So what will the ABC do with the sudden emergence of The Chaser as its best new program. And the new lease of life given to its lead-in Spicks and Specks.

For the second week in a row the two programs did very well in the 8.30-9.30pm timeslot.

Both increased their audiences on last week to new highs of more than 1.3 million viewers, helped no doubt by the Ten Network running a repeat of its popular US medical drama, House at 8.30pm and the Nine Network running dead with a repeat of Cold Case in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth and a new episode in Melbourne and Adelaide.

Together the two Cold Case programs averaged over 1.1 million viewers but had no impact on Spicks and Specks with 1.310 million and The Chaser’s War on Everything, which averaged 1.303 million.

The Seven Network’s much ballyhooed Heroes at 8.30pm averaged 1.140 million and looked off colour last night compared to the two ABC programs.

The irony was that Spicks and Specks last night was an average program: there have been better efforts this year while The Chaser was excellent and showed up the much-hyped UK comedy sketch program, The Catherine Tate Show at 9.35 (710,000).

The Chaser‘s effort with the snake offering apples outside churches and to the public to re-create the concept of original sin was brilliant (Cardinal George Pell’s handlers saw the danger and moved swiftly) while Charles Firth’s valiant attempts to offer himself to Hillary Clinton as “the White House intern” complete with a CV of him posing in just a pair of black jocks was priceless.

More worrying for the likes of Seven and Ten is the way Spicks and Specks and especially The Chaser have stolen younger viewers in the 16 to 39 age group and more surprisingly viewers in the main 25 to 54 group.

The Chaser was number one in both age groups; Spicks and Specks around four. Seven’s Heroes was second while Ten’s The Biggest Loser was popular among younger women viewers.

The commercial networks usually don’t worry all that much about the ABC programs because they do not attract advertisers (SBS does now) and so long as viewers are lost to the ABC and not to a commercial rival, the networks are usually fairly happy.

But not when ABC audiences start attracting audiences of this size and threaten to continue to do so, especially The Chaser.

The commercials, especially Seven and Nine have tried knocking off Spicks and Specks in various ways without success, so will the cheque books emerge for the likes of Adam Hills and the lads at The Chaser?

We have seen how Seven, Ten and Nine were interested in Kath and Kim and how in the end Seven won with a $5 million plus bid and bigger budgets than the ABC or Nine could offer.

Kath and Kim were attracting bigger audiences than The Chaser which has improved in the 9pm timeslot on Wednesday and running it after the broader appealing Spicks and Specks helps.

So do Seven’s Kerry Stokes or David Leckie; or PBL Media’s James Packer or John Alexander have the guts to buy The Chaser and let them loose on commercial TV?

Somehow I don’t think so.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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