This Town is Coming Like a Ghost Town

It’s been a bit of a theme here these last few weeks: where has all the Australian comedy television gone? With the ABC having diverted funding ever-so-slightly from long-running comedy panel shows – which were shit, but were still technically comedy – to long-running shows that just happen to feature comedians, we’ve entered an age where we can now expect long periods of the year to be pretty much comedy free. Those days when The Comedy Company was the highest-rating show on Australian television? Long gone.

And it’s not like there’s an awful lot coming up to get excited about either. Sure, Mad as Hell isn’t far off and thank Azathoth for that because if it wasn’t for Shaun Micallef (and yes, John Clarke & Brian Dawe too but once we bring them in we’ve a): basically summed up the quality end of the Australian Television Comedy Scene and b): they’re all old-ish guys who’ve been in the biz for twenty years or more, which is just a tad depressing) we’d have given this blog over to the real tumbleweeds years ago.

But what else is left to get us excited now that we’ve seen Here Come the Habibs? Of course there’s this:

Get ready to browse ABC TV’s Comedy Showroom

Six brand new comedy pilots…Tell us what you think!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016 — Starting Wednesday 27th April at 9pm, ABC TV’s Comedy Showroom launches six new comedy pilots made by some of Australia’s most exciting comedians, comedy writers, producers and directors.  But viewers won’t have to wait each week for the latest pilot to be unleashed, with all of the pilots being made available to watch on ABC iview straight after the Comedy Showroom premiere.

Further to this, and in a network and Australian television first, we want our audience to tell us which pilots they think should come back as full TV series.  Simply by clicking through from iview, our audience will have the opportunity to provide their feedback by answering a few quick questions or just by telling us what they like and don’t like.

No other network nurtures and supports Australian comedy like ABC TV.

So which pilots will our audience gravitate to?  Which will they laugh at most? And which will they blast with criticism or want to see more of?

Will it be Ronny Chieng sharing his experiences as an International Student; Eddie Perfect’s absurd suburban life in The Future Is Expensive; The Katering Show’s Kate McLennan hitting rock bottom in life and love in her and Kate McCartney’s Bleak; Lawrence Mooney discovering what it takes for a 40-something-year-old man to finally grow up in Moonman; the desperate attempts of a deadbeat weed dealer to win his new neighbour’s affections in hot WA comedy team Mad Kids’ The Legend of Gavin Tanner; or Alison Bell’s struggles as a new mum in an oddball mothers’ group in The Letdown (produced by The Chaser’s Julian Morrow).

Ronny Chieng: International Student – tx: Wednesday April 27th at 9pm

The Letdown – tx: Wednesday May 4th at 9pm

The Legend of Gavin Tanner – tx: Wednesday May 11th at 9pm

The Future is Expensive – tx: Wednesday May 18th at 9pm

Bleak – tx: Wednesday May 25th at 9pm

Moonman – tx: Wednesday June 1st at 9pm

And all pilots are available on iview from Wednesday April 27th from 9.30pm.

All will be revealed when our best and brightest comedians invite you to join them in ABC TV’s Comedy Showroom.

A joint initiative with Screen Australia, made in association with Film Victoria, Screen NSW and ScreenWest.  Executive Producer Head of Comedy Rick Kalowski.

But let’s be honest: this is the equivalent of one sitcom series, only every episode is a pilot so you don’t get any of the advantages of doing an actual series-length sitcom. Or the advantages of doing a regular sketch show. But hey, iView! The kids love that.

Let’s break it down: since time began, TV comedy has been largely divided into sketch comedy and sitcoms. If you have a whole lot of one-off jokes, you make a sketch comedy because that’s the best way to showcase those jokes, even if you plan to repeat those jokes in slightly different contexts each week to create reoccurring characters; if you’d rather mine humour from going in deep on a handful of characters, you create a sitcom where once the audience gets to know the characters you can get big laughs simply by placing them in various situations (hence the name “situation comedy”).

Comedy Showroom, while having the appeal of being a kind of talent search and we all know how much Aussies love that garbage, is the worst of both worlds: too long to work as a one-off sketch, too short to let us get to know the characters. And considering how most sketch comedy plays out today – the first episode is great, then the second episode rolls around and awww fuck, they’re doing the same jokes all over again because all those great one-off sketches are actually boring-arse reoccurring sketches – being served up the first episode of a sitcom like this is the worst possible guide to what the actual show is going to be like. Either it’s going to be exactly the same thing over and over (see: Utopia) and so one episode is all we’re really ever going to want to see, or it’s going to be completely different when it goes to series (see: every US sitcom ever) and so the pilot was really bugger-all use as a guide.

And what happens if the audience picks a show where all the good jokes went into the first episode? It’s not like the creators have any incentive to hold any quality material back for later in the series when they don’t even know if there’s going to be a series. Traditionally a pilot is part of a long-running process that includes convincing the people holding the purse strings that you actually have a series or two’s worth of ideas; is each episode of Comedy Showroom going to end with “and now here’s our proposed plots for the rest of the season” followed by five minutes of written notes?

(yes, we’re pretending that this series isn’t rigged, even though it seems likely that at least some of these pilots are, for whatever reason, less likely to go to series than others. Hey, whatever happened to the Fresh Blood pilots anyway? Oh right, Fancy Boy and Skit Box got the gig even though Aunty Donna was easily the popular and critical fave.)

And that’s only the first of our increasingly annoying questions. What happens if the audience picks the show the ABC head honchos like the least? What happens if it turns out one pilot is clearly head and shoulders above the rest? What if they’re all great? What if they’re all awful? What if there’s a tie? What if somehow the shit one is the one that gets the green light? Yeah, because that’s never happened at the ABC before.

For us, Comedy Showroom is a great idea – six new pilots to review! But from an audience point of view, it pretty much sucks. If the pilots are good, why are we only getting one episode? And if the pilots are shit, why are we even getting one episode? And if we’re the best judge of which shows are worth going to series, why aren’t we pulling down six figure salaries from the ABC?

Just don’t forget: “No other network nurtures and supports Australian comedy like ABC TV… by turning the commissioning process into a public competition.”

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  • Sjfgehfg says:

    Can anyone explain why ABC/Kalowski didn’t make the Aunty Donna show? It seems incomprehensible.

  • Kay says:

    I agree it’s something of a comedy wasteland out there on broadcast TV these days. Not because we don’t have funny comedians, it’s just because today’s TV execs seem to have no idea when it comes to comedy. I remember when there were laughs aplenty back a few decades ago, with skit shows usually ruling the roost (although there were some good comedy sitcoms around – the joys of Frontline for example, before they repeatedly recycled all that comedy in later rebadges). I guess because irony/message has become a substitute for actual laughs, too, in modern TV comedy.

    I just count myself lucky that I was around for the Australian “champagne comedy” period – it was by no means always perfect (there were more than a few DOA jokes), but rarely did an episode pass without a few real laughs (these days, you can go a whole series without even a chuckle).

    Hopefully actual laughs will return to Australian TV comedy (even Micallef/Mad As Hell is a very dry affair these days).