Your (Money, Their) ABC

Comedy is for the young and the young at heart. If you were looking for confirmation that the ABC appeals to neither of those groups, have we got good news for you! But for everyone else, strap in because this article right here is a bumpy ride down a waterslide right behind a family that just ate a whole lot of dubious shrimp:

Of all the broadcasters, ABC has the biggest slate of local production across drama, comedy, documentary, children and news.

Not all of it can realistically be canvassed in a single conversation, but in this final Programmer’s Wrap, Jennifer Collins Acting Director, Entertainment and Specialist, pinpoints some of 2023’s highlights.

What follows is a close look at a cavalcade of programming seemingly aimed entirely at people nodding off on the couch, and not in the “we just scored some good shit” way. When you’ve got someone saying “If the ABC can’t take risks, who can?” with a straight face about a reboot of Mother & Son, you haven’t so much gone through the looking glass as smashed head on into it and severed an artery.

In previous years our stance on the ABC has basically been “the obvious reason why they’re serving up such thin gruel is because they’re not being properly funded”. So now that Labor is back in the big chair federally and the money tap has been turned to… well, not quite as firmly off as before, what have we got to look forward to on the light entertainment front?

Amiable interview series Kitchen Cabinet with Annabel Crabb makes a surprise return in second half of the year.

New in 2023 is a series with Chas Licciardello, Kirsten Drysdale & Lawrence Leung to be known as WTFAQ (previously No Stupid Questions). Described as a hybrid format with both location and studio elements, this sees the team answer questions submitted by the audience

Craig Reucassel returns for a third season of War on Waste, last staged in 2018.

more Gruen, and Question Everything for Wil Anderson fans.

Fuck.

To be fair, there is a clear programming ethos on display behind commissioning all this shit. These are all shows aimed not so much as getting people to tune in – because seriously, who is going to consciously decide to change the channel to an “amiable” show where Annabel Crabb tries to make Peter Dutton seem like a top bloke – as it is to stop the people already tuned in from tuning out.

While the ABC seems to think drama is something that might possibly lure new viewers in and so still puts in a bit of effort there, all this… stuff (we can’t call it comedy) isn’t even trying to hide fact that the ABC sees even mildly interesting comedy programming as just a little bit too risky. And fresh faces? Don’t make us laugh. Let’s play connect-the-dots:

With no Mad as Hell on the horizon, Collins confirms, “We don’t intend to make Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell without Shaun, but the door is of course always open to Shaun for return…”

Which pretty much confirms the various rumours that Micallef and company did want to keep the series going without Micallef as host – but more on that later, because then there’s this:

“And I love Wayne (Hope) and Robyn’s (Butler) work. I’ve been a fan of them for a long time. I thought Summer Love was a perfect vehicle for nurturing new writers and new performers.”

You know what was an even better “vehicle for nurturing new writers and new performers”? Mad as Hell. And yet the second there wasn’t an already established name out front, all that nurturing – and the talent – went directly in the bin.

You wouldn’t want to assume the budget previously allocated for Mad as Hell has gone to another “surprise” series of Kitchen Cabinet, but it does seem noticeable that, despite Shaun Micallef saying clearly on a number of occasions that he’s stepping aside to “make way for new talent”, the ABC in 2023 is offering absolutely nothing in the way of opportunities for new talent.

And why would they? Going by this year’s programming line-up they have zero interest in anything comedy-wise that involves anything beyond 40 year-old concepts or comedy teams that have already proven successful elsewhere, preferably for at least a decade or more. Why give new talent – or even funny established talent – a shot when you can have Wil Anderson hosting two shows a year and members of The Chaser hosting everything else?

(don’t forget, Chris Taylor and Andrew Hansen’s Stories From Oz is “going to land in the second half of the year.” Feel free to imagine the sound it’ll make when it does)

As far as scripted comedy goes, if you’re an optimistic sort you might almost believe the ABC is showing a bit of interest for once, with sure things Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe airing this year alongside a fifth season of Utopia. The six-part Limbo “tackles the serious issue of mental health” so uh yeah, while period comedy Gold Diggers is created and written by Jack Yabsley, about which the internet has little to say beyond hosting some kids TV and filming a bunch of Gogglebox. Will we see that Mother & Son reboot this year? Not before October is our best guess.

But even if all of those series are winners, that’s what – twelve hours of local scripted comedy for the whole of 2023*? In previous years Mad as Hell went a long way towards boosting those numbers: now it’s gone and nothing funny has taken its place. This line-up is an unmistakable pivot away from comedy and towards a kind of pale white dogshit approach to programming, where the idea is that it’s basically crap but hopefully not so annoying that anyone will actually do anything about getting it off their screens.

These aren’t shows people want to watch. They’re not hosted by anyone the public cares about. Giving Annabel Crabb and Wil Anderson two separate hosting gigs in a year would be taking “more of the same” to insulting levels even if they came across on television as anything more than carpet samples given the power of speech.

Not to mention Sammy J’s finally put the legacy of John Clarke in the grave as the Thursday 6.55pm “satire” slot has now become, like satire in general on the ABC, a thing of the past. Welcome to 2023!

.

*you could possibly try to argue that The Weekly and Hard Quiz count as comedy. Good luck with that

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1 Comment

  • Andrew says:

    what a grim line-up. Although i like Denise Scott so I’m willing to give the Mother & Son reboot a go, but the rest of that list looks pretty awful. More Wil Anderson, Annabel Crabb, War On Waste. I know we’re nostalgic for pre-covid days but come on this is dire.

    With any luck there will be another series of Fisk to lift the standard.