You can get away with a lot when you’re funny. The Cheap Seats is the kind of show that Australian television loves to throw together, throw at a screen, then throw in the bin when nobody tunes in. And yet it’s one of the big successes (the only success?) of recent years, a sure-fire winner week in week out. So what’s the secret?
Chemistry. It’s the chemistry.
Whether they’re making fun of each other or being concerned when a joke may have worked a little too well, the connection between hosts Mel and Tim makes The Cheap Seats work. Turns out, when you build a show around funny people who work well together, you get good comedy. Who knew?
So it was a pretty big speed bump when Titus O’Reily pulled the pin early in the year. He wasn’t a seamless fit, but neither is sport in general for a show built on regional news gaffs and crap reality TV. An expert who’s also funny and also doesn’t take it too seriously is hard to find on any topic. When it comes to sport, presumably The Front Bar has them all under lock and key.
Once Titus was gone, the show struggled throughout the year to replace him. Sporty types weren’t funny enough; comedians were just taking the piss. Isn’t Australia full of dickheads who love sport and think they’re funny? Hopefully one of them steps up in 2024.
That said, losing one of their lynchpin regulars didn’t really slow things down. Clearly it doesn’t hurt to have a big behind-the-scenes team scouring the world of television for clips. Across a full hour it rarely feels like they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel, and when they do serve up a dud the hosts are almost always able to salvage it with some banter.
Even the interviews, which honestly are often the weakest part of the show, are still pretty good. They’re loose and freewheeling; getting laughs and being entertaining is always the top priority. Not everyone clicks with the tone of the show, but even the bad interviews rarely go off the rails (unless it’s Costa laughing so hard he’s literally unable to speak).
So if it’s so easy, why isn’t everyone doing it? After years of being (rightly) scared off news clip comedy after a string of massive flops, the ABC has started dipping their toe back into the water with Question Everything. As an ongoing example of how to make this kind of thing work, The Cheap Seats is right there. With that as a guide, you’d think the ABC would be able to punch out a decent take on the concept, right? Right?
Again, it all boils down to chemistry. For whatever reason, the ABC seems to only have a limited roster of hosts and guests, almost none of whom seem to have much on-screen charm or warmth. If you want to do a show where stand-ups come on to do short bits of scripted material, then focus on that. If you want to make a show making fun of news clips, you know what to do.
Mel and Tim aren’t television personalities the way Wil Anderson is, but they’re a lot funnier and more likable on The Cheap Seats than he is on Question Everything. Their show is one that invites the audience in to share the joke; his is one where the guests forget the audience in favour of trying to one-up each other. Which would be fine if the end result was funny, and not just slightly awkward.
The Cheap Seats: looks easy, turns out it isn’t. We’ll be counting the days until it returns.