We’ll Pay That

Colour us surprised: when we first heard about Working Dog’s new panel show Have You Been Paying Attention?, we expected something more along the lines of the dimly but fondly remembered Out of the Question: a lot of casually scored chit-chat about the week’s events disguised as a game show. Buh Bowww: what we got was a fast-paced revival of the glory days of Blankety Blanks. Hurrah!

Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration – the Blankety Blanks comparison, not the hurrah. But Have You Been Paying Attention? is an actual game show where the point seems to be for the contestants to make as many smart-arse comments as possible as quickly as possible. Watching it happen, the real question quickly becomes: with both commercial and public broadcasters awash in limp panel chat, why hasn’t anyone tried this before?

We don’t want to spend our every waking second beating up on Tractor Monkeys, but HYBPA? really does underline just how crap Tractor Monkeys is on just about every level. And there’s only really one basic thing that separates them: pace. Tractor Monkeys crawls along at a deathly trudge with clips that go on forever and then – what’s that? Dave O’Neil wants to tell a story about trying to impress a girl by wearing sunglasses inside a tent? Sure, why not? It’s not like anyone’s awake to hear him.

In contrast, HYBPA? moves. Host Tom Gleisner asks a question, one of the panel makes a smart-arse answer, someone else gives a proper answer, we move on. There’s a section where each cast member (reportedly Ed Kavalee and Sam Pang are regulars, with the other three chairs filled by guests each week) is asked about their speciality subject (a celebrity, for the most part), but even then they don’t dawdle, with a serious:comedy answer ratio of around 1:1. And then there’s the fast money round!

None of the jokes here are classics but they order in bulk and for a twenty-something minute show that’s pretty much good enough. If you have real A-grade comedians on board then sure, take your time, let them chat away – they’re going to build to something special. Working Dog, in contrast to every single panel show producer who’s ever worked at the ABC, seem to have realised that Australia simply doesn’t have that kind of comedy talent available, and have created a panel-slash-gameshow format that makes the most of what we’ve got. And guess what? It’s good enough.

Whether this takes off is another matter entirely. This kind of show has a history of crashing and burning – or at least, not making it to a second series – in part because you actually have to sit down and watch it. Bizarrely and depressingly, it seems that in some ways the kind of comedy that “works” at the moment is the kind of comedy that isn’t very funny, because you can safely have that kind of comedy on in the background while you do other things. To actually laugh at a comedy, you need to be paying attention, and if a show is trying to get your attention – by being a bunch of people calling out answers to rapid-fire questions, for example – it’s harder to surf the internet while it’s on.

There’s also the timeslot issue. This kind of show is too light and fluffy to survive in prime time, but these days local product costs too much to show anywhere outside the big ratings periods. Ideally it’d be on 5.30pm weeknights (which is when Ten runs its news, so no go) or somewhere early Saturday night (which is now a ratings graveyard, so no go there either). Sundays at 7pm is a decent enough compromise, but ideally this would be on in a slightly out-of-the-way timeslot (not too late though, as it’s firmly family-friendly) where it could slowly build a fanbase. You know, like television shows used to do back in the 1980s.

But it’s rapid demise is in the future. For now – HYBPA? is repeated tonight at 10.30pm, and there’s seven more episodes to come – we have a panel-stroke-gameshow on Australian television that’s actually pretty funny. Who would have expected that at 6.59pm today?

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17 Comments

  • urinal cake says:

    This is just so unambitious.

  • pete hill says:

    Ed Kavalee should be popping up on Australian tv a bit more often, now that he’s back from LA where, as he cheerfully admitted on a couple of podcasts over the past few weeks, his attempts to score acting gigs failed outright. He managed to get on the final shortlist to play of the Ninja Turtles for a planned new film but alas was pipped at the post.
    With several of the big-name duos in FM radio departing the scene at the end of this year- voluntarily or otherwise- maybe Kavalee might score a radio gig?

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    We’ll happily take “unambitious” over “shit” any day of the week. Australian television needs roughly a billion more examples where talented professionals do a solidly competent job of entertaining the audience, and a few less examples of no-talent hacks turning up yet again in another bland gab-fest thrown together at the last minute.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    It’s just been announced Kavalee is going to be doing breakfasts at Brisbane’s MMM outpost in 2014.

