News satire is a hard thing to pull off. The timing has to be right, along with the delivery and punchline that clever that you have to convince the audience it’s funny – even if they don’t know the story.
In the mid 1990s Australia was swimming in local sketch comedy. But there was a missing spot for news satire – so TV Producer Ted Robinson recruited freshly retired Doug Anthony All-Star Paul McDermott, grabbed the idea of the UK’s news satire comedy game show Have I Got News For You and transformed it to the Australian audience as Good News Week and paid for by the Australian taxpayer. Originally McDermott wasn’t the most confident choice the ABC agreed with due to his characteristics as the ‘angry’ one in DAAS, but after a shave and a haircut, he would soon be the cute angry little man many a teenage girl would swoon over. We take a trip to April 12, 1996 to the very first episode.
The freshly shy introduction of McDermott walking up to the camera and opening up with the singular line “Thankyou (x3) and welcome to Witness with Paul McDermott” being a polite stab to the short-lived current affairs show on Channel Seven at the time, hosted by well accredited Jana Wendt. McDermott, with prop newspaper clippings in his hand, reads off the cue screen with all the short topical stories of the time in April 1996. And that’s the good news.
After the show theme Good News Week as performed by the 1960s UK beat group Hedgehoppers Anonymous (which I assume after the period of time that Good News Week was broadcasted for, would rake in a delicious royalty cheque to pay for their retirement village costs) McDermott then settles into his chair behind a specialty designed desk, broad shoulders hunched up and trying to explain this new news satire comedy quiz is all about in one breath. “What part is Good and what part is News, and what part is weak” – all summed up nicely. Now it’s time for the team players.
To the right of Paul (our left) is Team Mikey: Mikey Robins – fellow Triple J breakfast radio host with McDermott, sultry and norg-tacular Kate Fischer who was still riding the coat-tails of appearing nude in the Aussie art-house film Sirens in 1994 and was dating billionaire James Packer, and fellow friendly stand-up comedian James O’Loghlin.
To the left of Paul (our right) is Team Anthony: Anthony Ackroyd – stand-up comedian and friend of Paul’s from the Big Gig / DAAS days, Alison Whyte – star of another ABC comedy hit Frontline – produced by Working Dog. and comedienne Sandy Ireland.
The first game is a viewing of 3 – 4 images that are clues to the story they are hinting to. Team Mikey had the story of the infamous unabomber, while Team Anthony had the story of the LAPD bashing the general public, 5 years after the anniversary of the attack of Rodney King. After the game is solved and points are distributed, the next game ‘Strange But True‘ begins, with Paul distributing props to each team member to solve at the end of the show. All is good and well until you realise how old the episode is when Paul hands Anthony’s team a VCR. You know – a Video Cassette Recorder.
Round Two is up next – Bites – sound / video grabs from a story which leave little clue to the news article itself, other than each team trying to work out what it is referring to. Mikey’s team are shown a grab of at the time Governor General Bill Hayden making reference to former Prime Minister Bob Hawke and a certain ‘member’. Anthony’s team received a bite of former UK Prime Minister John Major referring to the UK’s beef exports and how they’ve dropped in consumption. Funny enough, only a few years later, the UK is exposed to the ill-fated ‘mad cow disease’, nearly wiping out all of the cattle in the process.
Round Two part 2 is Tabloid Roulette, showing three tabloid headlines, but one of them is real, in which the most ‘wittiest’ team member has to guess what the legit headline is. First off the rank? Fischer. Even working out that one of them is fake, it still took Fischer a minute to actually work out that McDermott is after the real headline, not the fake ones – in which she eventually gets it. Alison Whyte’s turn is up for the game, and she gets it nearly straight away. The sad part is that the fake headlines in this game would be a stock standard header for anything printed from the Huffington Post or News Limited publication and treated as click-bait.
The next game Missing Persons consists on a silhouette image on display where someone or something has been removed from the original image, with the teams guessing what needs to fill the blank. The first entry was O’Loghlin guessing Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer which showed a shit-eating grin or the discomfort of having a hand up his arse. The next image which Ireland correctly answered Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser standing next to a transvestite .. of all things.
A quick segue later of fake newspaper headlines, Round Three with Odd One Out shows four images of people and/or objects that all have something in common, except one. Richard Nixon, Adolf Hitler, Attila the Hun and Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett collect together for one story, with Robins guessing that Kennett is the odd one out because “his image is in colour”. Fischer backs up Kennett as he is the ‘only one alive’ – astonishing the studio with an intelligent answer. (Did I mention before that Fischer isn’t known for her IQ?) However, the answer was Attila the Hun, because he was the only one who believed that military training should only be voluntary. Smart response. Team Anthony received Jeff & Beau Bridges, The Marx Brothers, The Daddo brothers and The Menendez Brothers. The team incorrectly answered Menendez Brothers, with the answer being The Daddo brothers because the others “got to where they were under the acting ability alone”.
A quick segue edit later, Paul partially relaxing in his seat, sits up and throws back to the Strange But True segment. Team Mikey answer their clues correctly, while Team Anthony answer their response in poem, not without a few punches towards Mikey after he shows how ‘boring’ the story re-telling is. Both teams answer correctly with much amusement.
While the points are added up, the crowd decides on the winner, with Team Anthony winning – with the help of his exposed chest area. Flirting is a dangerous thing. After a ‘thanks for playing’ applause to the teams, there’s one more Fat Cat joke, then the credits roll.
A topical show that is so dated, you’d have to do your research or know your news history just to get the idea of some jokes. You know they’re funny, but you don’t know why you’re laughing. But the show develops a cult following which still lasts to this day.
And that, my friends, is the good news.