Television comedy is a tough gig. It’s also a hard topic to write about. I’m neither a comedian, a TV writer, nor have any association with the shows I’m writing about. I’m just a vivid TV comedy lover. Or as the Program Directors call me – a home viewer.
In Ben Elton‘s case – a valuable ratings point.
If you’ve turned off the TV in the last 3 weeks, Ben Elton: Live From Planet Earth was a hyped up ‘return to sketch comedy’ show that was pitched to Channel 9 last year from the man himself, stating there was a lack of decent sketch comedy on TV. He was right. There was a huge lack. The last few years Australian viewers have been putting up with either American sitcoms during prime time (Two & 1/2 Men, Big Bang Theory, Rules Of Engagement, Everybody Loves Raymond, According To Jim, you get the idea) where we whinge, yet still watch. This is because when we attempt our own sketch comedy or even variety comedy, it doesn’t last. This is because most of the time, the show isn’t given a chance. In Elton‘s case, Live From Planet Earth hit the sharp end of the axe after 3 weeks, struggling to find an audience.
We can go back decades to cover sketch comedy, but we will be only covering the last 20 years. It seems that after the likes of ,Fast Forward, Full Frontal, and Rove [live] disappeared from our screens, we’ve never seen a completely successful sketch or variety comedy show last more than 2 seasons, or at least given a full season. The life support system gets pulled pretty quickly. Here are some shows which got a cult following after they were gone.
Doug Mulray’s Naughtiest Home Videos – Channel 9 (1992)
The only show on record that never got a full screening of the episode the first time around. Mulray hosted a bunch of adult themed home videos. Ranging from nudie runs, to sexual entendres, to animals fornicating and people exposing themselves, it was pretty controversial at the time. About 2/3 of the way in, the owner of Channel 9 Kerry Packer picked up the red phone and ordered the control room to “Take this fucking shit off the air!”. Naturally, you won’t argue against your boss. It was swiftly pulled during an ad break and replaced by an episode of Cheers. In 2008, times had changed. Any offensive footage could be easily viewed on Youtube, and people weren’t as easily offended. Plus, Kerry Packer was dead. Bert Newton popped on our screen after Mulray refused an invite to host the re-screening, and so the entire show was played again, in entirety.
The Chat Room – Channel 7 (2003)
Channel 10 was having a huge success with Working Dog’s Wednesday night talk show The Panel, consisting of the former team of The Late Show & D-Generation. If you can’t have the show, why not make your own? The internet was on a fast 56kbps dialup, and websites and mIRC were the bees knees. Why don’t we jump on the internet bandwagon and make a show of it? That’s what Channel 7 did, and in early 2003, they knocked on the door of Austereo, the largest commercial radio company in Australia, and asked for their breakfast show talent to host a panel show on a Tuesday night. Mainly Melbourne based talent of Matt Tilley as the host, followed by panel seat warmers Tracy Bartram, Amanda Keller, Peter Berner and any other various comedic talent, it was close to a visual radio breakfast show. But after awkward interviews and topics, plus as it was Melbourne based, it excluded most of the other states content wise, it was canned after 3 episodes. They kept their breakfast jobs though.
Let Loose Live – Channel 7 (2005)
When you mention sketch comedy in Australia, everyone mentions Fast Forward. There was lack of Aussie comedy shows on TV, and a hugely popular US comedy show Saturday Night Live was being broadcast on Foxtel. So, how about we make our own home-grown version and throw in 3 veteran sketch comedians (Peter Moon, Marg Downey, Michael Veitch), a couple of well-knowns (Dave O’Neil, Colin Lane) and some others and put them live on a Sunday night at 8:30pm? Also, get some popular talent to be a special guest host (Week 1 = William McInnes, Week 2 = Tom Williams) and get them to act in the sketches too. Sadly, this wasn’t funny enough, nor were the veteran comedians. After the second outing, it was axed the next day. Singer Guy Sebastian was meant to host, but I’m sure he was disappointed when he found out the news that it wasn’t meant to be.