  • Tony Coca-Cola says:

    Totally agree about the show’s pace, but for a panel/game show, didn’t it seem oddly VERY quick?
    Like, completely scripted quick?
    Which I don’t mind so much, ’cause it’s funny (albeit bantamweight material.)
    But it’s like everyone was given the specific topics at the start of the week (more than just a “Make sure you watch the news” kind of directive), they all went away and wrote one-liners, and then come shoot night, first in best dressed.
    Nobody buzzed in first with a correct answer; there was always at least one gag.
    Even for a quiz show filled with funny people, SOMEONE’S gonna go for the correct answer once, right?
    Again, not a problem if you’re looking for comedy, but it doesn’t seem… totally honest (?)
    It’s treading a weird line between panel show, quiz show and scripted comedy.
    Still, smashes the fuck out of every other panel show this year.

  • Bean Is A Carrot says:

    Many of the best panel/comedy game shows are semi-scripted. To give several UK examples: Have I Got News For You and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. There was a sort of a scandal about the scripting of HIGNFY about 15 years but no one cares now.

  • Ontos says:

    That’s what i was going to ask about, is it similar to any of those British panel shows like HIGNFY or ‘Mock the Week’ (I know of them but not about them)?

  • Ontos says:

    I liked it, as you said, fast paced, quick fire questions/answers jokes, and no lingering at the scene. No time for the panellists to start talking over each other or fight each other for jokes.

    I always preferred ‘Sale of the Century’ to something like ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ (not just because of the gift shop) because it was just lots of questions instead of some annoying host crapping on for 90% of the show. Working Dog seems to be good at this quick fire stuff, SS&E’s 3 sports shows, their podcast, and the fill in slot they did on MMM for the Olympics (and I guess Audrey Gordon count’s as well).

    l’d take a scripted satire over this any day, but these shows will do in the mean time.

  • urinal cake says:

    So it’s come to morning FM on TV?

    At least Working Dog when they weren’t ‘paying homage’ to os shows were working on formats they could sell os.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    No, Tractor Monkeys and This Week Live (and so many more) are morning FM on TV: HYBPA? is good morning FM on TV. It’s understandable if you hate the very idea of this kind of show, but we’re fine with it so long as it’s done well and with a commitment to actually being funny rather than just filling airtime.

  • Andrew says:

    Big fan of Working Dog’s work but to me HYBPA just came across an overly scripted version of Dirty Laundry Live. The 7.00 timeslot obviously means it can’t be as loose as DLL but it just didn’t really work for me. I know the best ad libs are the ones that are rehearsed 4 to 5 times but it was just a little bit forced.

    But will see how episode 2 pans out…

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    We’d be interested to hear from anyone who attends a taping. The replies weren’t so funny that they felt pre-scripted to us, and we wouldn’t at all be surprised if the guests had been told to give funny answers first (“don’t give the real answer until we get a funny one first” seems believable). But some kind of preperation wouldn’t surprise us either.

  • Lex says:

    The joke answers were clearly all pre-written, presumably by the guests themselves, but it’s quite possible the Working Dogs guys also wrote some gag suggestions for the guests to use. That approach is fine (and quite commonly used on these shows) to provide some kind of comedy insurance. But it robs the show of any chance of spontaneity or surprise, and leaves a pretty strong taste of “fake” in the mouth. Other Working Dog shows like The Panel and Santo, Sam and Ed were similarly all highly scripted, but it somehow feels much more artificial when it’s dressed up as a “spontaneous” quiz show.

  • billy c says:

    Every quest on Good Newsweek got a couple of pages of suggested jokes. The comics fended for themselves but the celebs had prepared answers.

  • er says:

    http://www.tvtonight.com.au/2013/11/risk-applauded-on-new-ten-quiz.html

    Michael Hirsh : “When you take a risk with something that isn’t an imported or stolen format things take a bit of time, so I was rapt with (Sunday) night.”

    They’re my favourites, but probably best if they don’t talk about stolen formats…

  • Simon says:

    Plain and simply it sucks. The jokes aren’t funny not once has the show made me laugh. “Where’s the gift shop?” hardy Har Har! Serious!? You guys suck the format of giving a bunch of stupid answers before the real one is painful to watch.

    There are so many better ways this show could work, possibly allowing the members to discuss amongst themselves about the footage they just seen? Build up a dialogue and bam the laughs will come.

    Until then gtfo my tv.

  • Sam says:

    I can’t like this show. It’s very obviously scripted, but they try to act as if it isn’t which makes me feel lied to.

    If you’re going to go scripted, go the whole way, not half. Don’t script and act like it’s improvised.

    And for a scripted show, at least make the jokes funny, or make it not so obviously pre-scripted.