Let’s go beyond the glitz and glamour and all the headline grabbers for an offbeat look at the winners and losers of 2018 in Australian TV.
Insiders on the ABC on Sunday mornings with Barrie Cassidy as host of the year. Audience was up around 5% when all other news and current affairs programs lost ground in 2018. Barrie has sent thank you cards to the Liberal Party factions (T. Abbott, M. Turnbull, S. Morrison, E. Abetz et al) because it has been the party’s self-destruction this year that has pushed audience figures to the point that the program has been a top finisher on Sundays, with figures regularly over 600,000, and over 700,000. Numbers Ten’s Sunday and weekday editions of The Project can now only aspire to.
Seven’s The Front Bar was another big winner. The Eddie McGuire destroyers, forcing Nine to finally ‘fess up to plans to revamp their long-running AFL Footy Show for the third and probably final time in as many years. The Front Bar is cheaper, more modest, more rooted in Australian (mostly male, so how about a woman in 2019?) sport culture than the glitzy, “aren’t I the star” approach of McGuire and Nine. The AFL Footy Show started modestly, like The Front Bar did, and then ended up leaving its sport and audience behind as McGuire became president of Collingwood, a temporary CEO of Nine, a Fox Sports AFL host and a FM radio host in Melbourne. Clearly not enough time to think about how to stop the slide in audience numbers.
Landline and Back Roads on the ABC both reported on regional Australia and linked them to the cities in a non-defensive way. These programs allow regional people to tell their stories and reveal themselves, unfiltered and without judgement. Landline especially has done more to show that issues such as climate change and renewable energy, changing food tastes and animal rights are widely held and debated in regional areas than in the cities. It shows consistently that the likes of Barnaby Joyce are out of step with rural Australia, as is One Nation. Both programs provide the essential two way flow of information from regional Australia that Ten, Nine and Seven struggle to do, except when there is a drought, fire or flood.
Have You Been Paying Attention: modest, amusing, occasionally thoughtful, escapist and intelligent. Confirms that working comedians (and occasional FM hosts) can be amusing when on camera — and need an ensemble to really zing as Dave Hughes and Peter Helliar have found with their own awful shows on Ten this year.
This is the same reason the likes of Tom Gleeson and Kitty Flanagan have worked on The Weekly, hosted by Charlie Pickering, who has lifted his game. The format sits well with Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell, which is my program of the year, just topping Insiders, Landline and Have You Been Paying Attention.
Easily the worst shows of the year were Ten’s Blind Date, Seven’s Take Me Out and Bride and Prejudice, along with Nine’s Married At First Sight. They make The Bachelor and Bachelorette on Ten look like entertainment.
Outside the football seasons, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights (and days) were deserts, making for an unfortunate TV trend. Wastelands of encores, repeats and third and fourth tier programs with only the ABC taking one or two nights seriously.
And now Seven is going at SBS in the food channel space. Watch Nine or Ten admire the way both have expanded the market — and then watch them invade it too. No wonder Netflix, Stan and other streaming services are going so well in Australia.