The Year That Was… #4: Lots of laughs in ’07

Australians love their comedy on TV, but in the last couple of years, apart from a few stand out successes like Spicks & Specks and Thank God You’re Here, there wasn’t a great deal to laugh about.

Then 2007 came along and the tide was turning. ABC‘s The Chaser’s War On Everything was plucked from last year’s late-night timeslot to take The Glass House‘s spot on Wednesday nights, and virtually doubled its audience as a result of the change. Various stunts of the Chaser team (pictured) inspired many headlines and a lot of outrage – whether it be the team infiltrating the iron-clad security of the APEC Summit in Sydney, making crude remarks about deceased personalities or gate-crashing the offices of Today Tonight, a program that was the subject of much derision by the team.

Also on ABC this year was another comedy hit – Summer Heights High. This long-awaited follow-up from Chris Lilley, who gave us the mockumentary styled series We Can Be Heroes in 2005, received plenty of mixed reaction and also its fair share of headlines. Parents and teachers were outraged when school children were now mocking the crude phrases of troubled student Jonah. Similar outrage was also felt when one of the show’s central storylines, the death of a student from a drug overdose, was seen to mirror that of a similar real-life case where the victim happened to have the same first name as the fictional character depicted. In that case it was found to be an unfortunate coincidence as the series had been written and produced before the real-life incident occurred.

At the same time, Summer Heights High also received its share of accolades as Lilley, who wrote the series and performed the three very different key roles – private schoolgirl Ja’mie King (pictured), self-obsessed drama teacher Mr G, and student Jonah – very aptly covered various issues found in today’s schools such as drugs, bullying, racism, violence, disability and homophobia.

Following on from Summer Heights High was The Librarians – a title that doesn’t inspire much excitement but instead showed that inside a library is a pit of sexual tension, jealousy, bitchiness and bigotry in the lead up to the biggest event in the suburban library calendar, Book Week.

But possibly the biggest comedy event to hit Australian TV this year was the comeback of those foxy ladies, Kath & Kim. It was thought to be an April Fool’s Day gag when on 1 April, the Seven Network announced it had shelled out $3 million to drag the popular pair across from ABC where they’d presented three top-rating series and a telemovie. It was also ironic in that Seven is where the characters were formed in the first place, as characters in the sketch comedies Big Girl’s Blouse (1994) and Something Stupid (1998).

Success in the transition from ABC to commercial TV isn’t always a given, it has been tried before by others with mixed results, but Seven’s debut of series four of Kath & Kim on 19 August attracted over 2.5 million viewers in the capital cities and the series had a series average of 2.128 million – the highest of any TV series all year.

Network Ten presented a third series of Thank God You’re Here, providing more unpredictable performances from actors thrown into scenarios without the safety of a script. A creation of Working Dog Productions, Thank God You’re Here was the second most watched series of 2007 with 1.86 million viewers. The success of the format in Australia has seen it franchised around the world although it did stumble in the US after its initial six-week run when it was shown on NBC, currently the fourth-ranked commercial network.

Despite the format’s continued success in Australia, there is still uncertainty as to whether it will be back in 2008 although it looks like the rival Nine Network could be stringing together a similar concept in a bid to regain its ratings dominance. Nine will hope that the new show gives it something to laugh about because 2007 was a year they’d probably like to forget.

Nine’s ratings failings this year were not helped by Mick Molloy‘s The Nation which aimed to put a humorous spin on the week’s events – a concept not entirely new to viewers familiar with similar programs such as The Panel. The gamble on Molloy (pictured) was puzzling, given that his last venture at the Nine Network was the ill-fated Mick Molloy Show which set new benchmarks for questionable taste, and it would appear that viewers hadn’t quite forgiven him enough to give The Nation a go.

Nine’s other new comic venture this year was nothing really new at all – Surprise Surprise Gotcha was a thinly-veiled attempt to repackage a series that it had made almost a decade ago, complete with segments simply cut-and-pasted from the original version. Nine also followed on from Surprise Surprise Gotcha with another cheap format, Commercial Breakdown, with former AFL footballer Dermot Brereton presenting packages of funny or quirky commercials. Again, a format that had been done plenty of times before.

Although ABC had good results this year from Spicks & Specks and The Chaser’s War On Everything, they had less success with The Sideshow, a show loosely modelled on the broadcaster’s former hit The Big Gig. Launching in ratings graveyard of Saturday nights, The Sideshow was always going to struggle to find an audience and the 7.30 timeslot was at odds with presenting the more risque humour better suited to a later timeslot. Then ABC did shift the program to 9.30 but perhaps by then the damage was done, and it was cancelled shortly after.

Finally, over to SBS who delivered their own humorous take on the news with Newstopia, a creation of comedian and radio host Shaun Micallef (pictured), though was said to be a local take on the US series The Daily Show. SBS also aired a sixth series of urban comedy Pizza.

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