It Pays to Pay Attention

It’s taken us an extra week to get around to the return of Have You Been Paying Attention, because quite frankly we were shocked. Shocked! Ok, maybe just shocked. Who would have thought that Australia’s most steadfast and reliable laugh-delivery-machine – well, once they fine-tuned the shift from half-hour to hour episodes at least – would return in 2017 with… slightly different graphics?

Unfortunately that’s pretty much all we have to say here, because as previously mentioned, HYBPA? is Australia’s best current example of “if it ain’t broke, don’t reboot it with a whole new cast”. Same host, same regulars, same rapid-fire probably-scripted-answers, same guest quizmasters there to promote various (usually but not always Ten-related) projects, same high level of laughs. It’s a winner, and it’s always good news to see it back.

Also good news: it’s doing well in the ratings:

Have You Been Paying Attention? pulled out its best ever figures last night on 876,000 viewers, and topped all three demos.

The show even eclipsed MasterChef for TEN, which was third in its slot behind The Voice and House Rules. But all three enjoyed decent crowds.

The secret for panel show success isn’t exactly a secret, despite what you might have thought after years of the ABC screwing up every chance they get. Find a bunch of funny people, put together a format that makes them be funny, and then give it a long run in a regular timeslot so audiences know where to find it. Short runs? Dredging up the same old hacks whose main skill is knowing which camera to look into? Formats that require guests to tell long anecdotes to fill air time? Get back to us when they’re pulling in close to a million viewers.

Yes, Working Dog are good at this kind of thing, but HYBPA? isn’t the ultimate panel show. That’s what’s frustrating about the ABC’s repeated incompetence in this area: it’s not like having one decent panel show on television means we can’t have any more. It’s just that Working Dog bothered to put funny people who are actually funny on their panel show, whereas time and time and time again the ABC seem to have thought that if you’ve ever appeared on television as “yourself” then you’re good enough for light entertainment.

And again, this isn’t some hypothetical distinction we’re making or some impossibly high standard we’ve pulled out our arse. HYBPA? features a couple of Working Dog regulars – Sam Pang and Ed Kavalee – with some of their other cohorts (Mick Molloy, Glenn Robbins, Jane Kennedy) making regular appearances. But otherwise, they’ve largely just looked at Australian commercial radio and gone “hey, these guys are pretty good with quick-fire banter, let’s try them out on television”. The results aren’t sure-fire, but on the whole it’s worked out reasonably well.

And even if you think HYBPA? works by bringing on board a bunch of radio types whose only skill is talking fast and then feeding them a bunch of scripted jokes, so what? It currently seems to be doing a good job of providing a certain kind of crowd-pleasing laughs. We can’t say this often enough: there is a simple, obvious path to creating at least semi-decent conversation-based comedy between a group of people, and the ABC can’t find that path with both hands and a high-powered torch.

(will Seven find it with their upcoming panel show Behave Yourself? They’ve ditched Hughsie so that’s not the worst possible start, though the title suggests the usual “hilarious” anecdote-telling that has flopped every time it’s been tried over the last decade)

So now, instead of having one or two halfway decent panel shows they can let run throughout the year to keep their Wednesday night comedy night an actual “comedy night” and not a clearing house for documentaries on suicide and dead kids, they have nothing. And we get long, long stretches of the year where the ABC has no Australian comedy at all to show.

Who would have thought even five years ago that a commercial network would be the one to keep the flame of chat-based comedy alive?


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