Outta the Way, Gramps

Wil Anderson has a new book to promote, and we all know what that means: talking about ways to get more young people on the ABC! Wait, what?

In a feature headlined “Wil Anderson’s bold solution for the ABC’s youth problem” – presumably the bold part is that he’s not offering to give up any of his own air time, but more on that later – he suggests the solution to the lack of young presenters on the ABC is to hire more young presenters. Genius!

No wait, we read that wrong – it’s to give him a new show:

Wil Anderson has a proposition he’d like to make to the ABC: Let him come in and oversee five nights a week of late-night TV hosted by young comedians.

“Let’s make something,” he says. “Let’s get all these young people and give them more shows and do something in a slot – I don’t care where it is, it could be 10.30 on a Friday night, or we find a channel and we do it every night — let’s just invest in people.”

Some people might think that hang on, doesn’t Wil Anderson already host two series on the ABC? Maybe the way to get more people who aren’t Wil Anderson on the ABC is to have less Wil Anderson on the ABC? More fool you, because he’s already thought of that:

“I guess the argument could come back in the other direction: ‘Well, you’ve been there forever, why don’t you f— off?’,” he says. “Well, here’s why. I am only on TV for 10 hours a year. So it’s not a huge amount. I already don’t do a lot.

“But if I go, they’re not replacing me with Aaron Chen, that’s the truth. So the best work I can do is try to create something where I can put those people on the show.”

Interestingly, this is the exact opposite argument to the one Shaun Micallef made when he quit Mad as Hell:

As Mad as Hell is not currently being hosted by Aaron Chen, Anderson may well have a point.

Anderson’s “10 hours” argument makes sense from his side of things, where he has a couple of part time gigs at the ABC for a few months each year. From the point of view of pretty much everyone who isn’t Wil Anderson, he’s currently hosting two comedy panel shows on the ABC, which is one more than anybody else and two more than 99.95% of the funny people in this country.

To be fair, he’s not suggesting he actually host this new talent showcase. He’d just be some backstage puppet-master the new talent would listen to or something… it’s a little vague. Because if he’s not hosting, then why is he involved? Isn’t the whole idea of new talent to get new ideas out there?

The obvious model for what Anderson is suggesting is a mentoring role. Something akin to what Denton did with The Chaser and Hungry Beast. But back then Denton already had his own production company – the company that, after a few mergers and with Denton long gone, still produces Gruen. If those guys want to produce a young talent showcase, go for it. If Anderson’s not hosting, and the new talent is providing the talent, it’s hard to see exactly where he fits in.

(and if Anderson did host, chances are it’d just be another version of Question Everything, where the occasional fresh face is given the chance to show they can fit in seamlessly with a bunch of comedians twice their age so the audience isn’t startled by any jokes that aren’t old enough to drive)

As a host, Anderson’s been remarkably committed to the ABC. Andrew Denton and Shaun Micallef went to commercial networks for extended periods. Adam Hills went overseas for years. Anderson stayed put: these days he’s the jokey, fun-loving face of the establishment.

Yeah, he smokes dope and takes swipes at authority. Remember when he used to host The Glass House two decades ago? The ABC audience has grown up with him and now they’re 50 year-old homeowners, just like he is. He’s been hosting a series on ABC television almost every year since 2001: his on-air career is older than some of the up-and-coming comedians trying to get a gig on the ABC.

The truth is that to achieve the goal of “more young people”, the ABC is going to have to get rid of some of the old people*. Even if there was a new talent showcase, everything else on the ABC is hosted by people who’ve been there for a decade or more. You know, like Wil Anderson.

For this system to really make a difference, new comedy talent is going to have to move up the ranks at the ABC, not just vanish when their show gets axed. If Anderson sticks around until retirement age – or even just Fran Kelly’s age – that’s another fifteen years where a top hosting job isn’t going to a young person.

It’d be great if the way to get more young people doing comedy on the ABC was to expand the size of the pie. Maybe one day the ABC will have enough money to do that. But after decades of LNP leadership focused on freezing or cutting budgets, the ABC that gave a twenty-something Wil Anderson his start is gone. If young people are ever going to get a seat at the big table, someone there is going to have to step away.

Anderson’s heart is clearly in the right place, and pretty much everything he’s arguing for has merit. The part that doesn’t is the part where he’s involved.


*haha, as if

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