Thursday Night’s All Right For Fightin’

Cutting and pasting press releases? It’s like we’re actual television journalists!

Don’t miss two new devilishly funny comedy series UPPER MIDDLE BOGAN and IT’S A DATE starting on Thursday, August 15 on ABC1, starring a raft of Australia’s most talented stars.
From the makers of The Librarians and Very Small Business comes this new eight-part comedy series.
When an upper middle class woman discovers she is adopted she is shocked to find out she comes from a drag racing family in the outer suburbs.
When Bess Denyar (Annie Maynard), a doctor with a posh mother (Robyn Nevin), an architect husband (Patrick Brammall) and twin 13-year-olds, Oscar (Harrison Feldman) and Edwina (Lara Robinson), at a private school, finds out that she is adopted, she is stunned. But even more so when she meets her birth parents – Wayne (Glenn Robbins) and Julie Wheeler (Robyn Malcolm).
If that’s not enough to digest, Bess also discovers that she has siblings – Amber (Michala Banas), Kayne (Rhys Mitchell) and Brianna (Madeleine Jevic).
The Wheelers head up a drag racing team in the outer suburbs, and are thrilled to discover the daughter they thought they had lost.
A Gristmill Production for ABC TV. Executive Producers: Robyn Butler, Wayne Hope and Geoff Porz.  ABC TV Executive Producer: Debbie Lee.
** Please do no post vision until 7:30pm AEST (July 16).
IT’S A DATE, 9pm
It’s A Dateis a comedy series exploring the trials and tribulations of the world of dating.
The eight-part narrative comedy series features an extraordinary mix of Australia’s most respected performers including Gold Logie award-winners Asher Keddie, Kate Ritchie, John Wood and Lisa McCune alongside stars of the stage and screen Stephen Curry, Sibylla Budd, Shane Jacobson, Sophie Lowe, Nadine Garner, Pia Miranda, Peter Helliar, Poh Ling Yeow, Dave Lawson, Lawrence Mooney, Ryan Shelton, Ian Smith, Dan Wyllie, Denise Scott and from the UK, comedy superstar Ross Noble in a rare TV acting role. Alongside these seasoned performers are some of Australia’s best emerging comedy talents including Jess Harris, Ronny Chieng, Kate McLennan, Luke McGregor, Louis Corbett, Eva Lazzaro and Nazeem Hussain.
It’s A Date explores the tension, expectation and complication of finding true love. Each episode thematically links two self-contained dates as they bravely head toward desire or disaster.
Each new episode features a different cast tackling a different set of situations and addressing a new question each week. Should you have sex on a first date? Does age matter? How accurate are first impressions? How important is honesty on a first date?
Series creator and lead writer, Peter Helliar, has assembled some of Australia’s leading comedy writers – Phil Lloyd, Jess Harris, Ryan Shelton, Justin Hamilton, Tony Moclair, Lawrence Mooney, Steven Gates and Kate Langbroek – to share the journey.
Produced by Laura Waters and Andrea Denholm. Co-Producer Peter Helliar. Series Producer Paul Walton. Directed by Jonathan Brough and Peter Helliar. ABC TV Executive Producers: Debbie Lee and Brett Sleigh. A Princess Pictures Production in association with ABC TV and Film Victoria.
** Please do no post vision until 7:30pm AEST (July 16).

What to make of all that then? Well, the shows themselves currently look a notch above the usual ABC comedy product, in that money seems to have been spent and thought seems to have been applied. Sure, they could fall apart five minutes in and anything containing the words “Peter Helliar” should be approached with extreme caution, but at least they don’t look like the automatic failures we’ve been getting for the last few months… or years…

Putting them on a Thursday night also suggests the ABC is prizing them a little bit higher than the usual panel slop and tossed-off sketches they’ve been pumping out then throwing away on a Wednesday for most of 2013. They seem to have finally figured out that they’ve killed off the once rock-solid Wednesday night comedy audience – well, that or they don’t think these shows can stand up to Offspring over on Ten, which is basically the same thing. And a smart idea too, as both these shows look like they’re going for the same audience that Ten’s been trying to cultivate on Wednesday evenings: the lightweight rom-com / drama crowd.

Of course, when the ABC was running their local dramas on Thursday night various commentators complained that they were throwing away good shows on a bad ratings night: it shall be interesting to see whether anyone gives comedy the same consideration, or whether it’s more that these days we’re expected to just be grateful comedy makes it on air in the first place.

