As I sit down with the comedian, I’m reminded he is always so relaxed with his criticism. As he talks about the future of television, you could be forgiven for thinking he is joking.
“We won’t be watching Television anymore. Networks are irrelevant. It will all be Video on Demand. There are a thousand ways you can watch the content. It will all be Netflix,” he says.
But wait, isn’t the ABC a broadcaster too, albeit a public one?
“The ABC’s role is to provide a viable alternative to the garbage that’s spewing out on the commercial networks,” he explains.
“The idea of the ABC, and it’s the thing that should be protected, is that they are making programming that is educational, and a viable alternative. It can be entertaining, but it shouldn’t be the same stuff you can get (elsewhere). They shouldn’t be making reality or talent shows or sport shows, because they’re all catered for elsewhere.
“They should be making programmes that feature me and shows that I want to do. If that sounds a bit self-serving –I’m sorry!
“The great strength of the ABC, which you don’t get -usually- on a commercial network is a sense that you’re hearing an unfiltered joke, or point of view. (On Commercial TV) what you’re hearing is a mediated compromise, vaguely in the service (of someone) saying ‘Here’s a joke of mine, and while you’re hearing it, here’s a product you should buy as well.’ That’s fine if you know that’s what the show is.
“But ABC is a purer way of delivering comedy.”
But there are exceptions. TEN certainly has a show that is crystal clear in the opinion of its presenter. Neither of us name the show, but Micallef is firm on its track record as television.
“I think it’s selling newspapers and hits on a blog site. I’m not sure it is anything other than in and of itself. It would have to be regarded as a failed television show. But it’s not there to be a television show. It’s there to be a cyber version of the paper thing. ……but I don’t know what we’re talking about,” he smiles.
“I think it would be fair to say that particular show doesn’t resonate with a mass audience.”
Of course Micallef has enjoyed runs on commercial television himself, indeed Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation brought him the broad audience that had eluded him with other projects. Does this mean he is ruling out a return to commercial TV? Of course not….
“I’ve made some beautiful programming for commercial networks. But they’re the jewels in the crown and they sit way above the cesspool of material they usually make,” he remarks.
“SBS is commercial television, but I’m not ruling out the ‘proper’ commercial television if there is something that comes up.
“I’m happy to be swimming in a cesspool as long as I’m the best swimmer.”
That’s Micallef for you. Never one you should quote out of context.
But should he ever return to TEN, Nine or even Seven, he would have firm views on the use of social media and second-screening -especially where a Drama project is involved. Micallef isn’t a fan of Twitter hashtags being created by networks.
“Television shouldn’t be telling you what the content of a hashtag should be. I don’t think anybody is sitting at home going ‘Ok, these are the rules. We’ll have to hashtag what’s in the bottom corner and answer a question they’re asking us 15 minutes into the programme,'” he insists.
“I think people enjoy speaking behind their hand about the programme.
“It really offends me with Drama. The idea of second-screening while you’re watching Drama is the antithesis of any writer who values what they’ve created. Or any actor who values what they’ve created. Or any producer. Why would you encourage the audience to turn away to talk about a dress she’s wearing?
“My son and I watch The Walking Dead and a hashtag comes up asking ‘Should John be trusted?’ Maybe it’s an American thing, but as with all American things it’s probably only a matter of time before it permeates here.”
As a viewer Micallef is still very much a purist. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. So pure, in fact, that he is still the proud owner of a VCR. And he uses it.
Micallef, proudly, does not own a PVR.
“I don’t even know what that is. And I don’t have an IQ. Literally,” he adds.
“If I want to tape something, it’s usually a movie, so I’ll put it on VHS.
“What’s wrong with that? It achieves the same thing. All these devices are nothing new. It’s just a slightly-more complicated way, for me, of doing something that is quite simple.”
Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell airs 8pm Wednesdays on ABC.