Five years ago War on Waste was yet another of the ABC’s attempts to make consumer affairs television entertaining. Now it’s back, and it’s not even trying to be funny. So why are we mentioning it?
We’re all used to the ABC’s endless efforts to cash in on nostalgia for things we didn’t even realise were gone. Beyond that, War on Waste is an odd reminder of an period that once defined the ABC. We’re talking, of course, about The Chaser Era.
While today it’s just one of many websites that punch out satirical headlines at a steady rate, a decade ago The Chaser dominated the non sitcom-side of ABC comedy.
Topical humour? You had The Chaser’s War on Everything, The Hamster Wheel, and The Chaser’s Media Circus. Election comedy coverage? They had a special or series each federal election for fifteen years (2001-2016). Panel shows? The Unbelievable Truth (ok, that was on Seven). Consumer affairs? The Checkout. They were on radio, they put out books, they did live tours: the “Chaser boys” were everywhere.
And now they’re not. They’re not even behind The War on Waste (that’d be Lune Media, home of a bunch of similar comedian-fronted series including Shaun Micallef’s Brain Eisteddfod), though if you read the end credits you’ll see many of their members being thanked. Still, with its mix of facts, stunts – there’s a lot of big piles of garbage being dumped in public places – and host Craig Reucassel, there’s a touch of time travel in every episode.
Exactly why The Chaser faded from our screens is… well, not really a mystery. It’s just hard to nail down. Their attempts to introduce a “next generation” never caught on. Politicians wised up to their pranks. Moving to couch-based chat with Media Circus was a flop; shows like Mad as Hell and The Weekly edged them out.
And of course, once the Abbott / Turnbull / Morrison era began it became pretty clear the ABC didn’t want people making fun of the Abbott / Turnbull / Morrison era. The Chaser’s court jester act required the support of management and the indulgence of intelligent politicans. Uh oh.
The main difference between 2013 and 2023 is that The War on Waste, like just about everything on Australian television fronted by a comedian now, isn’t even trying to be funny. The formula once used to deliver middling gags about politicans is now presenting viewers with depressing stats about trash.
Much like this blog, come to think of it. Maybe we should get Reucassel to host.