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?