Rubbish Shows in Failure to Rate Non-Shocker

If you ever wanted to whiff deep the odor of desperation, simply hold your nose close to your television set during the ABC’s Wednesday night line-up. How bad has it become? This bad:

It was a bad week for ABC’s Wednesday line-up this week and it is wasting no time in adjusting its schedule.

From next week Qi is back in at 8:30pm (with a repeat no less) while the local Aussie offerings have been pushed out by thirty minutes.

When the answer is “who needs one when you have old Qi‘s”, presumably the question is “why doesn’t the ABC have a current head of comedy?”

The system of entertainment we know as “television” involves three separate and rarely overlapping groups: the people who make television, the people who watch television and – most critically here – the people who run television. Usually when we have a failure as big as the on-going one with the ABC’s Wednesday night comedy line-up, the temptation is to blame one or both of the first two groups, as well-worn terms like “Show X sadly failed to find an audience” and “Show Y was a pile of shit” suggest.

But when you have an on-going failure like the one here, it’s the third group that deserves our attention. Put another way, even in 2013 it remains a fact that if you somehow make a local comedy program that either sounds interesting or features popular performers, audiences will tune in. It’s also a fact that Australia has a number of proven comedy performers who can generally be relied upon to create watchable television. So to have a Wednesday night comedy line up that consists of yet another “comedy” panel show hosted by multiple ratings zero Merrick Watts and a sketch show starring no-one anyone gives a shit about that was seemingly written by anyone who happened to be on set at the time of filming suggests either massive incompetence or a criminal disinterest in the idea of success.

Let’s point out just how easy this whole “spotting losers” deal is: here’s our post on the announcement of Tractor Monkeys:

Yes, it really has come to this: an ABC re-make of The White Room. And the latest in a long line of attempts to ape the success of Spicks & Specks with as little budget as possible. Makes you wonder if we’re almost at the point where a program will get made which consists entirely of random tweets put up on the screen while Andrew Denton laughs.

And here’s what we said at the announcement of  The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting:

Perhaps we should look to the next generation, perhaps they’ll return Australian comedy to its glory days? They’ll be keen to cast aside the conservatism of the Howard era, and be “native” to the multimedia environment, right? The announcement last week of the senior creative team behind Jungleboy’s upcoming sketch show, which will showcase up-and-coming talent, was…interesting. Almost 100 sketches from new writers will be directed by the likes of Wayne Blair (The Sapphires), Christiaan and Connor Van Vuuren (The Bondi Hipsters), and Abe Forsythe (Laid). It could work, but as with many new talent projects this is more likely to be the start of something than a great comedy in and of itself, a D-Generation rather than a Late Show, if you like. But good luck to them anyway.

Every now and again someone tells us that our relentless negativity is not an accurate reflection of the current state of Australian comedy, but rather a reflection of the ugly nature of our souls. Ya boo sucks to them: we’re negative about so much of Australian comedy because not only is so much of it shit, but so much of it is obviously shit from the moment it is announced.

And because we live in the real world, and not some magic fantasy land where Merrick Watts or random sketches featuring nobodies are ratings drawcards, the fact that so many of these shows sound crap from the start isn’t just typical internet hating, but a serious problem for the ABC. Put bluntly, PEOPLE WILL NOT WATCH SHOWS THAT ARE SHIT. And thus you have your ratings failure. At least people are still tuning in to check out these new shows before dismissing them: another year’s worth of these turds and the ABC won’t even be able to rely on that.

As for the unreplacable holy grail of Australian comedy, Spicks & Specks wasn’t a hit because of a whole range of bizarre and unexplainable reasons that can never be replicated. Spicks & Specks was, let’s not forget, a rip-off of Never Mind the Buzzcocks that was greenlit after the ABC knocked back Rockwiz. So while even we said the ABC were screwing over their Wednesday night line-up by letting S&S go, that doesn’t mean it was a magical once-off thing that can never be replaced and all blame for the failure of Wednesday nights since then can be laid at its feet, it’s clearly not management’s fault all the replacements they picked have failed, time to hit the pub.