There’s really no reason whatsoever why a polished quality comedy show – no, we’re not talking panel shows, though Dirty Laundry on then would be fun – shouldn’t get the flagship Sunday Night timeslot. But considering the ABC’s long tradition of happily dragging the idea of trying to make people laugh though a puddle we can only hope is full of mud, don’t hold your breath.

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  • Jimbo says:

    Erm, can someone point out where the jokes, or indeed any form of comedy, are in these shows?

    The comedy in Upper Middle Bogan seems to consist solely of bogans burping.

    The comedy in It’s A Date seems to consist of painfully obvious double entendres.

    If these previews are the good bits, then god help us. I’m going to make a ratings prediction (plus or minus 10%) – UMB will start at 850,000 and finish at 450,000, and IAD will start at 650,000 and finish at 300,000. Anyone wanna bet against me? If I lose you get to spank me. If I win you have to spank me.

    When will the ABC learn that it has something called a core demographic? And that demographic probably doesn’t want to watch people burping.

  • Lex says:

    I think the Thursday night scheduling has more to do with keeping the Wed night slots free for Gruen and Chaser’s election specials, should they need to be fast-tracked to air in the event of an August/Sept election. ABC would be keen not to repeat the awkwardness of 2004 when Eagle & Evans had to be bumped mid-season to make way for Election Chaser.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    UMB looks like it will be poor. IAD looks like: ‘Love Actually: Australia’ which means it will do all right. Though when are we going to see a schlubby woman going out with a hot guy?

  • Rutegar says:

    Yeah, I know I ain’t the first to notice or say it, but still it bears repeating …

    “When an upper middle class woman …”
    and CUE : 70% of the male audience scrambling for the remote

    “… explores the tension, expectation and complication of finding true love.”
    and CUE : 85% of the male audience scrambling for the remote and / or bucket

    I appreciate that the paradigm has been set in this country.
    Drama is primarily for the female market
    Sport is primarily for the male market

    I get that. Everyone gets that.
    That’s how the advertisers have divided up their target demographics.
    The women of the house traditionally control the household budget
    so TV advertisers want to appeal to them while hubby is off surfing porn
    on his laptop in the bedroom.

    And TV executives are congenitally programmed to replicate that which exists already.
    So I shouldn’t be surprised by the Press Releases above …

    But GOD …

    Just once I’d like to see the commissioning of a quality drama / comedy that’s not a grueling ordeal or just plain objectionable to audiences with a Y chromosome.
    ( Some might specify heterosexuals with a Y chromosome, but I know plenty of erudite gay guys who’d appreciate a plotline beyond the perennially tedious “will they, won’t they” scenario played out over and over and over and over and over …)

    No wonder Denton got jack of the whole scene.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    If you have a Y chromosome and you watch comedy, presumably you’re watching because you want to laugh, not because you want various male issues covered. Shit, Upper Middle Bogan seems to feature a fair bit of drag racing.

    Australian television simply isn’t big enough for any show to rule out any audience, and last time we checked guys are interested in falling in love too. We know what you mean about tired “will they or won’t they” subplots – hello Moody Christmas – but they suck because they’re worn out and hackneyed, not because the idea of romance is a “grueling ordeal” to men.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Good point. Does anyone know how much longer Adam Hills Tonight has to run? If the election is earlier (as some are currently suggesting), the ABC may still have to shift a few chairs.

  • Jimbo says:

    Romantic subplots aren’t just cliched. The beat structure of romance is much slower than that of comedy, so romantic subplots have a tendency to slow down comedy, making it ponderous. Also, romance is melodrama, where characters are driven by plot. Comedy takes the dramatic form, where characters drive the plot. When you try and mix melodrama and drama you get a disjointed effect because it’s not clear where the momentum is coming from.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    And yet plenty of big screen romantic comedies have worked out just fine. You’d think they’d actually work better in television than film too, considering the longer time period available. And often they do, as plenty of extremely good sitcoms – let’s say ‘Cheers’ for one, others might say the original of ‘The Office’ – have had extremely successful “will-they-or-won’t-they” subplots.

  • Jimbo says:

    Romantic comedies are not the same as comedies with romantic subplots. They are two different genres.

    The romance genre has a much slower beat structure than comedy, so when you inject comedy into romance (ie. the romcom), it gives it a boost. This is the same principle that underpins comic relief in serious dramas.

    However, when you try to inject a romantic subplot into comedy it puts the brakes on the comedy. Sometimes it can work, for example where you have massive comic momentum that can overcome the inertia of the romantic subplot. Cheers and The Office managed to do that successfully. However, most of the time a romantic subplot will turn any drama or comedy into mush.

