It’s not a good sign when the ABC starts promoting your replacement when you’ve still got weeks to go. And what’s this?
Okay, it’s shit news, but it’s no surprise – this is sizzle for a return next year though, right?
Wait, so they’re advertising it now even though it’s not going to air for a full month? The ABC only ever does that when they’ve put a dud in a vital timeslot and want viewers to keep tuning in thinking they’re going to be getting a better show. Which they will be… in a month.
Though “better” isn’t quite the right word, as Question Everything has gone from being vaguely Gruen shaped to straight-up Gruen News, the show nobody asked for. This week’s episode featured a story on how technology is being used to create fake ads; that’s a Gruen segment. When you have Wil Anderson saying to a panelist “Aaron, you’ve got something to sell us?”, you have an episode of Gruen.
The downside of all this – aside from having more Gruen – is that the excuses are already falling into place. Anderson’s already spoken publicly about the series’ difficulty when it comes to getting panelists. Obviously the show would have been a hit if they’d been able to get the same old smarmy ABC hacks in, right?
Here’s the problem with that version of events. The panelists, while a bit rough around the edges, have pretty much been the only part of Question Everything that’s made it worthwhile. All that other stuff left over from Gruen? Not so flash hot.
Gruen works (yeah yeah “works”) because it features a group of experts talking about an area they’re seemingly knowledgeable about. Question Everything was always going to feature comedians talking about the news, an area they’re not particularly knowledgeable about unless they’re Chaz Licciardello and he already has his own show that does exactly what this is supposedly doing only better because literally every other show on Australian television doing news is doing it better because IT’S NEWS AND EVERY NETWORK HAS AN ENTIRE NEWS DEPARTMENT THAT HANDLES NEWS.
(well, maybe not 7Mate)
The only time Question Everything gets it right is a): by accident and b): in spite of, not because of, the format. The guests – again, best thing about the show – are just there to reply to Anderson’s tired joke prompts; the moment this week where one guest spoke directly to another was about as surprising as things get. And when “conversation” is the best thing your show has to offer an audience, fuck off.
Question Everything was a bad idea from the beginning and trying to pretend the only good thing about it is why it failed is the kind of bullshit hack self-serving political move you get from entrenched company men looking to save their own backsides. Here’s a serious suggestion: why didn’t they go down the QI route with this and get a serious(-ish) news person to host (not Annabel Crabb, but in that direction) and let the comedy guests provide the comedy?
Oh right, because then we wouldn’t have Wil Anderson looking pissed off as the kids make jokes and he’s left frozen-faced like a school teacher trying not to bark “I was cool before you were born”… not realising that the sad thing is that he’s right.
The moral of this story is simple: the ABC should make more new comedy showcases, less “what if Gruen but about ____?” and maybe consider leaving news coverage to the entire channel of news coverage they’re already paying for.
I will say I reckon it’s slightly more apparent what they’re going for now, and occasionally it finds a gear. I still find the “questions” insulting because the show is still trying to pass off the responses as improvised, which is something that HYBPA? does a much better job of camouflaging by mixing scripted responses with improv – but that’s easier to get away with if the responses are a sentence long. The “routines” that each guest has worked up on their assigned topic are far too “constructed” to be plausibly improv, but generally not quite funny enough to stand alone as written material, so it does leave them on the back foot a little. Better not to pretend, I reckon: the guests should be “reporters” for the show (and thrown to in that way: “With more on that story, here’s Alexei”) and do their pieces to camera with the others disrupting in the background where appropriate (and improv/conversation after the report). That way, perspectives on-topic will work almost as comic opinion pieces, lunatic departures will also work (because the serious frame will emphasise the lunacy) and the whole thing will be more explicitly a deconstruction of how news/disinfo is delivered.
(It would also mean that the presenters were working to the home audience/studio audience and not to each other, which would help. It’s great that the show’s instinct is for participants to be generous to each other, but it can end up being a lovely friendly party to which the audience is not invited. If they were instead “a crack team of reporters”, they can still laugh at each other’s jokes, they just won’t be the 100% audience for them.)