Spicks & Specks worked because A): people like music – they like current music because it’s fun, and the like old music because it brings back memories of fun; B): musicians are entertaining – they’re often good with banter, and when they’re not they can always play some music; C): comedians, being people, like music, so when they’re not trying to be funny about it they can display their passion for it and seeing people being passionate always makes them likable, and D): by staffing it with talented nobodies the audience grew to feel they had ownership of the program – the host and team leaders weren’t the same old faces they saw everywhere else, they were part of the show (and something they could only get by watching the show). Do we really have to point out that none of these things apply to Tractor Monkeys?

If the ABC wants to have a Wednesday night comedy night line-up that rates well, they need to start commissioning comedy shows that at least sound like things people might want to watch. Here’s a quick list of what not to do if you want to get an audience excited*:

Dramadies? Dead.

Panel shows? Dead.

Sketch shows that don’t have a really really good hook to them? Dead.

So we assume we can look forward to seeing at least one more of each from the ABC on Wednesday nights before the year is out.


*unless you can get some seriously high grade talent involved, and as Shaun Micallef seems occupied elsewhere that seems unlikely.

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  • Big Gigger says:

    All this and we are still yet to see Greg Fleet’s series “Die On Your Feet”, made way too long ago. Come on ABC, why are we STILL waiting?

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Didn’t the ABC knock it back? Actually, didn’t he make it on spec – that is, in the hope a network would pick it up rather than with a deal in hand? Considering his recent uneven-ness, it’s not that hard to see why a network might hesitate in giving him a series.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    *It has to be find talent from the Internet or overseas.

  • UnSubject says:

    “Spicks & Specks” also worked because it balanced the quiz nature with broad mix of question types. There were easy questions and very specific knowledge questions, and the music nature might shift from ABBA to Slayer to Powderfinger to Lady Gaga in four questions.

    This made it something to play at home and something that was seen as a family-ish show. I don’t think “Tractor Monkeys” falls into the same league of family-playability.

    On top of this, the people who were funny did so around the questions, rather than the questions necessarily setting up someone to be funny.

    There there are the same common faces. Do we really need another show for Dave O’Neil or Josh Thomas to appear on? Is “Tractor Monkeys” all be booked from the same agency?

    But probably the most important question: what’s the solution to ABC’s comedy woes?

  • Jimbo says:

    What’s the solution to ABC’s comedy woes?

    In my view it would be the inclusion of a mainstream laugh-out-loud sitcom (and no, it’s not laugh-out-loud because some dimwit of a journalist says so) in their lineup. Not some crap made by a hipster retard from inner Melbourne who thinks Lena Dunham is a comedy goddess. I mean a proper old fashioned sitcom with big comic characters in big comic situations, joke density and comic beats, irony and incongruity, shot in front of a studio audience with a multi-cam setup. In other words, the exact opposite of everything the ABC has commissioned in the last five years:

    No quirky
    No low key
    No endearing
    No understated
    No edgy
    No dark
    No random
    No “wow, we ticked every box on the diversity checklist”
    No bogan humour
    No [insert name of bodily function] humour
    No gen Y humour

  • Urinal Cake says:

    The solution to ABC’s comedy woes is talent. The problem is there is little. If there is they go overseas (Minchin, Wilson etc) or die a dull death slowly on the teat of the ABC (Stitch, Denton etc). Barring that…

    One plan would be to poach writing talent (the aspect most lacking) from overseas, the other is to use Internet talent (communitychannel etc) with an already established fan base and see if it translates.

    By that check-list Jimbo you want to create another Seinfeld.

  • James Thunder says:

    As someone who saw Die on Your Feet over the weekend I’d be amazed if it was ever shown on television. It makes Dog’s Head Bay look like Citizen Kane.

  • Richard says:


    I disagree

    The voice, my kitchen rules etc etc

  • Jimbo says:

    Yes, Seinfeld is actually my model. It really was the most perfectly-written sitcom of all time. I could spend hours waxing lyrical about its charms…

  • Jimbo says:

    Yeah. Look at the ratings for crud like Mrs Brown’s Boys, Two & A Half Men, House Husbands – all over one million. And that upcoming show about Z-grade celebrities trying to dive looks like it will be a ratings winner. It seems that all people want is shit TV. The difference is that ABC comedy is both shit AND unfunny (wait a minute, I just described House Husbands…).

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Comedy is different. You don’t laugh you turn it off. Those shows have something different every two\three minutes however contrived that maybe.

    It’s why Spicks & Specks worked because people are interested in music and charm even though it wasn’t a strict ‘comedy program’ as highlighted above.

