Where has all the comedy gone? Part 3,671

Here’s some not-very-surprising news courtesy of TV Tonight:

A study into first run Australian content on ABC, outside of News programming, has found a 41% decline over the past decade.

Dr Michael Ward of the University of Sydney, a former ABC Television Head of Policy, assessed data for first run Australian content on ABC from 2013 – 2023.

The results, published by ABC Alumni show a 41% decline, or 430 hours in the past decade, of non-news and current affairs content (news caff) on ABC’s primary channel.

The article includes a line chart and some figures which illustrate that the decline started sharply under the Abbott government and has never recovered:

A line chart showing a steady decline in non-news-caff first release content over the past decade
Figures showing the decline in hours of first run programmes in various categories

The article also notes that:

The biggest drop was in Sport followed by Entertainment, Factual, Drama and Arts.

However there were also changes in definitions over the period. For example, ‘Drama’ hours now include scripted Comedy, which was previously a category of its own.

The near-total replacement of proper comedies (e.g., sitcoms, sketch shows) with dramedies over the past decade means comedy doesn’t even get its own category anymore. That figures.

Finally, there’s a challenge to the ABC to be more honest about the situation it’s clearly in:

“It is true that the ABC, like every other media organisation, is grappling with the consequences of the digital revolution,” the report stated. “But delivering new Australian made content across a range of genres remains crucial to the ABC’s role as a publicly funded national broadcaster. If it doesn’t have the funds to do so, it should be saying so, loudly and clearly. It is to be hoped that the new Chair Kim Williams will begin to do so as soon as he begins his job in March 2024.”

And, yes, some honesty would be nice, but would it do any good?

Either way, this is worrying stuff. The only comedy currently on Australian TV – not just the ABC – is The Weekly. Do you feel well-served by broadcasters and streamers? We don’t.

But maybe there’s cause for optimism? Screen Australia has just announced development funding for 23 feature films and 6 TV dramas, including some comedies. They are:

Desert Fish: A comedy/drama feature film following Aboriginal man Alfie Munns, a lost soul burdened by a turbulent past, who seeks salvation in the remote Kimberley when he stumbles upon the visionary Frances Nerrima, a respected Elder determined to empower her people by building homes together. As they face setbacks, legal troubles, and bitter adversaries, Alfie must confront his demons and embrace his roots to bring hope, unity and a sense of purpose to a community. Attached is director Wayne Blair (The Sapphires, Top End Wedding), writer/producers Victor Hunter and Melanie Hogan (Kanyini), producer Lisa Scott (The Tourist), script editor Keith Thompson (The Sapphires) and script editor/executive producer Mark Coles Smith (Mystery Road: Origin).

Going Troppo: On the run from authorities, Bernadette, a tax avoidance accountant, escapes to her estranged and apparently wealthy father in tropical Darwin, in this eight-part comedy/drama series. Along the way she discovers that her father is actually a destitute tempestuous drag queen – unimpressed by her sudden arrival, emotionally immature, and who is as good a liar as herself. In an effort to reinvent herself and find a common ground with her infuriating father, she embarks on a turbulent mission to win his admiration and turn his bankrupt gay bar into a spectacular success. Going Troppo is from writer/producer Kate Wyvill (The Wardrobe), script consultant Katherine Thomson (A Place to Call Home) and story consultant Kamahi D’Jordon King (Koori Gras – Sydney World Pride, 2023), with Nadine Lee attached as a First Nations consultant.

The Black Talons: A feature-length horror/comedy following a teen-girls netball team, The Black Talons, who defy the odds against mostly all-white competitors with more money and more resources. Just as their main rivals cheat them out of a Grand Final win, a flash flood hits – leaving them to take shelter in a Captain Cook-themed public housing tower. Forced to fight for their lives in a Colonial haunted house of horrors against reptilian monsters, The Black Talons have to work together if they’re going to survive the night. The Black Talons will be directed by Shari Sebbens (The Moth Effect, The Moogai) and written by Maria Lewis (The House That Hungers, The Phantom Never Dies).

The Golden Ass: A six-part family drama/comedy about a mixed-Cypriot family descending into chaos when its patriarch, Mazhar, has a spectacular meltdown in the fruit and vegetable section of the local supermarket. The resulting notoriety lures his adult children home but, instead of dealing with the mess, they are drawn into a desperate plan: to create a viral cooking show with Mazhar and his delinquent pet donkey as the stars. Their goal is to reach 1 million followers, if death and dysfunction don’t stand in their way. The Golden Ass will be written by Lâle Teoman (The Palace That I Live In) and produced by Rosemary Blight (Black Snow) and Kylie du Fresne (Five Blind Dates), with Polly Rowe attached as development producer.

