Another One Bites The Dust

Can we blame the dead weight that is Jonah from Tonga for this one?

Retro TV music quiz show Spicks and Specks got its name from a Bee Gees song and just like the lyrics of the top 10 hit, “it is dead, it is dead”.

The ABC on Friday confirmed the reboot of the show would be axed after just one season because it has not “resonated” with viewers.

“There aren’t plans for the show in 2015,” the spokeswoman said.

While we’re kind of disappointed in this turn of events – we’ve never been fans of Spicks and Specks in any of its incarnations but at least the current one seemed roughly as competent at being Spicks and Specks as the previous one – this wasn’t exactly difficult to see coming:

This month alone, the four episodes on ABC1 averaged 415,000 viewers with a peak of 490,000, and 20th place overall in the ratings on May 21.

The low point was Wednesday when it was 29th with 331,000 viewers.

“We believe this year’s Spicks [and Specks] was every bit as entertaining as its long-running predecessor, but we sadly accept that it hasn’t resonated with viewers to the degree we had hoped,” ABC programmer Brendan Dahill said in a statement.

So clearly the bar has been set: rate less than half a million viewers on a Wednesday night and your fate is sealed. Unless you’re Jonah from Tonga, of course.

The trouble is, outside of a few legacy programs – Gruen, whatever The Chaser get up to – can the ABC cough up anything that will rate that well on a Wednesday night? The whole idea behind bringing Spicks and Specks back was that it would be a strong-rating program that would prop up the rest of the night: without that, they don’t really have a Wednesday night left.

Obviously this is the time to lay blame, so let’s get to it: dumping the original Spicks and Specks at the height of its popularity was a mistake obvious even at the time. Partly it was shut down because Adam Hills wanted to go off and be a talk show host: how’s that working out for him? Oh right, he actually is a successful talk show host… in the UK. And partly it ended because the ABC didn’t want to make any of their programs in-house… so now they have to pay big money to outside contractors to make their duds for them.

[Funny how various right-wing types don’t want the ABC to waste money yet demand they outsource all their production because yay free-market competition even though it’s more expensive. Coming up with what, three failed panel shows to replace one successful in-house project certainly has been expensive, right?]

And then the ABC decided to replace Spicks and Specks with Randling. Do we need to remind you just how rubbish “word-based-game-show” Randling was? Or how bad the Randling replacement Tractor Monkeys was? These shows were so awesomely awful the ABC was forced into reviving Spicks and Specks despite telling everyone who’d listen back in 2011 that the original S&S team were so brilliant there was no possible way any replacement could live up to their high standards.

ABC’s head of arts and entertainment Amanda Duthie said that [Red] Symons, radio show Dave O’Neil and comedian Wil Anderson are not being considered as replacements because the show wouldn’t be the same without Hills and his co-stars Myf Warhurst and Alan Brough.

She told the Herald Sun: “The success of Spicks and Specks has been very much due to the relationship between Adam, Myf Warhurst and Alan Brough. It’s not just a format – they are the show.

“They’ve left very big boots to fill, and we wouldn’t attempt to replace the magic.”

And guess what? Seems like the viewers believed them.

Much as Spicks and Specks‘ failure is disappointing – seriously, the ABC have no tricks left when it comes to making a long-running, broadly popular panel show, and without one their overall comedy slate is going to suffer no matter how many gaps they plug with “Old QIs” – it wouldn’t be a serious problem if it wasn’t just the latest of a long line of comedy cock-ups coming out of the ABC since 2011. Comedy is meant to be something the ABC does well; good luck persuading audiences of that these days.

[Surprisingly, the largest of those failings – we’re leaving out Wednesday Night Fever because that was more of a massive artistic failing rather than a ratings car crash – have been the result not of poor central planning or of ordering badly thought-out revivals, but of the ABC exercising no editorial control over “much-loved” creative figures: Andrew Denton (with Randling) and Chris Lilley (with everything from Angry Boys onwards). It’s not hard to figure out why this happens, and why newcomers get the exact opposite treatment: if a newcomer fails it’s the fault of whoever was silly enough to let them on the air, so they’re micro-managed to within an inch of their lives by bosses who actually have something at stake. But once you’ve delivered a hit (Enough Rope, Summer Heights High), a rock-solid excuse for failure is in place. Their last show was amazing; who could have possibly predicted their next show would be a massive, audience-shedding dud?]

The failure of Spicks and Specks is a shame, as the ABC could really use a ratings lynch-pin right about now. But realistically, it was always going to struggle. Channel Ten now sees Wednesdays as their night for lightweight comedy-drama; with them constantly putting up shows that draw on the ABC’s audience for that night (ie Offspring), any new ABC series that isn’t already a massive drawcard is going to have trouble drawing a crowd.

So let’s say it again; letting Spicks and Specks go in the first place was the real mistake. It opened the door for Ten, gave the other networks a chance to push their reality shows past 8.30pm that night and now Wednesday is a night where the ABC now generally rates a third of what S&S used to draw in.

Remember what we said when Spicks and Specks was first axed?

If we’re lucky, the ABC will come up with a new series to anchor Wednesday nights. Ah, who are we kidding: there’ll be a string of also-rans and not-quite-theres and series two of Laid and eventually Wednesday will become the night for docos or UK dramas or whatever the hell crap it is the ABC shows on Tuesdays or Thursdays. The passing of Spicks & Specks is the end of an era: we only wish it’d had been a show more deserving of its’ success.

If only we could focus our amazing predictive powers on next week’s lotto numbers…

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  • BIlly C says:

    My understanding was that the three original Spicks and Specks hosts left of their own accord with an agreement between them that they would go at the same time.

    Nothing the ABC could to about that.

    And what’s this about them not wanting to make their own shows? They made tractor monkeys and dirty laundry live and I think what ever ones of the sports based Hellier failures they made.

  • er says:

    First batch of Fresh Blood up on iView.

  • Urinal Cake says:

    Obviously it has to do with talent not format. I’m not sure what/who they can replace it with.

    Maybe they can get a ‘Janoskian’ onboard.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    At the time one of the reasons cited for the ABC ditching S&S was that the ABC would no-longer be making programs “in-house”. More details here.

    And while all three hosts agreed to go at the same time, that didn’t mean the ABC couldn’t have continued the show in 2012 with a new cast. It would have been a struggle, but presumably at least some of the old cast might have come back for guest appearances and it still would have been “Spicks and Specks”. Even losing half the viewers from the 2011 numbers would be better than what the ABC is getting now.

  • BIlly C says:

    Ah I see. Panel shows are probably one the few things the ABC could still do now from a technical level. They own the studios. Creatively they struggle.
    You are right they should not have rested it if they wanted to keep it going.