Wil Anderson: Legacy Hire

The latest series of Gruen wrapped up last week after yet another ratings triumph:

Gruen has ended a stellar run on ABC winning its timeslot again with 948,000 viewers. The show has never dipped below 900,000 all season (last week’s 897,000 was eventually adjusted to 900,000). Host Wil Anderson gave no indication if the show would return in 2016 -fingers xd.

Obviously our fingers are held in a slightly different fashion, given our long-running fondness for the series.

What is there left to say about the Gruen series of programs that we haven’t already groaned out while lying on the floor of a grimy pub toilet splattered in our own vomit? You all know the drill: we complain that they’re nothing but advertising for the very idea of advertising presented by a comedy knob fronting a panel largely comprised of sweaty advertising shills and soulless mercenaries that’s then edited into near-incoherency with a side serve of audience cutaways to convince you that somewhere someone remotely human found this crap funny. And then it rates its pants off.

Otherwise, we don’t have all that much to say, which is why we didn’t say much of anything at the time. Gruen has been totally fucking inert remarkably consistent since it first began, and while it’s perfectly effective as blatant propaganda for the advertising industry and is fairly obviously in breach of ABC guidelines, as comedy it leaves more than a little to be desired. Which is probably the point, as playing on your desires is what advertising is all about.

Pretty much the only interesting thing we did think about during this year’s run is the way that Wil Anderson’s now no longer part of the Australian comedy scene. Hurrah! But seriously: much like fellow one-time ABC stalwart Adam Hills, Anderson now spends much of his time working on his career overseas, safe in the knowledge that he can wander back here when he feels the need and Australia will welcome him with open arms. He’s no longer in the “building” stage of his career here – all he has to do is maintain what he’s already got, while putting the real effort in elsewhere.

Sometimes this approach works, sometimes it doesn’t. Hills seems set enough in the UK that his lack of television work here isn’t a problem, while one-time talk show star Rove McManus seems to have returned from the US for good – to a radio gig alongside the star of the Bachelorette, no less – which goes to show that the rest of the world often really doesn’t give a shit. Anderson’s focusing on the US, which doesn’t seem like a country that actually needs “Wil Anderson”. but as he’s working on his stand-up the increased opportunities over there presumably make it worthwhile even if he doesn’t hit the big time.

And let’s be honest: after this year’s ratings bonanza – figures which would have been disappointing only a few years ago but is officially “amazing” for a Wednesday night ABC comedy now that the network’s fucked up that goldmine – Gruen is never going to go away. Anderson can slave away on the US stand-up circuit, or dick around on a banana lounge by the pool in Heyfield. It doesn’t matter: he’s got a steady income that doesn’t require him to do a great deal more than turn up and read shit jokes off the autocue.

Imagine if some actually funny Australian had that kind of professional security? Imagine if some halfway decent Australian comedian had that gig and spent the rest of the year working on riskier comedy right here, able to try new and different stuff safe in the knowledge that even if their idea tanked they’d still be able to make a decent living? Imagine if your tax dollars weren’t going to fund Wil Anderson’s dream of hearing laughter in an American accent?

Of course, comedy – and life – doesn’t work that way. What he does with his money is 100% his business; as the host of a hit show, he doesn’t owe us a thing once the cameras stop rolling.

He doesn’t seem to owe us much when the cameras are rolling either, come to think of it.


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  • Billy C says:

    I don’t really like Gruen and don’t watch it but I wouldn’t just assume he gets a huge salary for Gruen. Sure it’s a cheap show and I’m sure he’s paid well but it’s probably not a huge income. Sure the guy spends a lot of time overseas but he also probably does at least 50-70 shows in Australia every year.

    We’re not that big a country.

    I’d prefer to ignore Gruen and judge him on his stand-up. Which admittedly I’ve not seen for a couple of years. I know he’s been putting on completely different political shows late night from time to time. He strikes me as a stand-up who does other things to keep his profile up. I don’t have a problem with that. This site is really television focused. With live work you’re judging the performer. With Tv work you’re judging what the network will let the performer do.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    You’re right that we’re television focused. The problem with letting Anderson – and any other long-time stand-ups turned hosts like Adam Hills – off the hook as far as their TV work goes is that unless you’re a first time host you’re being hired on the basis of your TV work. From what we hear Anderson is a decent stand-up, but he’s been a smug host dropping shit one-liners on the ABC for over a decade now and we’re not going to just hand-wave that away because of how he spends his nights.

  • Billy says:

    Well spending his nights – probably 200+ gigs a year vs. what 12 or 13 records of Gruen?

    But you’re right you are television centric and I agree with you to a point because I though the Glasshouse was terrible. In fact most of Anderson’s work has in my opinion (including radio) not been up to scratch compared to his stand-up which I think is well written and performed but occasionally a bit shouty.

    Perhaps one day comics in Australia will get the resources, the writer’s rooms and the time to make decent tv in this country. Until then I’m prepared to give them a pass to a point if their stand-up is good. Because otherwise we’re just saying how great Gary McCaffrie is and while that’s true it gets old.

    It seems when it comes to this site if something doesn’t work in one of the most collaborative mediums in existence it’s always the talent’s fault. Never the producer, the network, the budget. Just the talent.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Now you’re getting the idea.

    Also, “it’s one of the most collaborative mediums in existence”, while true, leads to the kind of buck-passing and blame-sharing that results in criticism where every shithouse show is greeted with “well, they tried their best”. Part of the talent’s job is to front the show: that means they get the praise when it does well and the brickbats when it fails. It’s only been on very rare occasions that Australian television has had the kind of resources to make “decent TV”, and yet some people seem to manage it while others host shit shows throughout their career.

    Giving a TV host a pass for his stand-up is like giving a comedian a pass because she’s good at dramatic acting – they’re just not the same thing. And as television is the entire point of this site, you’ll forgive us if we don’t really dwell on Anderson reportedly being a lot funnier off-camera than he is on.

  • pete hill says:

    The success of the Gruen must lie in the fact that it makes a lot of the people who watch it think they’re cleverer than the rest of us. The show’s fans, presumably most of whom belong to the inner-metropolitan middle-class, watch under the delusion they’re gaining insider knowledge into the workings of the advertising industry. ‘Ah, that’s how its done, very clever how those smart guys can manipulate all those simple working-class proles.’
    What they fail to grasp is how the show is actually about smug, vain peddlers of propaganda designed to get people to part with their cash yet who are fortunate enough to live in a society where the most skilled examples of that clique are somehow elevated to the status of artist-heroes. And how the show’s fans are being suckered and manipulated just as much as those simple folk they like to think they are so intellectually superior to.
    If this seems like a rant, I apologize but I find it mystifying that the guy who designed the Nike Logos is spoken of in the same hushed, worshipful tones normally reserved for Rembrandt or Beethoven.