Over the Hill

The strangest clip doing the rounds over the last few days hasn’t been this:


Though that accent does have us scratching our heads so hard it looks like we’re wearing red nail polish. No, it’s been the oddly unavailable online promo for the third series of Adam Hills’ talk show, now just known as Adam Hills Tonight. The strange part is that it features a hefty clip from this:


We’ve discussed this elsewhere – short version, it’s hardly edgy, brave or funny for Hills to have a go at the appearance of a woman twice his age under the guise of defending an internationally successful and famous musician  – but for the ABC to use it as promotion for Hills’ new show is a handy reminder that Hills isn’t really the lovely guy he plays on television. He is, in fact, someone who promotes himself as a “nice guy” but feels it’s part of his job to insult an old lady. And Joan Rivers, she’s totally a serious threat to someone who, well, take it away Wikipedia:

Adele is the first female in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 to have three singles in the top 10 at the same time as a lead artist, and the first female artist to have two albums in the top five of the Billboard 200 and two singles in the top five of the Billboard Hot 100 simultaneously.21 is the longest running number one album by a female solo artist on the UK and US Albums Chart. In 2011 and 2012, Billboard named Adele Artist of the Year. In 2012, Adele was listed at number five on VH1′s 100 Greatest Women In Music, and the American magazine Time named Adele one of the most influential people in the world. In 2013, she received an Academy Award as well as the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song for her song “Skyfall“, written for Skyfall, the twenty-third James Bond film.

Phew, lucky Hills stood up for her. Inexperienced newcomers really need a protector in today’s media landscape.

Anyway, it’s hardly like Hills goes around stabbing kittens in the opening episode of his remarkably resilient talk show. Rather, once you get past the new opening and new set he does the same old talk show business he’s been doing to no real success for the last two years. Same nothing jokes, same chat with the punters, same sense that life’s passing you by.

Yes you, up the back. “No real success? But it’s back for a third year! Nothing gets a third year at the ABC these days!” And yet last year we were reading this:

After years of much success on the middle night of the week, Aunty has flopped hard this year as viewers have deserted its relatively fresh Wednesday lineup. Their tentpole programme, Adam Hills in Gordon Street Tonight, has completely underwhelmed, even in comparison to its first season last year.

On the comparable night in 2011, Gordon Street pulled 760,000 viewers – a massive difference to the 508,000 viewers it attracted last night. Comparisons to long-running programme Spicks and Specks significantly out-shadow current figures for the timeslot and underline how far ABC1 has fallen post-8:00pm.

Clearly the ABC wants to stay in the Adam Hills business, even when the general public just aren’t all that fussed. Actually, that’s not true: people clearly like Hills a whole lot, they just don’t like him as a talk show host.

That said, when your very first segment is your (actually pretty funny) sidekick struggling with learning how to get into the world of baton-twirling, either you’re not a fan of starting big or you figure you can do pretty much whatever takes your fancy. Which would get two thumbs up from us if it ever really seemed like Hills is interested in anything beyond a fairly forgettable chat show. An opening show featuring as guests Denise Scott and Father Bob (both solid talent, make no mistake), does feel somewhat as if decent ratings are not the highest priority. Even if there are plenty of attractive women in the audience for the numerous audience segments. Just don’t cut to any hefty dudes!

We were hardly fans of Enough Rope (drain your guests salty tears, Denton!), but it did provide a solid example of how to make a decent talk show when A-grade guests aren’t walking in the door –  “A-grade guests”, by our definition, are those interesting or famous types that people are interested in no matter who they’re talking to. Ditching the usual surface talk show waffle, Denton (and researchers) pushed it a little further, and though the seedy, tabloid-esque results weren’t our cup of tea it certainly did pull in the crowds. We’re saying, if famous people aren’t beating down your door, just go with regular people who have interesting stories… or jerk some tears out of B-list celebs, we’re cool with that. What we don’t want is just the same old chit from the same old chatters.

