Friday afternoon is usually the time when governments and large organisations announce bad news in the hope that the media and the general public – already halfway out the door for the weekend – will fail to give it their full attention. So having this story leak out of the ABC late last week doesn’t exactly bode well:
ABC are getting serious about comedy with the announcement today of a new suite of content and a channel re-brand for ABC2.
With a slew of content across the main channel, the new re-branded ABC2, podcasts, radio and online, ABC is launching their new venture with ABC Comedy.
“ABC2 needed an identity and direction so it meant something,” ABC’s Director of Television David Anderson told HuffPost Australia.
“We were looking at what we’re well known for — news and current affairs, Australian drama, children’s programming and telling Australian stories — but we’re also known for great Australian comedy. So we thought, why don’t we make ABC2 into ABC Comedy?”
Starting December 4 the channel will convert at 7:30pm each night from ABC Kids to ABC Comedy, with an increase in content, as well as a new digital strategy across the board.
Is this a good thing for Australian comedy? Here’s a clue: when television networks invest big in an area they want to dominate in – say, with a high profile drama series or big sporting event – do they put it on a minor digital channel? If you’re thinking of saying “but the idea is that viewers will follow the shows they want to watch”, don’t: if that was an actual thing that happened, we’d have already seen it happen a thousand times. No-one thought Channel Ten was trying to boost the ratings of Neighbours when they put it onto a digital channel, and nobody seriously thinks the ABC is trying to boost Australian comedy here. Heck, even the Herald Sun found a guy who thinks it’s “an odd move”.
And in case you think we’re being a bit harsh:
New series of returning favourites will also be appearing on the main channel with more of ‘Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell’, ‘Gruen’ and ‘The Weekly with Charlie Pickering’.
So the comedy shows that rate well will remain on the main channel: everything else might end up carted off to the wrong side of the tracks. Sounds like the Wednesday night comedy line-up could end up as a Wednesday night comedy timeslot – let’s say 8.30pm – with God only knows what filling out the rest of the night.
That’s not to say this ghettoisation of the ABC’s comedy output is doomed to be a total disaster for Australian comedy. It’s perfectly possible that, freed of the constraints of having to please the rusted-on ABC audience, the new channel could commission a range of shows that we’d otherwise miss out on, leading to ground-breaking new material that audiences might actually want to seek out on a channel they otherwise would never watch. Or not:
One of the flagship programs ABC Comedy will launch with is ‘Tonightly with Tom Ballard’ which will air weeknights at 9, and streamed in full on ABC iView and YouTube.
The show, filmed at ABC Ultimo, will feature live interviews, sketches, reviews and the daily headlines as Tom Ballard and his team Greta Lee-Jackson, Greg Larsen and Bridie Connell tackle everything from news, culture and entertainment “armed with nothing but jokes”.
So it’s The Feed, only not as high-profile.
We don’t even have to read between the lines to see that this new channel will be a dumping ground for a vast range of second run material from overseas*, the occasional new local sitcom that will vanish without trace**, and a bunch of iView material broadcast to fill in the gaps*** (and don’t forget there’ll be “Stand-up comedy — lots of it, including Melbourne Comedy Festival Gala, opening night supershow and The Great Debate.). That’s because it’s pretty much exactly what ABC2 was originally doing seven years ago, only then the ABC wasn’t possibly**** scraping all the comedy off their main channel to make it happen.
And just how well did that work out for ABC2? Can a revival of Back Seat Drivers be far off?
*the official ABC press release says “there [sic] a plethora of premium international titles to launch the ABC COMEDY channel including: Game Face, Catastrophe S3, Episodes S4&5, Murder in Successville, Inside Amy Schumer S3&4 and every weeknight a chance to enjoy Never Mind the Buzzcocks, The Office, 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation. 2018 titles include Fleabag S1, Plebs S3, Asian Provocateur, and Idiot Sitter S1, with more to come.”
**the official ABC press release doesn’t actually mention ANY new local content for the new ABC Comedy channel aside from Ballard’s tonight show – everything new is… well, read for yourself: “The laughs will continue on the ABC’s main channel, with a raft of returning favourites in 2018 including Gruen, Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell, The Weekly with Charlie Pickering, Black Comedy and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2018 in addition to new series from some of Australia’s best. Squinters stars Tim Minchin plus a stellar ensemble cast including Jacki Weaver. It follows five car-loads of Sydney commuters squinting into the sun and riffing on their days. Sando is a new family comedy that follows the trials of lovable larrikin Victoria ‘Sando’ Sandringham. Don Angel (Wayne Hope) returns in Back in Very Small Business. And Corey White’s Road Map to Paradise tackles the big issues of the day and aims to solve them—with a laugh or two—in 15 minutes!”
***Uh, what does these shows have to do with the new channel? They all sound like iView only series: “Lovers of snackable short form comedy will enjoy six all new Australian ABC COMEDY series available on iview from December 4. These include Nakkiah Lui’s new series Kiki and Kitty; #CelesteChallengeAccepted from comedian and Instagram star Celeste Barber; The Chinaboy Show from YouTube sensation John Luc (aka MyChonny); Neel Kolhatkar’s Virgin Bush; the charming Other People’s Problems; new Indigenous comedy Aussie Rangers; plus the next series of When TV Was Awesome as well as 60 new bite-sized films from the new batch of Fresh Blood teams.”
****So basically the ABC is making a channel no-one watches even more niche almost entirely as a rebranding exercise – they’re not even going to make the stupid but committed move of pushing all their local scripted comedy content (which currently sounds extremely dire, by the way) over there. Once again the ABC reveals their fondness for promoting things using the word “comedy” without actually putting in the effort to make any.