Last Saturday, the Nine Network dropped a bombshell when it announced a last-minute programming change that would see a scheduled repeat of the first Hey Hey It’s Saturday reunion special replaced by a movie. It was later reported that it was the show’s producer and host Daryl Somers who made the last-minute programming request to Nine, apparently to avoid diluting interest in the show in the lead-up to the second reunion special airing this week. It was a risky move that resulted in protests from die-hard fans of the show that only days earlier had cheered the show’s return and its subsequent high ratings.
But the fallout from the last-minute programming change instigated by Somers was nothing compared to the international media storm that followed as a result of an act in the mock talent quest segment, Red Faces.
The Jackson Jive saw five performers, of multi-racial origin, paying a tribute to the famous ‘70s pop group The Jackson Five, with four of the Jackson brothers depicted with ‘blackface’ and recently-departed Michael Jackson shown with a white-painted face. The act drew instant criticism from American performer Harry Connick Jnr, a guest on the show and one of the judging panel on Red Faces. Connick Jnr gave the act a score of zero, though in the world of Red Faces that can unknowingly be as much a compliment as a criticism.
The reaction from the act instantly went viral as what was intended as a light-hearted tribute to the Jackson brothers sparked outrage around the world, particularly in the United States where such such blackface portrayals are deemed hugely offensive. Suddenly, Hey Hey It’s Saturday and Australia as a whole was widely condemned by some high-profile commentators around the world, while reaction in Australia has ranged from outrage to cries of political correctness gone mad.
Even Malaysian-born singer Kamahl, whose phrase “Why are people so unkind?” became a staple of Hey Hey It’s Saturday over the years and who also appeared on the show many times over its long run, has threatened legal action against the show after a cartoon image of him was used as part of the Jackson Jive performance.
The fallout from the skit lays a dark shadow over what would otherwise be applauded by Nine and Somers as a very successful reunion venture – highlighted in the second show by the return of HHIS favourites Ossie Ostrich, whose close friend Ernie Carroll has come out of retirement for the reunion, and Jacki MacDonald, who has led a very low-profile existence in Queensland since leaving television in the mid-1990s.
And tonight, Nine’s digital channel GO! will screen a repeat of both Hey Hey It’s Saturday reunion shows in a five-hour marathon. Though it is expected that the Jackson Jive performance will be omitted.