And the rest of the evening’s events were… well, having Tripod rock out reminded us all that  hey, where’s that Tripod sitcom they’ve been deserving for the last decade or so? Not to mention that the ABC know their audience of inner-city types and this show is pointed straight at their heart. The question remains: where’s the laughs? US talk show are packed with boffo yuks, or at least the occasional scripted bit. UK talk shows mean well but largely get by on the quality of their guests. But this?

To be fair, it’s clear the ABC needs a talk show: Australian television currently doesn’t have one and the commercial networks clearly can’t be arsed. Two years on though, and it’s kind of obvious that Adam Hills Tonight isn’t getting the job done. The guests are the same old same old before, during and after the interview, the comedy is featherweight at best – Hills just doesn’t do sketches,  though he does seem to like hanging out with the audience as much as possible, which is great for the audience but not so much for the home viewer – and overall the end product is solidly, firmly, determinedly safe. It’s a show with all the signs of being a good time, but the closer you look the less there is to see.

Maybe we were too harsh on Hills’ rant against Joan Rivers. Whatever its dubious underpinnings, at least it showed some life and energy. But don’t worry, it seems the ABC will be running Hills’ full unedited chat with Sir Michael Parkinson as a half hour special! And next week, they’ll be going through Hills’ trash hoping to find a sheet of notepaper with “Hills <3 ABC” written on it over and over and over again. They could get a ten-part series out of that.


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  • BIlly C says:

    Let’s see what it rates. 8.30 is far too early for a tonight show. So instead they are doing Midday with Ray Martin at night.

  • Richard Features says:

    It really baffles me that they kept so much of the audience stuff. As Adam Hills surely knows, audience participation is at best a shallow well, and as Gordon St. demonstrated week after week relying on the audience for half your jokes kills momentum.
    Adam Hills and Hannah Gadsby know how to write jokes, I’ve seen them do it, so why don’t they bother on the show?

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Agree with comments re: Hills self-promotion. That being said being a good talk show host is hard. And there isn’t really a formulae either.

    The problem with HIlls is that he is too ‘corporate’ for the immediacy and intimacy for television. I mean Rove for all his quirks and faults actually seemed to enjoy talking to and finding about his guests. I don’t think deep down Hills doesn’t share this conceit unless the guest is big. Also he’s lucky since nobody else is doing a night show except on C31.

    The other part is the guests which you pointed out. But it seems to me Australian guests (especially those on Australian tv) are all willing to share because there is a, ‘Look everybody I made it!’ element. Most of it is boring but it’s the job of the interviewer to make it entertaining.

    I mean Ferguson who is a 4/5th string night show host and most of the time gets 3/4th string guests is fucking entertaining and makes a point of going off the script and actually being roguishly charming. Hill is marked by preparedness and playing it ‘safe’.

    The audience participation is misguided. It works in a stand-up show but really a talk show is about guests and the host. Also most of Hills fans seem to be rather conservative (socially) in any case.

    Also I’m not convinced by Gadsby either.

  • BIlly C says:

    Started with 797,000. Credit where credit’s due that’s a pretty strong number. More than it’s lead in and over an hour as well.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    It’ll be interesting to see if Hills can maintain that audience. He’s had a really strong lead-in this year with the ABC showing and promoting his UK show – which, from my occasional glimpses of it, seemed like a much stronger product than his ABC show.

    And yeah, the real mystery here is, why is this show so bland? Is it because Hills himself has this image of being “a nice guy” and has tailored his show to fit? That worked on Spicks and Specks because he had two co-hosts and a bunch of guests working flat out: when it’s just him, it’s just not enough.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    The old adage goes comedy comes conflict. If both the guest and host want to be nice to each other it’s very pleasant but not achingly funny. And maybe that’s what people want.

  • l mcGregor says:

    Less opportunity to do funny skits and asides then last season but it’s not an alternative tonight show, it is ‘the’ tonight show on telly.

  • Pete Hill says:

    As Krusty the Clown moaned ‘What’s up next? Talk to the Audience?!! Oh, man, this is always death…”