Panel shows are all the rage. When they really fire -as many have on the ABC- they become good audience pullers and make economic sense. No expensive location or top heavy script departments here.
Commercial television hasn’t always managed to hit the magic formula. Todd McKenney and You May Be Right anyone? Glenn Robbins and Out of the Question anyone? It’s a sad but true state of affairs.
Good News Week, which was born on the ABC, and the now defunct The Panel, are two commercial exceptions, both TEN brands, along with Nine’s long-running Footy Show.
Now TEN is attempting a new format, Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation. Hosted by the wry Shaun Micallef, it pits three teams representing Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y. In the first episode those teams comprise Amanda Keller & George Negus, Charlie Pickering & Arj Barker and Josh Thomas & Ruby Rose.
Each faces a series of challenges -verbal, visual and physical- designed to arrive at the smartest pair. In reality it’s more to ramp up the interplay and punchlines between the cast, like all good game / panel shows. Despite the clunky title, it does so pretty well.
Micallef hosts with his usual self-deprecating style. He deconstructs while glorifying television at the same time. There are jokey asides about lazy producers who couldn’t come up with a better title for segments. Matching him well is Amanda Keller -it will be great to see them both back on the box.
Pickering adds a streetwise edge to the show and Thomas’ meek humour should be a nice complement.
The pop-culture challenges themselves are unapologetically simple. It won’t burn too many brain cells trying to determine a Doctor Who t-shirt from a The Simpsons t-shirt. The interplay allows for some fun derision between older and younger participants. Keller and Negus adopt ‘parental’ roles. Josh Thomas is unfamiliar with Bewitched. Charlie Pickering can attack both sides with ease and Micallef can either pick and choose his targets or adopt the school principal role.
There is a humility here that sits neatly alongside The Einstein Factor and game shows that don’t overshoot their role in the world.
While there will doubtless be debate about the numerical definitions of each generation, Keller seems a little on the youthful side to be representing Baby Boomers. What could the show have been with a more senior figure?
The set is a sparse arrangement of podiums and multi-purpose screen, with Rubik’s Cube-inspired patterns behind Micallef, a basketball ring and a roll-a-door. Unlike Adam Hills and Paul McDermott’s central role, Micallef looks to be quite some distance from his subjects.
The real test for the show will be one of length. At sixty minutes it could outstay its welcome. ABC panel shows nearly always get in and get out within 30 minutes. Stretched to sixty, with advertisements, could be pushing the friendship.
As to who deserves credit for the show, it’s a bit of a mystery. Yet again TEN directs viewers to its website for show credits, but so far they aren’t listed.
Nevertheless, Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation looks set to be a shamelessly trivial pursuit with some warm and witty panellists.
Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation premieres 7:30pm Tuesday on TEN.