Negotiable Affection

Remember how we were slightly puzzled about an article by David Dale in the Fairfax press a week or so ago that was talking up the amazing comedy prowess of the current ABC Head of Comedy? You know, this kind of crap:

In the first half of the year, the ABC scored handsomely with local drama, pulliing audiences above a million for The Doctor Blake Mysteries, Jack Irish: Dead Point, Carlotta and Old School. In the second half, it’s hoping for equal success with a slew of local comedies – the result of intensive efforts by its Head of Comedy, Rick Kalowski, appointed a year ago to end the laughter drought.

Kalowski, a former lawyer who wrote for Comedy Inc, Big Bite, Double Take and At Home With Julia, commissioned and encouraged a surge of comic creativity. Over the next four months he’ll deliver second seasons of Upper Middle Bogan, Please Like Me (cofinanced by the Pivot network of America, where Josh Thomas is more popular than he is here) and It’s A Date (with Lachy Hulme, Shaun Micallef, Deborah Mailman, Kat Stewart, and a returning Lisa McCune, who was the standout in season one).

Do we need to point out that of the three shows listed here as part of his “surge of comic creativity”, a grand total of three of them were commissioned by his predecessor?

Also, scurrilous gossip time: a rumour currently doing the rounds of at least one capital city’s comedy scene is that the aforementioned new Head of Comedy flew the producing team behind one of those three shows to Sydney to inform them that he was not only not a fan of their series, but that he is so big a not-fan of them and their work that under no circumstance will there be a third season of their series – and this before the second has even gone to air. Maybe he needs the cash to fund a second series of Wednesday Night Fever? You know, his most recent hands-on comedy effort? Strange the aforementioned article oddly failed to mention it as one of his shining achievements.

Oh right, it was shit.

Anyway, this glowing praise for a man still largely untested in his current position and who’s most recent work was both a failure and complete rubbish puzzled us until we read this column from David Dale:

As I was making concluding noises, this conversation broke out:

Bradley: “I wanted to tell you, David, that I like The Tribal Mind, your acerbic comments on Australians’ TV watching habits. There’s so much fluff in the media today. It’s good to have people who kind of cut through that bullshit, that actually write stuff that isn’t fodder for posters or publicity. There’s not many of you left.”

That’s right: Dale wrote a column in which he quoted an interview subject telling him what a great job he was doing.

It seems safe to assume the bit about not writing fodder for publicity doesn’t apply to promoting himself – clearly he’s not a man to let his readers make up their own minds about the quality of his work. Or, come to think of it, the work of the current Head of Comedy at the ABC.

But at least now we have an answer: clearly Mr Dale is a man at least slightly susceptible to flattery – why else would he include such naked praise of himself in his own column? And if we know anything first-hand about the current Head of Comedy at the ABC, it’s that he doesn’t mind doling out a bit of flattery towards comedy critics when he wants to get them onside. And who can blame him? On the available evidence it seems that there are very few television critics out there who’s heads aren’t easily turned by some kind words and smooth praise from such an important figure on the local comedy scene.


Anyway, the reason why all this stuff is important is because when you feel like it’s your job to talk up and be supportive of the Head of Comedy at the ABC, you’re not doing your real job, which today involves this:

Australian comedian Josh Thomas asked a simple question with his comedy series Please Like Me. He has his answer: they do.

The ABC and the US cable channel Pivot have commissioned a third series.

So far, so straightforward news reporting. Sure, “Please Like Me” isn’t actually a question, but we’ll let that slide. Where it gets a little iffy is this:

The ABC’s head of comedy Rick Kalowski said the deal to proceed with a third series before the second had aired was almost unprecedented.

“And yet fitting for a show which has become our most watched original ABC2 comedy series, and put Australian TV comedy on the world stage as never before,” Kalowski said.

“ABC TV couldn’t be prouder to continue our association with Pivot in the US, or of the new season two, which is a cracker from start to finish.”

Because this is a news report, the closest they can get to the actual story is this single solitary line:

The US cable channel Pivot came on board for the show’s second season and helped propel it to success in the US.

So let’s break it down: despite the utter bullshit that is the line “put Australia TV comedy on the world stage as never before”, which must have come as something of a massive fucking shock to Chris Lilley but we guess his star is firmly on the wane under the new regime, what this story is actually telling us is that Josh Thomas is making a show for US television that the ABC has rights to broadcast. And fuck-all else rights-wise we’re guessing, as Please Like Me series one is pretty much the only ABC series of recent times to be released on DVD on a label outside of the ABC’s own.

If Pivot hadn’t come on board, we might have still had a second series of Please Like Me – we did eventually get one of fellow ABC2 comedy Twentysomething. But let’s not forget for a single solitary moment that Please Like Me was and is the only ABC comedy show to be bumped from ABC1 to ABC2. Not exactly a stirring vote of confidence in the material there.

It also had a long history of behind-the-scenes faffing about: Thomas was playing a straight guy in the pitch that the ABC originally accepted, the show was initially announced as part of ABC1’s 2012 line-up before eventually airing in early 2013 on ABC2, and Thomas himself didn’t mind taking a swing at the ABC over their treatment of his show:

“They told me it (the switch to ABC2) was a compliment. I don’t believe them,” Thomas says. “I don’t know if what they were really saying was, ‘Josh the show is a bit s—’ or, ‘Josh the show has too much suicide and gay sex in it’.

“People have suggested to me that (too gay) is why they did it (put it on ABC2). I would be shocked if that’s why but I also wouldn’t be.”

It’s not like the first series was a ratings blockbuster either:

The premiere of Please Like Me was 176,000 across 2 episodes and might have been higher had it been coded as 2 shows.

Hands up who’d forgotten that ABC2 initially broadcast the episodes back-to-back in what is universally recognised the world over as the “let’s burn these episodes off and pretend this never happened” approach to programming?

So you’ll forgive us if we think the fact Thomas has received a big chunk of overseas change to keep making Please Like Me has a shitload more to do with it continuing on the ABC than anything anyone actually at the ABC has said or done. One thing’s for certain: it wasn’t Thomas that got a free flight to Sydney so he could be personally told his ABC career is finished…

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  • Richard says:

    Well, if it wasnt that whiny little Josh Thomas, and i cant see it being anything associated with Micallef then it must be Butler and Hope. And if that is the case it is a tragedy, as UMB, whilst not as good as Librarians or Very Small Business, is still way better than anything else various heads of ABC comedy have come up with in recent years.

    The only positive is that at some stage based on recent performance Kalowski wont be long for this world, and hopefully the next head (or the one after) recognises the talent that Butler and Hope have and commission something new. Because God knows Lilley has run out of ideas (in about 2008)

    BTW, loved this line

    Do we need to point out that of the three shows listed here as part of his “surge of comic creativity”, a grand total of three of them were commissioned by his predecessor?

  • Billy C says:

    I hope the upcoming Gristmill movie makes a bazillion dollars or at least more than Rick’s film the Honourable Wally Norman which grossed $181,395.

  • simbo says:

    Well, the third option is “It’s a Date”. However, for a couple of reasons, yes, it’s more likely to be Butler and Hope:

    1) Helliar has a little more “media profile” than Butler and Hope
    2) The format of “It’s A Date” is more promo-friendly than “Upper Middle Bogan” (you can parachute in a Lisa McCune or a Ross Noble for an episode and it won’t feel weird for the show)
    3) Tumbleweeds likes “Upper Middle Bogan” a fair bit, and if we’ve learned anything on this blog, it’s that Tumbleweeds can’t have nice things.