The Mick Molloy Show – Channel 9 (1999)
Mick Molloy. Famous for being the sparring partner of Tony Martin on ABC’s The Late Show from 1992 – 1993. Hugely popular with the teens and adults from the most successful radio drive show Martin/Molloy. Hey Hey It’s Saturday was in its final 28th year (it hadn’t been announced at the time, but it was close) and Channel 9 decided to open up the doors to the guy who you wouldn’t trust to pick up as a hitch-hiker, and would only pay you in the form of Winnie Blues. Molloy decided to grab his mates, buy a couple of lounges, head to the GTV-9 studios and park his arse in the middle of the room, turning on the toilet humour at 9:30pm. Channel 9, being known for being old fashioned, just like its stereotypical audience, were just not on the same level as Molloy was. ‘Urinating’ on the carpet, dragging out sketches longer than they should, having a jam session with a few bands in town – it was like a real life Wayne’s World, but for the bogans. It was getting its foundations settled before it was pulled after 8 episodes and replaced with The Pretender. Methinks that Programming were considering this as a replacement for Hey Hey, but they didn’t get what they paid for. Molloy just told them to ‘blow it out their arse!’.
The Nation – Channel 9 (2007)
Fast forward 8 years later, Mick Molloy and Channel 9 kissed and made up. Mainly because Eddie McGuire was now in charge of Programming. Molloy had a haircut and shave, made a successful movie (Crackerjack), a moderately successful one (Tony Martin‘s Bad Eggs), had a falling out with Martin over his next movie flop Boytown, and just finished a 2 year stint on commercial radio (Tough Love). Being great friends with McGuire, he set up shop again with Channel 9, and tried to make a show that echoed The Daily Show / Colbert Report, but with less balls. Less balls meaning that he recruited some new friends/comedians/talent, and didn’t get anywhere with it. After so much altering to the production and layout, The Nation had changed so much from the first episode, it was unrecognisable when the final 11th episode came by. There was also a celebration on the 9th episode where Molloy celebrated that he outlasted The Mick Molloy Show. But I believe that with ratings so low and a time slot change, they let him go with more episodes so he could break his record.
Micallef Tonight – Channel 9 (2003)
Channel 9 Executive 1: I was watching Government TV (ABC) a while ago…
Channel 9 Executive 2: What?? You weren’t watching work?
Exec 1: I was bored.. couldn’t sleep. Anyway, I remember catching a funny show… some comedian whom was on that evil Channel 7 show in the 90s… Fast Frontal?
Exec 2: No.. you mean Full Frontal?
Exec 1: … err yes! That’s it! I remember seeing him on that. He had a variety show that went for 30 minutes on the ABC.
Exec 2: Oh, rather! Continue!
Exec 1: He was quite good! He interviewed Tim Rogers, made Shane Bourne cry when he spoke about his wife issues, and did some great commercials based on a blender that cut the hands of the sales guy! It was quite funny!
Exec 2: Wow! Well, we need a new variety show. Rove is killing us in the ratings. Enough Rope is starting on ABC, and Greeks On The Roof is about to start on Channel 7. We’re the only ones without a chat/variety show!
Exec 1: Good idea! Get him in! He does great interviews! I think his name is Sean Michael F.
Exec 2: Err.. It’s Shaun Micallef.
Exec 1: Yes, that’s him. Get him in and make him do what we say. If he does some weird comedy sketches, throws the special guests off completely, have jokes that don’t work well, poor ratings, and humour that pays tribute to Monty Python and some other zany British comedian that our old audience doesn’t get, then axe him. Just don’t tell him he’s axed on unlucky 13th episode. I don’t want him swearing live on TV!
Exec 2: Noted. This is going to be a terrific show!
Now, I’ve only scratched the surface. There’s heaps of other shows I haven’t touched (The Wedge, Ronnie Johns Half Hour, Bligh, Let The Blood Run Free, Welcher & Welcher, Funky Squad, Merrick & Rosso: The B Team, Fat Pizza, Sit Down Shut Up, Eric Bana Show Live, The Sideshow, The Comedy Company, Col’n Carpenter, The Comedy Sale, Very Small Business, David Tench Tonight, Tonight Live With Steve Vizard, The Russell Gilbert Show…), but if I wrote about them, I’d might as well write a book. Every time a comedy show gets axed, an article like this always appears, just to add another notch to the list of failed shows. So please, tell me, what comedy/variety shows have you got in mind that should’ve:
a) kept going
b) downright shithouse
c) insert your own idea here