  • l mcGregornorelation says:

    IAD has the perfect format for the ABC, making it easy to give new talent an opportunity to work with experienced comics, a diversity of stories and characters that gets people of colour and women a place in comedy, and a great premise. Every one has a funny date story right? Right off the bat this has a better chance then most recent ABC comedies.

  • BIlly C says:

    Perhaps, but if it’s all filtered through Hellier, a man who made two sports comedy shows that failed and a terrible movie, then how good is it going to be? I am concerned that every episode will require too much exposition to establish the characters each week. Princess Pictures with both Angry Boys and Race Relations illustrated that they can’t stand-up to talent who are self indulgent. Is a date a good comedic premise. Yes. Do we want to see the same comedic premise every week? We shall see. I thought a gay science fiction club was an interesting premise. The trailer looks okay but if the first two episodes aren’t strong it’s in trouble

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Or could it be that even comedy requires some variation in tone – unless you’re arguing that something like Family Guy, with its relentless stream of “jokes”, is comedy’s highest form – and a romantic subplot is one of the more efficient ways to break up the comedy while still maintaining audience interest? Characters can’t be telling random jokes all the time; most shows have to be about *something* each episode. Romance and relationships are some of the very few areas that pretty much everyone has some interest in and these days comedy (especially in Australia) really has to try and appeal to as many people as possible. Would Yes, Minister have been better with a romance? No. Did URST work for the first few years of Friends? Guess so.

    Talking about “beat structure” is all well and good, but again, unless you’re suggesting that rapid-fire comedy is automatically superior to something slower, this isn’t a case where one form is automatically better than the other. Last time we checked, Housos was pretty efficient in pumping the gags out. Not much romance going on there either.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Our big hope is that the writers and actors will form various teams and be allowed to make their own stand-alone running sketches each episode, rather than having to start from scratch each week. This is one of the few times where repeating sketches might actually work.

    But yeah, Hellier is the real worry here. No doubt he’s a nice guy in person – otherwise how would he keep getting work – but his track record outside of Rove’s shadow is pretty poor.

  • Billy C says:

    Ahh from the release I see it’s two dates per episode. So essentially 15 minute stories cutting between them. At least these shows are both narrative. They certainly can’t be worse than WNF.
    Gristmill have made a lot of stuff now without a real hit. They must surely be running out of chances to deliver something that connects with a large audience.

  • Jimbo says:

    Sure, comedy requires variation in tone, but that comes from plot, character and dialogue, not the contrivance of a “will they won’t they” subplot. That’s lazy thinking.

    Sitcoms with romantic subplots, such as Cheers and Friends, would have been a lot better without them. I’ve never seen a movie or sitcom where the removal of the romantic subplot would NOT have improved it. Remember, comedy has to be a little (or a lot) tragic. Too much sacharine can detract from comedy.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    “Lazy thinking”, huh?

    As we’ve seen plenty of comedies where the romantic subplot has worked just fine, your definition of comedy and ours may not fully overlap.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Or the ABC is like pretty much every large “creative” organisation and values a lot of things that mean root-all to the general public, such as ability to get along with management, delivering shows on time and on budget, a willingness to tick various demographic boxes, and so on (plus, we’ve liked a lot of Gristmill’s work). Not to mention the first series of The Librarians pulled in over a million viewers, and even after the usual mitigating circumstances (2007 was when Spicks & Spicks was making everything a hit) having that kind of success is never going to hurt your rep.

    Gristmill are also basically the only current ABC comedy providers (outside of Marieke Hardy, and after Laid she probably won’t be back for a while) willing to make narrative comedy with a female lead. Despite what some might think, ABC comedy (and Australian comedy in general) is pretty darn blokey, so providing some balance probably scores them brownie points.

  • Jimbo says:

    Gritsmill could start by learning how to write jokes with setups and actual punchlines. Then they could start with some comic characters, and put those characters into comic situations. You know, like just about every other sitcom manages to do.

    I know they are “reliable content providers”, but jeez, when are they actually going to make something that’s proper funny?

  • J says:

    “Gristmill are also basically the only current ABC comedy providers willing to make narrative comedy with a female lead.”

    Uh… Twentysomething?

