For the past 12 years, John Clarke and Bryan Dawe’s mock interviews have been an ABC institution — an oasis of satire in a sea of oh-so-serious news and current affairs. Each Thursday night you can bank on them showing up, at around 7.55, to take the piss out of whichever politicians or other public figures have been in the news that week.

Well, you used to be able to. For the last two weeks, 7.30 watchers have been denied their weekly satirical fix — and there’s no guarantee the duo will be returning to our screens next year. Within the ABC there’s no topic more sensitive right now than what to do about Clarke and Dawe.

The official line from the ABC is that no decisions on the segment have been made, and that’s true. But Crikey understands its future is being keenly debated by heavy-hitters in Aunty’s news and current affairs department — including 7.30 EP Sally Neighbour and current affairs boss Bruce Belsham.

Some senior staffers believe the segment has passed its use-by date and they would like to see it shelved. There is also talk about moving the slot to another program or “freshening it up”. Exactly what that means is unclear, but we doubt the ABC would do a Frontline by suggesting the duo dress and speak like the politicians they’re impersonating.

Neighbour declined to respond to specific questions about whether the segment is likely to return next year. “Clarke and Dawe have a current contract with the ABC for the 2012 calendar year,” she said. “There have been no negotiations yet regarding 2013.

“As is normal when a contract ends, those discussions will occur over the next couple of months. Any discussions held within the ABC on programming issues are necessarily private, as are all contractual negotiations.”

According to Neighbour, the October 11 sketch was dropped because of “significant timing issues” (it was posted online). Stories that got a run that night included pieces on offensive Facebook posts, a Bali bombing anniversary terror threat, an interview with Julie Bishop and calls for a royal commission into clergy s-x abuse. Neighbour says a “computer malfunction” prevented Clarke from preparing an original sketch last week and a standby offering was rejected because she considered it out of date.

7.30 has undergone a radical overhaul this year under the leadership of Neighbour, a former Four Corners journalist, with a greater focus on news breaking, investigative reporting and edgy stories that appeal to younger viewers. Clarke and Dawe, who could not be reached for comment, joined the 7.30 Report in 2000 following eight years at A Current Affair and previous stints on 3AW and ABC Radio.

Although the future for their segment appears cloudy, there’s some good news for the duo’s devotees: we’re told they’ll be back on air tonight. 

Peter Fray

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