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*:
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.