  • BIlly C says:

    Don’t disagree with any of the points you’ve made about Gristmill. For a long time they were one of the few people actually bothering to write narrative. Unfortunately I’ve never particularly found their shows particularly funny. I never found any of their characters likeable. That’s obviously fine, comedy is very subjective. I hope upper middle bogan is a big hit for them. I don’t think the audience for it will be watching the ABC but that’s not their fault.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Shared lead going by all the promos, though the show itself makes it obvious that it’s Jess’s adventures we’re following. And at a complete guess, we’d say that actually having a female lead was a big part of why Twentysomething has returned after what, two and a half years?

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Presumably the “Upper Middle” part is the part aimed at ABC viewers. The fact it’s on in a traditionally “drama” slot for the ABC also suggests they might be angling it as more of an Offspring than a Moody Christmas.

    And yes, Gristmill’s stuff has traditionally been grounded in “cringe comedy”, though they’ve done well in getting past it. And considering we heard that the third series of The Librarians only came about because the ABC didn’t want them to do a second series of the far superior Very Small Business, we’re not going to blame them for assuming their employer wanted unlikable characters in their comedies *cough Chris Lilley’s entire career cough*

  • Jimbo says:

    If crass, unfunny bogan comedy is such a goldmine, then you’d think Housos on SBS would be a bigger hit. I predict Upper Middle Bogan will be an Outland-style embarrassment for the ABC (forget what I said above about it hitting 450k, more like 250k). Or maybe the ABC looked at the ratings for Housos (over 200k) and decided that was a safe bet given that Please Like Me, Laid and Outland couldn’t even reach 200k.

    And don’t forget that Bogan Pride is returning to SBS soon. That means there will be three bogan “comedies” running simultaneously on Australian TV. Wow, can’t wait for that.

    Man, TV comedy seriously sucks arse in this country at the moment. There’s not even anything from the Melb Comedy Festival on the digital channels.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Jimbo, you’re starting to get a bit shrill. Is Bogan Pride even being repeated? We can’t find any confirmation on that (and sad as it makes us to say it, it makes sense considering Rebel Wilson’s current status) and even at the very end Laid rated higher than 200,000 (just):

    (Outland didn’t, but it was on during the comedy death zone of Wednesday night, and at 9.30, which is automatically going to result in lower numbers. Not that it wasn’t a flop, mind you). And Please Like Me was on the lesser-watched digital channel.

    If you’re saying a comedy series screening at 8.30pm where a middle class mum discovers she has a bogan family is going to rate as well as a show about an all-gay science fiction fan club did at 9.30pm – or that something from Gristmill is going to be the equivalent to something from Paul Fenech – that’s fine, but it’s going to be a little difficult to take you seriously.

  • Jimbo says:

    There are ads on SBS for Bogan Pride. I think it’s starting next week, but I can’t be sure (I instinctively tune out anything with Rebel Wilson in it).

    Sorry if I’m shrill. I’m going through deep comedy withdrawal. I can’t recall a time when Oz TV comedy was in such a barren state. It’s depressing. There’s not even any good comedy coming out of the USA or UK. I’m forced to watch repeats of The Big Bang Theory, which is the equivalent of sniffing Ajax when you really need some Coke.

    From what I’ve seen of the promo of Upper Middle Bogan, I do indeed believe it will suffer humiliation, just like Wednesday Night Fever and Elegant Gentleman’s Guide did. We’ll see in a few weeks, won’t we.

  • J says:

    “There’s not even any good comedy coming out of the USA or UK.”

    Nathan For You? Bob’s Burgers? New Girl? Inside Amy Schumer? Kroll Show? Key & Peele? Girls? Happy Endings? How I Met Your Mother? Louie? Peep Show? Moone Boy? Pramface? Fresh Meat? The Alternative Comedy Experience? The Trip?

    To name but a few current or soon to return shows.

  • simbo says:

    That list of good comedy coming out of the US or UK also omits Bob’s Burgers, Archer and Family Tree, to name just three shows I’ve been enjoying recently.

    Admittedly, free-to-air networks have been atrocious about being able to promote anything new or with less than four series behind it (one of the reason you suddenly see a lot of Big Bang Theory now is because it’s built up enough of a backlog of episodes). But the ABC being unable to promote, say, “Miranda” into being a prime-time hit is nothing short of ridiculous.

  • Jimbo says:

    Most of those shows are shite (c’mon, Moone Boy?). I’ve seen all of Louie CK and Peep Show. They are good, but the newer seasons of Peep Show aren’t as good as the earlier ones. Louie isn’t exactly funny, more like clever and edgy. The other shows you’ve mentioned aren’t exacly laugh out loud. Godammit, I want to laugh at something.