Last night the ABC aired the final episode of Tonightly with Tom Ballard, just two seasons and less than a year into its short life.

The nightly comedy program was the main event of the ABC’s comedy channel rebrand at the end of last year, with the media release calling it “a show made for today’s audiences — fast moving, irreverent, topical, talent driven, and just plain funny — with bite-sized packages released throughout the day on social media”. But, after today’s audiences failed to tune in in any meaningful number, another press release announced the show wouldn’t return. It was time for “something fresh”, the release said.

During its run, the program hit well above its ratings impact with how much it upset right wing columnists including News Corp’s Andrew Bolt and Gerard Henderson. Bolt frequently criticised Tonightly — he dedicated an entire column to a skit that was in turn responding to another News Corp column by Miranda Devine about how men protect women.

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“I’m done with apologising for men. I’m done with this endless listing of male sins, as if masculinity were a disease,” Bolt wrote. “I’m done, after watching the latest video from the ‘comedy’ channel of our national broadcaster, the ABC.”

Bolt has also been upset at the program’s swearing and “attacks on Christianity”.

Henderson named the program “The Green Left Weekly of the Air”, and maintained a count of swear words on the program in his weekly Media Watchdog newsletter. 

Both commentators favoured mocking the program by referring to it with inverted commas around the “comedy” when describing the ABC channel it was shown on.

Unforgettably, Tonightly upset the government so much that Communications Minister Mitch Fifield complained about a sketch that called Australian Conservatives candidate Kevin Bailey a “cunt”, referring it on to broadcast regulator ACMA. The skit was cleared, considering the timeslot, context and rating. 

And even after it was cancelled, the show was still getting culture warriors worked up. A song about new Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Christian faith and his policies on asylum seekers made front-page news for the Daily Telegraph (three days after it aired).

This week, it provoked the anger of “the left” online with a skit about outrage on “the left”.

The program was a bit hit and miss during its short life, and there have been suggestions that the unexpected cancellation gave it a new lease on life. The show even started a new segment: “Why the fuck not?” — “It’s a segment where, because we got cancelled, we just do what we want”.

But it’s more likely that people just weren’t watching before — part of the reasoning behind cancelling the show. Last night’s show averaged 65,000 combined viewers with 44,000 metro viewers. Its first season averaged fewer than 50,000 viewers an episode.

Tonightly is survived at the ABC by The Weekly, hosted by Charlie Pickering, and endless reruns of Spicks and Specks. A best-of special of Tonightly will air tonight.


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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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