Back in the Doghouse

We were recently asked on twitter (by one Ducks McOntos) what we thought of this:

The Oxford dictionary defines ”influence” as the capacity to have an affect on the character, development or behaviour of someone or something. In television, that translates into only one thing: having a hand in the most successful programs.

Yet influence is more complex than mere power. Chief executives have power by virtue of their office. Programmers have it by virtue of their control over the schedule.

The Guide canvassed a panel of experts – critics, executives and industry insiders – to compile the list of the 50 Most Influential People in Television.

This draws together the power partnerships, the deal-makers behind the deals and the new generation of rising stars.

Seriously Fairfax? You’re starting off articles with “The Oxford dictionary defines…” now? We look forward to future articles written by your crack team of high school debaters and regional sales assistants.

But in this case our attention wasn’t directed towards the usual self-serving Fairfax waffle – FYI, putting out a “power” list doesn’t make it look like you have the power to say who’s powerful; quite the opposite in fact – but the fact that, for what is probably the first time in a long time, Working Dog – you know, the production house run by those guys who once made Frontline and some other less-impressive but more popular shows – isn’t on the list.

On one level, this isn’t at all surprising. These lists don’t actually measure real power, after all, just the perception of power gathered by a bunch of outsiders and people on the make. Working Dog don’t have any shows on air at the moment; of course they’re less powerful than Andrew Denton, who had thirteen hours worth of programming on ABC1 last year. Hey, remember this bit at the very start of the article?

The Oxford dictionary defines ”influence” as the capacity to have an affect on the character, development or behaviour of someone or something. In television, that translates into only one thing: having a hand in the most successful programs

Explain to us again what the creator and host of Randling is doing on this list?

That’s the problem with these lists: you need zero actual insight into television to do one. List all the obvious decision makers at the networks, add in the production companies that are “hot” right now, a bunch of writer-actors – seriously, even we did a double-take at seeing Brendan “did anyone actually read my novel?” Cowell listed here (for one thing, that Save Your Legs film he wrote and starred in really, uh, failed to set the box office on fire) – plus a few other creatives to flatter your readers that television in Australia is a real art form and not a veracious money-suckhole, and away you go.

A real-world top fifty power list would just list the top fifty executives at the various networks plus their mates (hey, maybe Denton does deserve to be on this list); another more useful version of this list would take into account the popularity of the shows being made. You’re going to list Adam Zwar but not Hamish & Andy? Which lot are making the shows people actually watch again?

So all Working Dog’s absence from this list means is that they aren’t currently making television – apart from another series of Audrey’s Kitchen for the ABC – right this second. Could they wander into Ten with a new idea for a series and get it green-lit in five minutes? We’re going to go with yes, considering that two of their earlier shows – The Panel and Thank God You’re Here – basically reshaped Australian television in a way that Randling, or anything else Denton’s ever created, didn’t. Last time we checked, that’s real power.

(we’ll shut up about Randling now)

But… okay, let’s be honest: Working Dog haven’t been rocking the television world of late. Pictures of You happened. Santo Sam & Ed’s Sports Fever was a great show that no-one watched. Those 2 minute episodes of Audrey’s Kitchen seem to have been a bit of a hit for the ABC, but they go two minutes. Otherwise, as far as television goes, their cupboard’s looking pretty bare. Guess what? That’s a good thing.

When Working Dog are making hit Australian television shows, they’re making the kind of bland, FM-radio-esque shows that become hits on Australian television. We’re not going to say anyone can do that kind of thing – obviously it’s a serious challenge – but other people can and do manage it. But when Working Dog aren’t making hit shows, they don’t make The Rennovators or Being Lara Bingle; they make comedy. And they’re still pretty good at that.

For a two minute show, Audrey’s Kitchen was a lot funnier than most of the ABC’s half hour comedies. The Santo, Sam & Ed postcast started out strong and gets better each week. The Working Dog website here has been coughing up the occasional manifesto from Tom Gleisner’s cricketing character Warrick Todd, and while we probably don’t need to see another book-length Todd outing, as with Audrey’s Kitchen he can get a lot done in a small space.

This would usually be the point where we’d start with our moaning about how Working Dog’s style of comedy is no longer fashionable amongst the television executives who populate the Power Lists, and how if these guys can’t get a television showcase for their comedy up and running what hope do newcomers wanting to follow in their ramshackle yet clued-in footsteps have? But for once we’re going to be happy with what we’ve got: Working Dog, one of the legends of Australian comedy, are still making comedy that’s actually funny.

If Fairfax can’t see that, they deserve all the “comedy” from the influential Rick Kalowksi – remember, he’s “one of Australia’s most prolific comedy writers, with credits including Comedy Inc. and Double Take” – that comes their way.

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  • Richard says:

    “Work­ing Dog, one of the leg­ends of Aus­tralian com­e­dy, are still mak­ing com­e­dy that’s actu­al­ly funny”.

    For the negative I give you “any questions for Ben”

    Working dog lost an enormous amount of capital with me by making this film. I didn’t like TGYH. I didn’t like the last few years of the panel

    But AQFB was beyond bad. Randling level bad

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Yeah, good point. But in our defense, we’d lump AQFB in with their bland mainstream work like TGYH – only a lot worse. It’s when they set out to amuse themselves that they still do good work.

  • Andrew says:

    I thought you were joking about the Rick Kalowksi reference… until I read it in the actual article… wow…