One of the good things about watching The Weekly is… ahh, nearly had you there, didn’t we? That’s right: there are no good things about watching The Weekly, just a slowly building puzzlement as your brain – a thing that exists in 2021 – struggles to figure out exactly why you are watching a news recap on television – a thing that seemingly is being broadcast from 1964.
We’ve been half-heartedly working on a post for weeks looking at all the ways The Weekly has changed over the years because if the ABC had any shame at all they’d have re-titled it at least three times by now to reflect the actual contents of the show. But the one thing that’s stuck with us through all the head scratching and trying to figure out what the deal was with Briggs is this: who is The Weekly currently aimed at?
Now more than ever, The Weekly is just a straight news recap, a half hour news bulletin only the stories are at least a day old so technically they’re no longer even news. “I watched the news so you don’t have to”. “Give us thirty minutes and we’ll give you the week”. These slogans are repeated every single episode; it’s safe to say they’re a mission statement in a way that “it’s a comedy!” never was.
But who is it aimed at? Not young* people (*anyone under 50), as they’re constantly online and either know all this stuff already or don’t care. Not old* people (*anyone over 50) as they’re the people who still watch the nightly news. Something like Have You Been Paying Attention? can get away with it by using a full hour to cover so much stuff there’s probably something you missed, but The Weekly‘s half hour “in depth” approach just means it’s telling you a handful of things you already know. Five minutes on that royal interview that 1.4 million Australians watched two days earlier? Is there anyone who really thinks Charlie Pickering is going to add anything to that conversation?
Of course, HYBPA? is also funny, whereas The Weekly is… look, our endless snarky digs aside, it’d be very difficult to argue with a straight face that the 2021 version of The Weekly is still trying to be funny in the same way it once was. Well over half the show now is straight news coverage with the occasional joke thrown in (this week’s recap of the week ran for more than two-thirds of the show). Add in a lengthy explainer (“The Study”) usually covering something that can charitably be called “old news”, then the guest comedian does something (that often is funny) and it’s over.
It used to be that comedy was what justified The Weekly‘s existence. It was recapping the news to make jokes about the news. But as the other regular cast members have fallen away* and not been replaced – maybe Judith Lucy will return after her current tour, but she hasn’t been mentioned once this season and Luke McGregor seems to have gone AWOL as well – it’s become just a news show with some snark sprinkled on top.
Isn’t it the case that so long as he throws a little bit of snark on each news story, the ABC can claim the use of other network’s news stories is “satire” and therefore fair use that they don’t have to pay for? Bargain! And yes, that is true. It’s also true that the ABC has, you know, their own entire massive news department constantly churning out news reports they can also use for free. But then they wouldn’t be able to make Andrew Bolt seem like a charming eccentric.
So what’s the point? Everyone who could possibly be watching this has already seen everything being covered, and it’s not really adding much new to the coverage. If they wanted to do a straight news recap, they could easily throw together a much more comprehensive one using the ABC news department; if they wanted to do a decent comedy recap, they could sack Pickering and use the money to hire some funny young people and – more importantly – get some full time writers to really work on the material.
But neither of those things would star Charlie Pickering, who while utterly pointless is clearly a TV host and therefore the kind of person the ABC believes should be hosting a television show. Possibly because they already agreed to pay him a vast sum of money for reasons.
So who cares if that show is shrinking around him like a shrinky-dink in an oven? It’s Pickering that’s bringing in the crowds! Ok, yes, the crowds are roughly identical to the crowds for Foreign Correspondent at the same time Tuesday and slightly smaller than for Four Corners on Monday which does kind of suggest that the ABC’s 8.30pm audience is rusted on and you’d have to put on something really awful to scare them off – which explains why Q&A rates so badly on Thursdays. Long story short, The Weekly is safe!
… until the ABC figures out a way to get loveable crime-solving biddy Vera to host a news recap, then Pickering is totally fucked.
*When The Weekly began it had three regular cast members who were on every week; now it has one cast member and one (1) slot for a rotating roster of guest comedians.