, music, unusual information: sure, that might work. Words? How’s get fucked sound?

*The Format: Who in their right mind thought even for a second that the one thing comedy game shows needed was a serious level of competition? Randling had quarter-finals when it should have had “let’s keep the funny guests coming back”. The rigid structure meant that changes couldn’t be made to make the show more entertaining once it started, because with a locked-in scoring system any changes would have disadvantaged those who played under the old rules. Pretty much the only advantage that comes with a 27 episode run is the ability to fine-tune the show once you start to see what works and what doesn’t: Randling couldn’t even manage that.

*The Host: Andrew Denton, while no doubt a charming and wonderful person in private, comes across as a smug git on television. He’s not likable, he’s not funny, he’s not good at treating people as equals. Here’s a concept: warmth. Denton doesn’t have it – well, he has human levels of it, just not game show host levels. He was clearly drafted in to host when it became clear that without a “name” host this show didn’t stand a chance; just another bonehead move leading to the long slide to the failure dump.

* The Cast: It’s a long time ago now, but when Spicks & Specks first aired it featured a cast of nobodies. Myf Warhurst was a Triple J presenter; Alan Brough was a New Zealand comedian and actor only known in Australia to the handful of people who’d seen Tony Martin’s film Bad Eggs. They were the opposite of wheeling out a bunch of ready-made celebrities and viewers warmed to them because they discovered them and felt ownership towards them. Randling featured teams we were supposed to support and cheer on but the team members didn’t need us: they were television personalities before Randling and they’d remain so afterwards. Put in a sporting context, a team’s supporters always feel more strongly towards players who’ve come up through the ranks than they do towards blow-ins who made their names elsewhere. Look, it’s a member of The Chaser and the host of First Tuesday Book Club! Let’s watch those shows instead.

*Everything else: it’d be easier to list what did work on Randling only then you’d be looking at a blank screen. The questions were boring and idiotic: seriously, “Shakespeare Character or Car”? The pace was plodding at best: the necessity to ask both teams the same question for scoring purposes meant that ideas best suited to a 90 second bit ran four or five times as long. The teams were basically identical: news flash – there are people in the world outside of comedians and hipsters between the ages of 30 and 55. The show lacked vitality: the host of a game show is meant to be the most high-energy member of the on-air cast, not the least. The editing was painful: reportedly episodes would take more than twice their on-air time to be recorded then be chopped down into “highlights packages”  that felt erratic and disjointed. And above all else, the very concept itself was astoundingly, jaw-droppingly boring.

And yet this ran for 27 weeks in prime time on what was once the ABC’s highest-rating night of television. Randling sure did fuck that into a cocked hat. It’s difficult to conceive of a show so disdainful of entertainment, so actively contemptuous of its audience, so committed to reminding you that “television” does not care whether you live or die. Fortunately now, we don’t have to: Randling is gone and it’s not coming back. If it had a grave we’d piss on it.

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  • Tim says:

    Do TV executives have consciences? Because I’d like to imagine a few of the ABC ones having to eat a shit sandwich every Wednesday night for the last 27 weeks.

  • Viv Smythe says:

    I still don’t understand why they didn’t just draft in some new hosts for Spicks and Specks, particularly since I’m pretty sure it was only Adam who really wanted to move on anyway. Let Myf have the centre chair and bring in a new team captain, enough diehards would have hung on to give it a decent chance, and then we would at least still have a popular lead-in show to bump up the audience for original Aussie comedies in the following slot.

  • The Doogster says:

    The same ABC halfwits who thought Laid warranted a second (and now third) series probably view Randling as a massive success (“hey, a hundred thousand people watch this show. Woo-hoo”). I’m just waiting for the obligatory newspaper article announcing that a US producer has bought the rights to Randling and is going to remake it for US TV.

  • EvilCommieDictator says:

    Hey, Alan Brough was of course on “The Nugget” and Tough Love (Although, “on” is perhaps a strong word, perhaps “continually berated on” perhaps

  • Jase says:

    Randling was crap, but this is Too Unfair!
    Talking bout your generation and QI are two examples of Panel/ game shows that feature already-celebrities and wordplay.

    I agree the problem was casting and rigidity. Merrick Watts isn’t funny. Denton is no Stephen Fry. The show was stuck in a rut from day one.

  • Andrew says:

    Jase I think the difference is that there is certain chemistry between the hosts/panelists and the viewers on TBYG and QI. Randling didn’t show any of this quality. It was self-indulgent and didn’t really care if we watched or not.

    It was a pitiful show that only proved that TV networks should not tape a whole series of 27 episodes before putting a single one to air. No show is perfect to start off with and inevitably takes some tweaking once the audience get their eyeballs on it, but this show denied itself that chance because the whole series was in the can. It was destined to fail because it had no room to move.

    And really if Channel Ten had the courage to axe a show hosted by no less than the CEO’s wife after only 3 weeks, then how weak were the ABC chiefs who agreed to let this thing play out for 27 weeks.

  • UnSubject says:

    I don’t think the problem with “Randling” was that it was a word-based game show, but that it was meant to be an entertaining and funny word-based game show.

    The other problem was with the types of games used as well. Most of the games were nothing more than chance (the “_________ or __________” was an example of this, because it was pretty much always a guess unless you had a detailed knowledge of obscure muppets and vintage cars) or pre-prepared skits by the team that was generally cringe-worthy.

    Part of the success of “Spicks and Specks” was mixing up the games so that there was an element of music knowledge that people might have, plus some fun games you could laugh along with at home. “Randling” was never engaging; it was a show that wanted to show you how smart it was, which isn’t going to work when it is meant to entertain you as well.

    And yes, Denton wasn’t nearly sharp enough as the host. Smug was a good description.

  • Robert says:

    Compare Randling with adBC in their approaches to their supposed topics:
    adBC: actual historians, Randling: Andrew Denton
    adBC: interesting facts and stories, Randling: ‘what do they call backscratchers in Iceland?’
    adBC: contestants can actually work out the answers with prior knowledge, Randling: contestants know already or guess wildly
    If Randling actually had something about languages and the history of words it would have been interesting, even if it didn’t achieve humour.