Who does it best?

This isn’t strictly a like for like comparison, but we’ve had a few thoughts about Have You Been Paying Attention? and Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation.

Shaun Micallef cover his face with his hands next to the Talkin' 'bout Your Generation Logo and headshots of the shows' team captains superimposes over their team names: X, Y and Z

Both shows, on the surface, are the same kind of show: a game/quiz hosted by a 56-year-old white male comedian, in which celebrities compete against each other in amusing ways. The concept of both shows is also built around the host’s natural talents.

In the case of Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation’s Shaun Micallef, the show’s chock full of strange rounds, questions that don’t quite make sense, surreal musical interludes and odd side-reference to some piece of ancient pop culture. When Micallef lets loose on the keyboard or leads the show down an unexpected comedy cul-du-sac, he’ll crack up the teams, the studio audience and those watching up home. Classic Micallef.

Meanwhile, over at Have You Been Paying Attention?, Tom Gleisner is a pretty good serious quiz show host, but crucially he can match and often outdo the contestants in the snarky remarks stakes. His multiple weekly comedy “battles” with Sam Pang rarely disappoint – and are now a fan favourite.

But the differences between the two shows tell us a lot about what broadcasters think audiences like.

Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation, which airs at 7:30pm, is clearly aimed at a family/multi-generation audience. Laughs often come second to the nostalgia aspects and the actual playing of the games, and despite its high energy, it’s a slower moving show than Have You Been Paying Attention?. The thinking down at Nine, we assume, is that those watching this are doing it in small groups and want to reminisce about the relics from their childhood on screen – or explain them to younger viewers.

This isn’t a show cracking along at Have Your Been Paying Attention?’s fast pace, where it’s question, amusingly wrong answer, laugh, right answer and so on until the ad break, followed by more of the same for most of the rest of show. After a few, far slower paced question rounds, the final couple of parts of Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation involve challenges, taking up the whole studio, where the teams have to, say, break out of prison Shawshank Redemption-style or to identify signs on TV detectives’ doors using only their tongues. When it gets to this part of the show, Micallef’s virtually out of the picture, along with his trademark mix of sharp and strange comedy, and it’s pretty much custard pie time.

For us, these parts of Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation really drag. It’s hard not to admire the inventiveness of whoever devises these games but there’s not much in the way of laughs to be had. The contestants are trying to win the thing and aren’t likely to get waylaid by the urge to drop a few one-liners, so the only hope for comedy is if they do something hilariously slapstick (which they almost never do). It’s notable that bits from these rounds rarely make it into the promos for the show each week, whereas the gag-heavy question and answer parts do.

Tom Gleisner poses holding a question mark next to the Have You Been Paying Attention? logo

But on Have Your Been Paying Attention?, though, there are built-in opportunities for laughs and less emphasis amongst the contestants on winning the show. There’s more a sort of informal points scoring system where you win if you outwit Tom Gleisner. (Last week’s informal winner, in a surprise move, was guest question-asker snowboarding champion Scotty James, who got Tom a beauty.)

If you’re a TV executive, a show which is primarily about the gags, like Have You Been Paying Attention?, should air in a later timeslot (in this case, 9:00pm). This is when the adults are watching and they like this kind of wordier comedy.

But is that really true? Well, probably. It seems to have been the thinking down at every TV network in this country for decades, anyway. Shows like It’s A Knockout and Hey! Hey! It’s Saturday always aired in an earlier timeslot than shows like The Gillies Report and Fast Forward. Presumably, children graduate from liking slapstick to liking satire, or from liking Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation to liking Mad As Hell, at some point in their teens.

In some ways, making comedy aimed at the “adult” audience is a bit easier. All Have You Been Paying Attention? has to do is make adults laugh. It’s a very focused thing: just pump out the gags. But if you’re Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation, you have to entertain multiple generations, ranging from Primary School age kids to the elderly, which is pretty tough (as anyone who ever tried to get their Baby Boomer parents to sit through Tonightly knows full well). Some people will like the slapstick, others will be bored by it and prefer the surreal bits or the questions or nostalgia.

If Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation drags a bit sometimes for you, that’s probably why. And if you don’t find Have You Been Paying Attention? funny, well…maybe comedy as a genre isn’t for you.

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