Willy: From Ludo Studio, Mad Ones and Sad Man Studio, Willy is a 10-part coming-of-age fantasy set in 2003 Far-North Queensland, which follows 15-year-old barely-closeted Willy Davis as he struggles to navigate puberty in the farming town of Toee, (mis)guided by a private cast of imaginary friends. As if things weren’t sticky enough, the arrival of hot new neighbour Jack threatens to bust Willy’s vibrant but carefully constructed inner-world wide open, changing the lives of Toee locals forever. Willy is created by Samuel Leighton Dore (Showboy) and Bradley Tennant, with a proof-of-concept animation featuring voices from Judith Lucy, Anne Edmonds, Reuben Kaye and Danielle Walker. The series will be also written and directed by Leighton-Dore, produced by Liam Heyen (Erotic Stories) with development producer Chloe Hume, and executive produced by Daley Pearson (The Strange Chores season 2) and Charlie Aspinwall (Bluey season 3).

Also mentioned under TV development funding approvals are:

8 x 30 mins
Nondescript Productions
Comedy, Drama
Writers Celeste Barber, Belinda King
Producers Celeste Barber, Alexandra Keddie
Synopsis Marriage counsellor, Darcy, is forced to face her own relationship demons when her husband of 15 years leaves her for someone new.

8 x 30 mins
Makes You Think Pty Ltd
Comedy, Drama
Writers Ben Manusama (aka Ben Abraham), Liam Maguire
Producers Ben Manusama (aka Ben Abraham), Liam Maguire
Executive Producer Debs Paterson
Synopsis Inspired by real events, Are We Good? is a dramedy about a young Christian leader who, on the eve of being announced as a new pastor at his parents’ church, confesses to his fiancée that he cheated on her with a man off craigslist. What follows is the messy, heartening, darkly-funny story of a man trying to reconcile the person he is with the religion he’s devoted his life to.

8 x 30 mins
Christopher Squadrito
Genre Comedy, Drama
Writer/Producer Chris Squadrito
Script Editor Blake Ayshford
Synopsis After outing himself as bisexual, 30-year-old personal trainer Max Morello strives to keep his engagement afloat and his sense of masculinity intact – only to find his newfound evolution shifting the very nature of his relationship, his family, and his group of all-too Australian mates.

8 x 30 mins
Chemical Media Pty Ltd
Genre Black comedy, Drama
Creators Beth Knights, Tony Jackson
Writer Beth Knights
Producers Tony Jackson, Lucy Maclaren
Executive Producer David Collins
Synopsis When newly pregnant Olivia fakes her own death to escape a dangerous marriage to a criminal in Ireland, she re-surfaces with a new identity as a single mum in the suburbs of Perth – the most remote city on earth. Resourceful, ambitious, and not entirely averse to illicit activity, Olivia soon realises she can earn a decent living helping all sorts of desperate people fake their deaths too. While her black-market business is booming, Olivia’s hard-won new life is about to unravel with disastrous consequences.

8 x 30 mins
FremantleMedia Australia Pty Ltd
Genre Comedy, Drama
Writers Nikki Tran, Simon Trevorrow
Development Producer Anna Curtis
Synopsis A sharp-tongued, headstrong asylum seeker, Nesrine, bends the rules of a chaotic and insular Melbourne market to claw back her former standing in life.

8 x 30 mins
Arenamedia Pty Limited
Genre Comedy, Drama
Writer Mararo Wangai
Producer Kate Laurie
Synopsis Kaka is an affluent Kenyan student living in Fremantle, attending a prestigious business school on family dime and barely passing. When his parent’s money inexplicably dries up, he is forced to work as a dishwasher in a volatile kitchen full of eclectic characters, each caught up in the labyrinthine Australian migration system that is built to keep them down.

8 x 30 mins
Tin Pang
Genre Dramedy
Director Tin Pang
Writers Tin Pang, Amy Stewart
Producer Tin Pang
Mentor/Executive Producer Linda Ujuk
Synopsis A group of advertising misfits from the minority bench are transformed into Mad Men for the woke age when their white bread agency forces them to give makeovers to ads that have been #cancelled. But will their newfound influence contort them into the very overlords that have constantly oppressed them?

And if none of that’s to your taste, Seven has just announced that The Roast of John Cleese, which was filmed last year, will finally air on 12th March. It features a host of Australian comedy and showbiz talent that the British comedy legend has presumably never heard of. So…expect some jokes about that?

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