If it wasn’t for our public broadcasters we really wouldn’t see much in the way of local comedy on Free to Air.
Commercial networks have given comedy a wide berth of late, preferring to shuffle the laughs into panel shows rather than scripted content. Comedy isn’t even a Logie category anymore.
While ABC has given us Ja’mie: Private School Girl, A Moody Christmas, Upper Middle Bogan, It’s a Date, Please Like Me, Twentysomething and #7DaysLater, SBS has recently produced Housos and Legally Brown (7mate recently announced Paul Fenech’s The Bogan Hunters for 2014).
But despite the various successes of these, it’s not uncommon to hear somebody ask: “Why won’t somebody please make a sitcom?”
By this, they mean the traditional multi-cam sitcom, so perfected by the Americans.
Hey Dad was one of the longest-running sitcoms in the world. Mother and Son is widely-regarded as our finest. While there have been elements of sitcoms in such shows as At Home with Julia, there are few that follow the model of a live audience in front of a multi-cam, studio situation comedy.
Even the Comedy Channel on Pay TV has avoided scripted comedies of late.
Last week at the Screen Forever conference during a comedy session, a question was put to the panel about the dearth of these. Will anybody ever take the kind of risk necessary to achieve one, or are our writers simply not interested?
Adam Zwar (Wilfred, Lowdown, Agony Aunts/Uncles), said: “I know from an acting point of view a lot of Australians go over to the States and audition for multi-cam comedies and don’t do very well. The Lawson brothers (Josh, Ben) are the only two who have actually broken in.
“When you think about how well Australian actors are doing in the US that’s quite extraordinary. But that’s not our home turf. I think the studio comedy comes from farce. The four-door farce comes from British theatre and it relies on a very different acting style.
“It’s not the sort of acting Australians generally do. Australians underplay, and we sit off the joke a lot of the time.
“It’s not really in our wheelhouse…. hitting every beat of every mark, and that’s the same with writing those shows.”
Years ago Australia has produced comedies that subscribed to the form. Acropolis Now, All Together Now, Kingswood Country, The Last of the Australians, My Name’s McGooley What’s Yours? and Newlyweds were chief amongst these.
“I don’t think we have a tradition of it. I’d love to see it corrected. There have been some good ones in the past, but I don’t think we have a tradition of it,” Zwar contends.
Debbie Lee from Matchbox Pictures said the sitcom form was under consideration when she was Head of Comedy at ABC (she left a year ago).
“We were talking about doing it, but it was also a budget thing. We could either throw all of our eggs in one basket and try and do a 22 or 40-week thing, and not do anything else, potentially. Or we could do a number of things,” she admits.
Rick Kalowski, who has since replaced Lee in the role at the ABC, remains optimistic.
“I’m a lover of all forms of comedy. I love studio comedy – Cheers, Spin City, who doesn’t love those shows?” he asks
“Generally speaking, at the moment studio comedy is a bit unfashionable. That’s probably because a lot of writers don’t have a lot of respect for the big, notable half-hour comedies. But I personally think in this country we’re only one comedy away from it being perfectly acceptable again.
Kalowski is developing projects that may buck the trend should they ever reach the screen.
“I’m about to put something in development which is a very modern attempt to do a studio comedy. It could be a total disaster, but watch this space,” he says.
“We are open for business in terms of having conversations about studio audience comedies. The ABC would love to be the place that brought the studio audience comedies back. We have such a tradition at the ABC of studio audience entertainment with shows like Gruen, The Chaser and Micallef.
“It doesn’t have to be daggy. Black Books, The I.T. Crowd are not daggy shows. This is an unfashionable view but I think How I Met Your Mother is one of the best-written shows on television. It’s actually not a studio show, they make it sound like it is. They have so many scenes they shoot it in a studio then add the laughs later.
“I don’t love Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory but let’s not forget they are two of the most successful and profitable shows in the world.
“We might do shorter runs: 6 half hours, 8 half hours or 10 half hours. We can throw ABC resources at it because we have studio space both in Sydney and Melbourne.
“I’d love to do it.”
What’s your favourite Australian sitcom? Or your favourite sitcom full stop? Why does there seem to be a dearth in this genre?