    It’s also why ‘Laid’ and ‘PLM’ failed they couldn’t get the comedic or dramatic to work and none of the actors was charismatic enough to make you care. With ‘PTTR’ and ‘HH’ whatever is said and done the acting is good and some characters are even charming.

    Josh Thomas is in that celebrity splash thing.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Those shows are talent shows, and well done ones at that. They’re not to our taste here, but you can’t say they’re shit judged on their merits as talent shows.

  • simbo says:

    Name me a good example of things you think an audience would be excited to watch.

    Noting that audiences appear to be excited to watch dramedies like “House Husbands”, “Rafters” and “Offspring”, so your point (1) is invalid, and they’ll watch panel shows from other countries quite happily (“QI” and “Would I lie to you”) so point (2) is also invalid.

    Are you suggesting what we need is the return of “Hey Dad” or “Kingswood Country” or … I’m really struggling to think of another commercial Australian TV Sitcom that ran multiple seasons…

  • Urinal Cake says:

    The problem with most panel shows are the ‘personalities’. If you had Fry et al. on Tractor Monkeys it would work somehow. Spicks and Specks worked around this through subject material.

    You’re right about dramaedies though. The ABC doesn’t have 1) the talent 2) the right demographic.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Offspring struggled in the ratings when it was put up against the ABC comedy night (when it was working) – Ten’s been perfectly happy to split the audience for comedy by scheduling their lightweight dramas against the ABC’s panel shows while everyone else is off watching The Block or what have you.

    But perhaps we weren’t clear: Packed to the Rafters and House Husbands aren’t what we’d call “dramadies”, they’re light dramas. A “Dramady” is a half hour show that takes its inspiration from The Office (well, largely the final episode of The Office): it’s not afraid to “go there” and “get dark” and “not be all about the jokes” and so on. Laid, Please Like Me, etc. You know, the kind of show the commercial networks wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole because they know a drama with a little comedy can still work as a drama but a comedy that isn’t funny doesn’t work as a drama either.

    As for panel shows, Australians happily watch QI – they also happily watched Spicks & Specks. The panel format has been tried so often here with only two success in close to twenty years (the first being The Panel) that we’re talking exceptions to the rule at this stage.

    Australian talk shows have had a better success rate than that over the same period ( at what, 50% – Micallef Tonight failed, Rove Live succeed), yet no-one’s in a hurry to bring them back. And rightly so.

    As for things audiences – not us – are excited to watch, anything Chris Lilley does is a start. Anything with “Gruen” slapped on the front. Anything involving Hamish & Andy. On the quality side of things, Shaun Micallef seems a reasonably well-liked figure these days.

    We’d much rather be complaining that Australian comedy is shit (but popular) than complaining it’s so shit it can’t even attract idiots.

  • BIlly C says:

    I know it’s the nature of your site but I wish when you used broad terms like “Australian comedy is shit” etc you’d qualify with “Australian television comedy”. There are plenty of live shows on in Melbourne that are selling out massive venues and adding extra shows at the moment and they are not buy and large the international acts. People will leave their homes and pay money to see Australian stand-up because it’s not filtered by committee and is often very funny.

  • Jimbo says:

    Speaking of Chris Lilley…The ABC has just announced the title of Chris Lilley’s new show. It’s going to be called “Chris Lilley Waves His Dick Around”.

  • Matlock says:

    Sounds fun for the whole family.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Live comedy is often excellent and certainly does have its fans. Unfortunately all those fans taken together would be less than the number of people who watched ratings sinkhole Please Like Me. The success of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival comes down in part to a relatively small number of people going to see multiple shows across the festival – sadly, going to see live comedy isn’t exactly mainstream entertainment in 21st century Australia.

  • Matlock says:

    Too bad network TV don’t scout the live comedy scene for talent; alot I’ve seen in this year’s Comedy Festival I think would translate well to television but clearly we need more shows like ‘Celebrities Hitting Eachother In The Balls” or whatever they’re peddling now.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    The problem is that ‘live comedy’ can take a couple of months to develop material for an hour show that can be used for the rest of the year. Television needs half an hour weekly which then has little replay value ‘live’. You’re burning material.

  • UnSubject says:

    “Hey Dad” has an entirely different meaning these days.