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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Television: Can of Worms Review

I’m going to call it – Zapruder’s Other Films is the greatest production company name of all time.

It’s also got a pretty good track record. Here are some of the shows produced by Zapruder’s Other Films.

CNNNN (Gold)

The Gruen Transfer/Gruen Nation (Platinum)

Enough Rope (Brilliant, often watercooler level brilliant)

Hungry Beast (Useful in places, misguided in others)

30 Seconds (Reasonable)

David Tench Tonight (Okay, so they’re not infallible.)

Where does Can of Worms (Monday, 8:30pm – Channel Ten) fit on this scale? At this stage, sadly, it sits closer to David Tench than Enough Rope. Though you can see Zapruder’s fingerprints all over it, Can of Worms has made some pretty severe missteps in production – missteps that need righting before the ship has any chance to sail.

Firstly, the premise: Ian ‘Dicko’ Dickson returns to TV in the host role, throwing curly questions at three celebrity guests. In the first episode, it was Craig Reucassel, George Mcencroe and Jason Akermanis. They talked about things like ‘is it racist to say all black men are well endowed’ and ‘should you be able to check on your teenager’s internet activity’. The panellists discuss it, we find out what the audience thinks, we find out what ‘the nation’ thinks, etc. Meshel Laurie co-hosts and sits in on the discussion.

Firstly the good: I think the premise is excellent. I remember watching Geoffrey Robertson’s Hypotheticals and I miss it – there was a real feeling of community about those specials that made them fun to watch. I think Meshel Laurie is a very natural (if possibly divisive) screen presence and the show is on the right network at the right time.

Now the bad – these are essentially the things I think Can of Worms needs to fix, and fix quickly, to be successful. This show will simply not work if it doesn’t reach the water cooler talk status is so clearly covets.

1. Make it live. Good lord does this show have to be live. There’s no sense of danger, no sense of community and no sense of importance to Can of Worms airing as it does. Q&A has been mentioned as a comparison but at the moment we’re closer to a kind of unfunny Good News Week. If the show was live, Twitter could join in properly (there was a really awkward moment when Meshel Laurie mentioned their ‘first tweet’ and since the show was so heavily edited the tweet wasn’t live and clearly couldn’t have been a reaction to the show itself) and more importantly things could happen. We could get raw TV moments if Can of Worms was live. There’s just no point to this show if anything remotely controversial is discouraged or able to be taken back in editing.

2. Loosen the structure and reduce the set! If this show is supposed to encourage informal, honest discussion why are they on a bigger set than The Footy Show? The set looked awkward and uncomfortable and Dicko looked awkward and uncomfortable on it. He’s an engaging presence, but take away the very much not clever introductions and monologues and silly starting game and just let the guy talk.

3. Don’t make it a game. I think an instant contender for my top five TV awkward moments of 2011 this year was the section of the show where the guests had to give a yes/no answer to a moral dilemma. Dicko then thrillingly revealed whether the studio audience agreed with them. It went something like this.

“Craig, to this answer you gave a yes. Did the audience agree?”

*Pause* *Sound effect*


*Craig Reucassel looks nonplussed and clearly doesn’t care*

Moreover, why should he care? What do we care what a hundred people we’ve never met think about this stuff? Don’t make it a game, make it a discussion. Because there are no stakes to a game – but a live discussion always has the potential to be interesting.

If these three problems can be fixed, Can of Worms has a shot at achieving what must be its aim – to get Australia talking.

At the moment though, Can of Worms is a decent (though not particularly novel) concept that is being severely let down by its execution. If it can loosen up, though, it could still be a success.

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