Vale Tractor Monkeys

Sorry we’re a bit late with this one, but we’ll be honest: it took us a few days to realise Tractor Monkeys was over. From its nonsensical title to its tried and rejected host to its no-star cast of unexciting personalities to its blatant use of old footage to pad out banter that would have been rejected by AD/BC as “too stilted”, it was not a show that will live on in our hearts or minds or the part of our memory where we keep lists of shows to use as negative comparisons. Randling, your crown is safe.

Of course, not all that is the fault of the show itself. Since Spicks and Specks a): became the ABC’s biggest and most reliable comedy hit and then was b): dumped, the pressure has been on to find a replacement. Having learned with Randling that getting a million viewers a week isn’t simply a matter of sticking a random bunch of comedians behind a couple of desks, a strange combination of panic and disinterest seems to have settled in over at the ABC. They want to find the next S&S and fast, so forget about putting a low-key panel show together and letting it develop, and yet they don’t seem to want to spend any real money or put any serious effort into creating something that, you know, people might want to watch.

Part of the problem is that the ABC doesn’t seem to realise that even when television is free people want value for money. Tractor Monkeys might have worked at, say, 6.30pm on a Sunday night, where looking cheap and involving little more than people mucking around inbetween old clips seems like a good deal. But prime time on a Wednesday night? No. Noooo. People want to watch real entertainment then – you know, like high-stakes cooking contests or talent quests.

Another part of the problem is that the ABC doesn’t seem to realise that panel shows only work when the guests are, as the French say, not la massif shithouse. UK panel shows might seem equally thrown together, but their guests are usually people who are also off making television shows or having smash hit stand-up careers. The equivalent here, much as it pains us to say it, would be doing a panel show featuring Dave Hughes and Wil Anderson, not Dave O’Neil and Someone You’ve Never Heard Of. Get Chris Lilley to turn up and you’ve got your ratings hit; a musician most people know nothing about and they’re not even playing music on the show… not so much.

Panel shows can create stars, but it usually takes at least a few episodes and the freedom to mess around and see what works. If the ABC was serious about finding a real replacement for Spicks and Specks, they would have done the exact opposite of Tractor Monkeys: either get serious with the talent and bring on board people viewers want to watch (lets not forget, even The Panel featured the Working Dog guys, who at the time had a lot of goodwill from their radio work and The Late Show), or put together something featuring talented nobodies, place it out of the spotlight and give it the time to develop into something special. Which was how they got Spicks and Specks in the first place.

It’s easy to say that the big names don’t want to do panel shows. It’s just as easy to say that today’s ABC doesn’t have the resources to put together a panel show outside of prime time. And that’s fine. But if that’s the case, don’t waste our time with half-arsed crap like Tractor Monkeys. If even we can tell it’s not going to work, what are they paying the programmers at the ABC for?

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  • Andrew says:

    The final question asked in Tractor Monkeys, for the handful of us who stayed around to see the last episode, explains the origin of the show’s title.

    I think Tractor Monkeys, while watchable in a mildly-nostalgic kind of way, was a show that probably could have done better with a bit of workshopping and a run of more than 8 episodes (but not to go to Randling extremes) to find its groove. It was very much Spicks and Specks Lite but was not entirely a lost cause IMO.

    I agree that casting could have been a lot better. Some of the contestants I hadn’t a clue who they were. And S&S was sometimes like that too but they’d at least drop enough anecdotes to let you join the dots together to figure out who they were.

  • BIlly C says:

    What your suggesting is kind of what they are doing with Dirty Laundry Live on ABC2. It’s a great shame in my eyes that they are taking some talented new comers and getting them to talk about celebrities. That sort of trash culture schtick got old a long time ago. Now we can download good stuff we don’t need to mock the bad. It used to be everyone knew who soap stars were or celebrities now lot of people don’t watch commercial tv or read the trash mags. I think most of the potential audience will have little idea who they are talking about. Does an ABC audience care about Sophie Monk? On any level?
    It should have been about the news or politics or anything else. At least it’s live but by the time they make the jokes at night everyone on radio and facebook and twitter has already done the same gags. A wasted opportunity.

  • Jimbo says:

    Maybe the ABC is gearing up for losing the ‘Culture Wars’ under an Abbott government. Remember, the News Limited Culture Warriors would like to see the ABC become less middle class and more ‘mainstream’ (ie. bogan). Perhaps we can look forward to more quality programming like Celebrity Splash on the ABC.

  • BIlly C says:

    Well the ABC is now frequently the number 3 network. I would not be surprised if they ended up getting closer to number 2 this year. So if audiences are watching more than channel 10 how can it be elitist?

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Dealing in reality won’t get you far when it comes to critics of the ABC. It’s still meant to be a left-wing haven when studies repeatedly show ABC news is the most right-wing in the land.

    Of course, it’s not like any other television news even covers politics, let alone has an opinion on it, but still. The ABC could run fart jokes 24/7 and it’d still be ‘elitist’ to many.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    So? What was the explanation of the title?

  • Urinal Cake says:

    As long as the Coalition leave ‘Mad as Hell’ alone I’m quite happy.

  • Andrew says:

    Hope this clears up any confusion

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Thanks! Not really worth eight episodes of build up, mind you.