Tonight the fourth series of Working Dog’s Thank God You’re Here begins on the Seven Network.
When a deal was done between the production company and network late last year it caught everybody by surprise -not the least of which was Channel TEN, which had been home to the series since its inception. Rumours flew about price tags of $1M per episode, since denied.
In shifting to Seven, the show retains its hallmarks with the same ensemble players, judge, creatives and jovial host, Shane Bourne. Filmed in new studios at Melbourne Showgrounds, the comedy has a new home, and a few new ‘victims’, beginning with Flight of the Conchords‘ Rhys Darby and comedian Colin Lane.
Bourne says he loves to watch the reactions of those who have never tackled the scenarios.
“I love seeing people I’ve known for a long time do exceedingly well and come out the other side almost having had a ‘spiritual experience’,” Bourne told TV Tonight.
“Colin is someone who has worked so extensively with Frank (Woodley) and done a lot of improvising. But before he goes through the door he’s petrified. By the end of the show I think he’s the first person who ever makes a speech about the experience.”
Many have wondered if the shift from TEN to Seven means the guests will see a plethora of Seven personalities.
“Everyone keeps saying ‘do you think Kochie will go through the door?’ I doubt it very much. I don’t think that’s Working Dog’s style. I’m sure they’d have something in there that says ‘we’re not doing cross promotions.'”
Bourne says that traditionally, faces from other networks always appeared on the show.
“In previous series it used to be open slather. Some wanted their people to go on it from other networks.”
One who was brilliant in his improvisation was Shaun Micallef, now fronting his own new show on TEN from next week. Bourne suspects that being a host could complicate the likelihood of an appearance, although he hints that further down the track it might be more achievable.
“From what I gather Working Dog would love to have him. Seven would not have a problem at all. But I think he may well have signed something. Whereas when we were at TEN we used people from all over the shop. And that will continue, I’m sure.”
Thank God You’re Here has been an international success for Working Dog. While it didn’t last in the US, there remain other versions in other territories. Audiences adore watching performers try to improvise, backpedal and bluff their way through surprise scenarios. It is an astute variation on Theatresports and a theatrical tradition of improvisation.
Yet, there remains a key point of difference. Theatresports relies on a basic principle of saying “yes” to whatever an actor offers. Blocking a line, a concept or a response is considered a surefire way to end a scene.
“Theatresports is people creating the scenario,” agrees Bourne. “whereas with this you’re walking into a scenario, which is kind of the flipside. And in so doing there’s a kind of unwritten direction that people tend to take. It’s not so much improvising as ‘bullshitting.’ Bullshitting involves ‘no.’ So it’s probably got different rules of operation.”
The Thank God You’re Here ensemble has a road-map of ‘bus stops’ to keep scenes on track.
“I’ve only seen a few times when someone’s had huge problems steering the boat back. And that’s purely been due to a zealous performance from the guest.
“It’s quite a skill the ensemble has. They’re tug boat captains guiding the ship. But some of the funniest things here are when people totally block and basically take the thing somewhere else.”
Bourne doesn’t take his success with Seven lightly. He is grateful for being able to flex both his acting muscles and, now, his comedic flair with Thank God You’re Here. He says its satiates a need to stay funny.
“With the drama you’re serving someone else’s story, so there’s something else at play there. And you can also internalise which is a healthy thing for a performer. The cathartic, therapeutic element for me on Thank God is immeasurable.
“This is almost like you’ve popped over from the City Homicide set just to help these people out. It’s a bit like your second job. You’ve come from doing a play or something. A bit like a musician going to have a jam after doing a musical comedy.”
But while he admires the ‘unwritten’ brilliance of Thank God, Bourne is equally staggered by the output of City Homicide’s writing team, led by two men.
“It is extraordinary. They did 14, they did 22, they’ve done 26. John Hugginson in particular is a crime show nut. In Britain he was watching all this kind of stuff. John Banas I think has strengths more in relationships and dialogue. I get that feeling,” he said.
“Sure they might be farming it out, but they’re still doing the stories. How do they do it?”
He also credits Producer Maryanne Carroll for ensuring scripts are as tight. But he admits he is surprised at just how brutal the stories can become.
“It seems to be that this is what people are prepared to accept now. I would personally probably opt for a different take on it. But people certainly go for it. Maybe it ensures that the stakes are high to solve the thing. I was kind of brought up with the ‘cinematic suggestion.’
“These days if there ain’t blood spurtin’ on the wall, nothing’s goin’ on. But most of the time it’s over in the first 30 seconds then we’re into it.”
Bourne says City Homicide will return later in the year, though with his busy schedule he will be taking some time out.
No doubt audiences will be understanding. It seems he has clearly won them over anyway.
Thank God You’re Here screens at 7:30pm Wednesday on Seven.