Channel Nine has been rebranding itself as the home of comedy this year – with such comic treats as %&*# My Dad Says and Mike and Molly to offer up to a comedy-hungry TV audience. Part of that rebranding was Ben Elton: Live at Planet Earth, which when all is said and done was a commercial and critical failure.
But that’s not the last hurrah for Channel Nine and their approach to the funny – two highly anticipated shows on my list will both pop up on their network later this year. One is Hamish and Andy’s new venture, whatever that may be, and the other is the Gruen Transfer-esque show about television The Joy of Sets, featuring Tony Martin and Ed Kavalee.
So I guess the real question in the post-mortem is – what can those shows and the network that produces them take away from the Elton failure?
1. Don’t hype and over promote your show if you don’t know what the finished product is actually going to be. We were completely smashed with Ben Elton’s face during the cricket and the lead up to his pilot – creating expectations that this would be everything you loved about his previous work crammed into a one-hour live laugh fest. But Channel Nine couldn’t have known it was going to be good – since it was live, they were counting purely on one man’s comic ability to produce an entire hour of quality comedy with a rapturous live audience. Entertainment is hugely about meeting, surpassing or failing the audience’s expectations, and Channel Nine’s promotions department set the bar way, way too high. Now that’s going to be unavoidable for Hamish and Andy, but I hope at least that The Joy of Sets will start from a bit less of a handicap.
2. Always have a team of writers. My biggest problem in the wash-up from Live From Planet Earth was that everything felt so much like it was written by Ben Elton – a misanthropic, joyless take on the world from a middle-aged man that would have been current and contemporary in 2001. Maybe 1997. Jokes about SPAM, rappers interrupting singers, teen culture that all seemed like the comedy world had longed moved past it. The trick to a lot of comedy is identifying things people didn’t know they thought were funny, not things we’d been finding funny for half a decade. Elton desperately needed input from writers, editors and performers to give his show the comic edge it really needed. I don’t think that will be a problem with the two dynamic duos I mentioned earlier.
3. Allow for chemistry and utilize the strengths of your performers. I thought the way LFPE was structured was one of its biggest problems. Elton/Sketch/Elton/Sketch/Elton doesn’t allow for rapport and is a breeding ground for awkward transitions and segues. People like watching people interact, and although it still didn’t work all that well, Elton seemed to realize this during the third episode. What’s more, can we find a job for all the talented young people on this show in better projects please? The cast really was doing the best they could with bad material and it is they I felt most sorry for when the show was cancelled.
There’s more, much more (Don’t fight Twitter, don’t explain your jokes, make sure the show is sustainable), but I don’t want to beat a dead horse. Live from Planet Earth was a worthy experiment, maybe even one that needed more time, but I don’t think it was ever really going to work. I hope that Blake, Lee, Kavalee, Martin et al learn from the mistakes made by Elton and the Channel Nine promotions department. I’m sure they will and I can’t wait to see what they come up with for the rest of 2011.
For those that care – here’s some thoughts on the third and last episode of Live From Planet Earth. By special request.
I started out the third episode of LFPE (after the awkward transition from coverage of a huge tragedy) thinking about how Ben Elton did a great job going after Ricky Nixon and that whole debauched scandal.
Then he did a section from his book Inconceivable pretty much verbatim. Oh well, never mind. Then he took a swing at the newspaper industry. Not a funny swing - just a swing. Then he made a Rod Stewart joke. Also from Inconceivable – the farmer/sundried tomatoes sketch. I think its from Inconceivable.
After that, the show debuted its best character so far in current affairs host Tuffy Nightly – beautifully played and well suited to this type of comedy show. Good start. After that, Elaine Front turned up - continuing to try to bail out the Titanic with a bucket – and interviewed the cast backstage in what was a spectacularly awkward couple of minutes. The character is funny, though. Maybe she could be the Mr. G of this show.
Madonna turned up on Girl Flat. So there’s that. I do like the fact there’s a lot of very funny women on this show. Though I still don’t understand why Lily Allen is Milly-Molly-Mandy.
The show meandered along at a half-decent pace and then we hit the throat lolly song. I have to admire the cast’s commitment at getting through that one. Remarkable. The audience was just completely dead. It was like they’d recorded it after everyone had left. Or everyone had left during the ad break - or just filtered out during the show. Anyway, I’m done with ragging on it now. Everyone involved do something better next time, please?
TODAY’S SCREAM AT THE TV MOMENT:
After Veronica Milsom’s Nigella Lawson impression, Ben Elton says this. ‘Nothing like a good old double-entendre, huh?’ Is there really anyone hearing that and going – ‘Oh, it was DOUBLE ENTENDRE! Got it!! Brilliant! I didn’t get that at all before you explained it! Breast/breast. With you now.”
Positives? One line I can’t stop saying – ‘I’m sure you’re the same.’ It might become the new ‘That’s what she said.’