Tonightly 2.0 and the elephant in the room

Tonightly, the ABC Comedy nightly satire show that’s divided opinion on this blog and in the world of the mainstream media, is back. It was always going to be interesting to see how it would change in this new series, with the arrival of new executive producer Dan Ilic who promised (jokily) “to make it the highest rating nightly-satirical-comedy-show on Australian TV”, and the recent call for new talent, but then came one hell of a curveball: the recent allegations against host Tom Ballard.

Tom Ballard of Tonightly

Ballard has strongly denied the allegations, and the ABC has stood by him. But if the allegations are ever proved they would somewhat contradict the woke comedy both the show and Ballard are famous for, and Ballard would have to go. So, how does a satire show deal with something like this? Answer: very subtly.

The first two episodes of the new series included segments on the horrific rape and murder of young Melbourne comedian Eurydice Dixon. Sexual assault is something Tonightly has done stories on before, so this wasn’t a surprise, and because some of those who work on the show knew Dixon, feelings on the show were understandably high. Ballard himself made his feelings on sexual assault clear, without mentioning the allegations against himself – and there’s no reason to think he was anything other than utterly genuine.

This is part of the show’s coverage of the story. It set the right tone and had a few laughs in it – textbook Tonightly.

Other than that, the only possible reference to the allegations was a line in a segment about ABC privatisation in which Ballard said:

Yesterday, Michelle Guthrie, who is the managing director of the ABC…who I happen to think is a wonderful and great person who I love very much. [KNOWING LAUGHS FROM AUDIENCE] She’s very good and lets people keep their jobs. [MORE LAUGHS]

Wow. And then it was back to the comedy, which included a parody of an old-school politically incorrect comedian of the Kevin Bloody Wilson school, called Squidsy Mulligan, and segments on the World Cup, the return of Clive Palmer, and the policies of the government and Labor on refugees.

To go back to our original question about how the show might evolve, the answer is… not much. This is very much Tonightly as Tonightly has always been: a slightly shambolic mix of topical stand-up, self-deprecating gags, crappy props, and sketches which need a little more work. The only new-seeming feature was some newspaper cartoon-style animations by Glen Le Lievre in between segments. Oh, and the show now has a Facebook page. So if you were hoping for big changes at Tonightly you’ll be disappointed.

It seems that if there are changes to be made to Tonightly, they’re going to happen slowly. And as the show has already found a groove that enough people seem to like, why make big or sudden changes? “Steady as she goes” seems the watchword here, about both the allegations against Ballard and the show itself.

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