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Developing Australian television comedy - you just have to laugh

By Rose Cooper - posted Friday, 14 November 2003

Feeling a bit woozy? No doubt you’ve been riding the Commercial TV Comedy Show Roundabout of 2003.

The latest loop-the-loop happened at Nine, where Micallef Tonight was unceremoniously dumped (after about half a dozen shows) and Merrick and Rosso – Unplanned were hastily ushered in. Nine’s initial bravery would appear to have been a momentary lapse in character. The rate at which tonight shows and sketch comedy programs have sprung up and then disappeared this year on the commercial stations is nothing short of hilarious. Little wonder that visual gags about television executives always feature stock film footage of chimpanzees jumping all over typewriters and throwing paper about with gay abandon.

These people obviously wouldn’t know their arts from their elbows.


I held grave fears for Micallef Tonight from the outset. Although it was an occasionally brilliant parody of the talk-show genre, it was clear that the joke not only went over viewers’ heads but also those of the producers, TV executives and publicity-department heads as well. The show would have blitzed in a later timeslot, if Micallef had being given carte blanche but it was obvious that his creative control was limited. Given half a chance, a healthy cult following, brimming with aspirant consumers (lousy with disposable income) would have grown.

Oh well, Nine is notorious for her lack of foresight and ill-chosen timeslots (cheers Rove).

Meanwhile, the ABC, which has always been at the vanguard of edgy talk shows, sharp satire and quintessential Aussie sitcoms, is quietly cruising along with very healthy ratings indeed.

Auntie’s method has always been quite simple – take educated risks and patiently wait for viewers to catch on.

Where else could Andrew Denton have made such a successful comeback to television? Even though he had been unfaithful to Auntie by having a two-year fling with Channel Seven in the mid-90s and then a dysfunctional six-year relationship on the wireless, ABC welcomed him back with open arms. On any other network, it wouldn’t have had the same ring of symmetry to it. Denton’s clearly as comfortable at the ABC as he would be donning an elliptic hat - it’s a perfect fit. The show is pure Denton, with his unabashed empathy and artfully persistent interviewing style given full reign.

Not co-incidentally, Kath and Kim’s success can be also be attributed to the amount of freedom the talented pair has been given. The show is Gina Riley’s and Jane Turner’s baby and they have full creative control.


The thing that sets the ABC apart from the commercial networks is simple - lack of fear. Auntie is always willing to try something new. Take CNNNN, while essentially a one-joke wonder, it is continuing into its second successful season. They targeted a niche market, reached it and they’re satisfied.

Apart from Rove Live, the only other successful chat show in recent years would appear to be – of all things - The Panel. Who would have thought that watching the same talking heads chew over the week’s well-masticated events in same format week in week out, would have lasted so damn long? We’re obviously not having enough dinner parties ourselves – if we can be so enamored watching other people talk crap and call it entertainment.

Naturally, the other notoriously unoriginal commercial networks copied the same formula and failed miserably. Yet, inexplicably, the ABC succeeded in re-inventing the format with The Fat and The GlassHouse. The latter is an obvious best-bits rehash of Good News Week and Denton however the ABC persists while the commercial networks panic if a show isn’t an overnight sensation.

The commercial channels were far braver 20 years ago but these days it’s all about the bottom line. With so much pressure to appease advertisers, there’s no room left for gut instinct, let alone patience.

And as any self-respecting new-age philosopher will tell you, if you don’t got gut, you got blot, baby. Well, I just made that up, but you get the picture. What else can I say about Auntie except – you go, girlfriend!

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About the Author

Rose Cooper is a freelance writer and actor who has contributed to many national publications over the past 20 years. She was Australian Women's Forum Magazine's most prolific contributor as well as their Sex Advice Columnist. Her areas of expertise include comedy, women's health and sexuality issues, relationships, theatre and pop culture. For more of Rose's articles visit:

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