By the second season of that huge ratings success of the late 80s, The Comedy Company, Con the Fruiterer saying “How-are-you-today?” before spitting into a fruit and veggie bag for the 68th time, Kylie Mole playing with her chewy telling us that her best friend “she just goes, she just goes … she just went” AGAIN and Colin Carpenter misspelling his name at another job interview, had become pretty old hat.
Well, two weeks into its latest series, it’s clear that The Chaser has reached its own “Coupla Days” fork in the road. They’re now officially in danger of collectively becoming a media manipulating one-trick pony.
The one trick, of course, is to offend, with the manipulation coming from the fact that The Chaser’s offensive skits are clearly designed to get the conservative — and usually the bleedingly obvious — areas of the media hopping mad. Then the next wave of publicity comes from the apologists, who will tell you that the team is “holding up a mirror to society” and making satire of the media coverage of the delicate issues, rather than the delicate issues themselves.
Whatever … personally, I sit in neither camp. I’m in what I suspect is the silent majority, parking my backside on the couch at 9pm on Wednesday night, hoping that a bunch of talented blokes can make me laugh.
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Last night they probably hit the mark with only one sketch — getting Americans to eat and drink hay after telling them that it was a guaranteed weight loss supplement — and woefully missed the mark with several more, with the main button pusher being the “Make-a-realistic-wish” sketch, as most would have seen and heard by now, set in a hospital ward full of terminally ill children.
Predictably this then becomes great talkback fodder for the AM fuddy-duddies, who this morning have lined up the traditional “they’ve gone too far,” “they’ve crossed the line now,” and “the ABC should be ashamed of themselves for letting this type of tripe go to air”.
But just as those doing the criticising are guilty of being obvious, so is The Chaser. Pick a taboo subject, (terminally ill children, incest, padophilia in the priesthood, deceased celebrities, etc) and then take the piss out of it knowing the media coverage will follow.
Well on the way up the totem pole, it’s actually not the worst strategy if you have the talent and the nerve to deal with it, as that crew has to date. The challenge for them now is that they’ve reached a stage where “everyone” watches them, so the product rather than the publicity is what will give them sustained success from here on in, and from what they delivered last night, they need to lift their game.
Not because they “crossed the line” not because “they went too far”, but because it was nowhere near as funny as they’ve been in the past.
I’ve seen all this before. Early in 1996 — my first year working on the notorious AFL Footy Show, the show’s third seasopn — Sam Newman “collapsed” on the set, just a couple of nights after then Today Tonight host Jill Singer had passed out, live to air.
Without exaggeration the next day all three lines to the office did not stop ringing with viewers telling us they and of course “all their friends” would never watch the show again. The following week the ratings went from something like 600,000 to 750,000 viewers in Melbourne alone.
Lesson learnt. Five years later when our ratings were dipping a bit, and then Melbourne Demons star David Schwarz suggested Sam really gets into his club for their ordinary performance the previous weekend this pie-in-the-face sketch was hatched.
Yep. The phones rang, the columnists slammed our disgraceful act and the ratings went back to their dominant position.
The point being that outrage needs to be your shock, rather than stock, position. With ours it was AFL news and discussion and with The Chaser it’s presumably comedy.
That now has to be their only consideration. Not whether a topic is taboo, nor whether they shot a heap of footage overseas and need it to air to justify what would have been a seriously expensive exercise. They simply need to ask themselves one thing on each and every sketch and idea: “Is this funny?”
“Racetrack” Ralphy Horowitz is a former producer at The Footy Show, Sunday Footy Show, SEN & 3AW.