This week WTFAQ made its debut on the ABC. Not that it felt anything like a debut, as it’s really just the latest version of the kind of lightweight infotainment series the ABC has been flogging since at least Hungry Beast. Every time it returns we tune in to see if this time it’s actually a comedy. Every time we come away disappointed.
In the same week – well, within a seven-day period – we also learnt that Mark Humphries and the backstage dancers that helped put together his satirical segments on 730 were finishing up. We say “finishing up” because in his carefully worded statement Humphries did not go into any detail whatsoever as to why he was finishing up.
The smart money is on budget cuts, mostly because it’s always budget cuts.
Thing is, the ABC’s budget is, to a large extent at least, something that is spent on the whim of management. This isn’t a case of “fuck, we have to keep Kyle Sandilands around, the advertisers love him and he brings in 99% of our income”. The ABC gets money from the government to do various ABC things, but as far as programming is concerned management can turn everything after the news into an all-snail watching channel – and who knows? Maybe they have. It’s not like anyone under 60 is watching.
But this means when “budget cuts” are thrown around as the reason why, oh, just for example, the ABC now no longer runs any satire at all-
-that’s right, it’s all gone in the bin in the last year or so. Sammy J? Gone. Mad as Hell? Gone. Mark Humphries? We’re going to assume you didn’t just skip directly to this paragraph. It’s almost as if ABC management really, really really didn’t want to run any comedy (we could stop right there really) that was making fun of the government, but they were too gutless to act while the LNP was in power. But now that Labor is sitting in the big chair and presumably the ABC audience don’t want their heroes being mocked? Fuck you satirical comedy.
Anyway, when the ABC says they’ve cut something due to budget cuts, what they mean is that they decided something else was more important because they’re the ones who decide where the budget is spent. It’s not some harsh judgment imposed on them by forces beyond their control; the federal government isn’t telling them they can only spend 5% of the budget on comedy (70% being reserved for “dramas about a murder in a sleepy small town where things are not what they seem”).
Yes, they can’t afford to be everything to everyone. But even if they had unlimited money, you know they’d be blaming “technical limitations” or “bandwidth constraints” to explain why they weren’t creating the kind of shows they didn’t want to touch.
So when you cast your gaze across the ABC line-up and see a grand total of zero sharp-witted news satires taking deadly aim at our lords and masters – or just whatever it was Mark Humphries was doing – but the return yet again of “let’s answer viewer questions with stunts!” for another six or so weeks, remember: this is how the ABC chooses to spend their limited budget.
They could be paying funny people who can see how the country is being run to make jokes about how we’re being screwed over in pretty much every direction you care to look. Instead, they’re paying people to wonder if tomato sauce is more hygienic in a cupboard or in a fridge.
Is the cost-of-living crisis the result of massive commercial monopolies our governments actively encourage because they’ve been captured whole by big business? Fuck knows, we’re too busy trying to find out if having your baby trapped under a car gives you super-strength.
Then again, if we really want answers maybe WTFAQ could tackle the question “why doesn’t the ABC have any satirical programs in 2023?”