A few months back we expressed befuddlement over the way 10 didn’t seem all that interested in exploiting one of their biggest local hits. MasterChef and Survivor get spinoffs, why not Have You Been Paying Attention? And clearly the programming chiefs at 10 are big fans of this blog – despite giving How to Stay Married three seasons – because bingo bango, here comes The Cheap Seats.
If you didn’t know this was a Working Dog production going in (and hosts Melanie Bracewell and Tim McDonald from HYBPA? didn’t tip you off) you most definitely did five minutes in because the jokes (and there were plenty of them; pacing was definitely not a problem here) didn’t so much share the same voice as HYBPA? as feel like ones fresh off the exact same assembly line.
Obviously there were differences. A number of the jokes felt like ones the HYBPA? team might have rejected (despite being funny) because they required too much of a set-up to work on that show. Others were too much like straight news coverage for HYBPA?‘s game show format. Basically, if you like the throwaway news footage gags Tom Gleisner does at the start or end of a segment, then you’re going to love this.
To be clear, this is in no way a bad thing: HYBPA? has been the most reliable laugh-getter on commercial television for close to a decade. It’s way past time it broke out in new directions, especially considering the failure of everything else 10 has tried along these lines, and this is a logical, effective way to build on the show’s success. Long story short, you can never have too much of a good thing.
Or can you?
As a delivery system for a lot of solid news jokes and not much else, a one-hour show on a Tuesday night is a bit of an odd duck. More and shorter episodes would make for better coverage of the week*; putting it on a different night might make it feel like more of a way to wrap up the news cycle. As it stands, the timeslot in no way announces that this is a show you need to watch, which is a problem because neither does anything else about it.
As hosts, Bracewell and McDonald are spot-on, which is good because they’re 70% of the show. The banter is strong, they can sell a joke, they’re bubbly without being annoying and they keep things moving forward nicely. But they currently have no drawing power – people aren’t going to tune in just because they’re on board. Likewise with the guest reporters, who were also fine but nothing outstanding. Will we start to see celebrity interviews once people can move around again (and have things to promote)? Probably – not that they’re big draws these days either.
In a perfect world, virtue would be its own reward. Judged purely on the material, this has come out of the gate strong, and with years of HYBPA? experience behind it it’s hard to see it falling off. It also has an average timeslot, hosts that are basically unknowns, and a format that’s “it’s news, but with jokes”. None of these things are going to pull in a crowd, which on a commercial television network you usually need to do.
That said, we assume 10 basically said to Working Dog “sure, knock yourselves out” and if it falls over no big deal. The Cheap Seats probably lives up to its name cost-wise, considering it’s just two hosts, two guest reporters, a desk and an hour or so of recording time – the researchers were probably already working on HYBPA? and Working Dog most likely write most of the gags in house. If they can get a sponsored segment or two like HYBPA? it’ll pay for itself.
That’s a big if though. This feels like the kind of cheap but effective show that would have worked a decade or two ago when television was still the entertainment option of last resort. Now watching television requires effort; if you just want something to waste time on, you’ve got a phone, or social media, or YouTube, or TikTok, or whatever. And this is time-wasting television; there’s nothing here to make it a must-see unless you’re a big fan of well-crafted news jokes.
Considering The Weekly keeps on being renewed, there’s not too many of us around.
*this clearly isn’t about covering the week a la The Weekly though – it’s about finding enough funny material from around the world to fill a show, which would be a lot harder to do with more episodes per week
Ok, so Utopia is back for a record-breaking (not really – ed) fifth season. It’s been almost a decade since...