ABC tells commercial networks: “Man up and make some Comedy!”

"Instead of playing a repeat, stick an Aussie comedy in there and try and grow something," Brendan Dahill suggests.


Australian commercial networks are letting down the team when it comes to locally produced Comedy, according to ABC Head of Programming, Brendan Dahill.

In the recent AACTA Awards every single Comedy nomination was produced by the public broadcaster, but “owning the field” is a risk when there is no competition.

“It would be nice if some of the others came to play, because the bar gets raised for all of us by having more competition out there. I would love Channel TEN to get involved in comedy. They’ve got Modern Family, one of the best comedies in the world on their network. They should be using that to build another comedy, shouldn’t they?” he asks.

“Stick an Aussie comedy in there.”

“Given the demo they’re chasing, and given where they’re at right now, they should man-up and make some comedy.

“If you look across every single network, you’ve got a big US comedy on each of the networks, and they back-to-back them with a repeat. Instead of playing a repeat, stick an Aussie comedy in there and try and grow something off the back off some of the biggest comedies in the world.

“I think it would be healthy for Australian comedy and healthy for us at the ABC to have some competition in this space. There is a danger of owning the field and I think it will be good for everybody. You can’t get enough. We shouldn’t be able to get enough of it.”

While Seven has produced two recent comedy titles for 7mate in Kinne and Bogan Hunters, Nine’s local comedies are largely confined to travel shows such as those by Hamish and Andy, while TEN has a long-running relationship with the Melbourne Comedy Festival for specials, plus comedic elements in Have You Been Paying Attention?, I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, The Project and the short-lived This Week Live.

Foxtel has also announced two new comedy projects for the Comedy Channel.

ABC continues its commitment to the genre this year, with new and returning titles.


“Comedy is one of those areas that’s really important to the Australian identity, I think, and I’m really pleased that, when you see the AACTA nominations our recognition for being the home of comedy in Australia is cemented, so we’re not backing away from our commitment to Australian comedy. I’m really pleased that we can bring Utopia back, which I thought was amazing last year. Already it’s created its own catch phrases,” he continues.

“Obviously there’s a zeitgeistness about those characters and Australian politics, that is just tapped into a really valuable seam of comedy gold there. And add to that, what we’ve got, Please Like Me coming back for a 3rd season and it’s going to be on ABC. And we’ve got Sammy Jay & Randy doing probably the most out-there comedy of 2015. I think that makes for a really rich comedy mix.”

“One of the things I need to improve this year is our Wednesday night performance.”

But not everything has fired on ABC, with Dahill being frank about the need to improve.

“I think, when we look back at 2014, one of the things I need to improve this year is our Wednesday night performance.

“Obviously, I thought the Spicks And Specks‘ team made a brilliant interpretation of the new Spicks And Specks but the audience didn’t respond to it in quite the way we’d all hoped.

“Sadly, even though the team did an amazing job on that show − and I think it’s every bit as good as the original Spicks And Specks − that didn’t make it.

“There are a number of other shows that, sadly, didn’t make the grade out of 2014 that I loved, The Moodys being one of them. The Moodys is one of my favourite shows of all time but we needed to do some new things, so there are some things we couldn’t do anymore, to be able to do some new things. So, we’re looking at Wednesday nights and obviously we’re lucky to have Jon Casimir here with us at the ABC working on our entertainment slate with us. Adrian (Swift), Jon and I spend a lot of time worrying away at: what is the perfect ABC night on a modern Wednesday night?

“So, Reality Check is part of that on-going conversation about, what can we deliver to our audience and what do they want from us? As Mad As Hell, obviously, has made it and is now in its third year with us. I thought Chaser’s Media Circus at the end of last year was great. Utopia obviously worked.

“So, there are some things on Wednesday night that did work in 2014 that we want to continue and there are other bits that we need to improve.”

26 Responses

  1. This ABC thing smacks of arrogance. I know for a fact that several programs have been submitted and declined by ABC. ABC have their “favourite” suppliers and stick with them despite other new ideas on offer. This lecture to the commercials is rubbish – not made by an awareness of the constant pressures of FTA commercial management. By that, these comments appear to be made by someone who has had limited experience – certainly not at a company like “Artist Services” or similar (who have been in the business longer than “five” minutes.) To make flippant comments like this just shows a complete lack of industry experience.

  2. ABC2 also aired the comedy-panel show “Dirty Laundry Live” also aired last year. Any word of it coming back this year?

    A shame that commercial tv don’t take the risk in airing more Australian Comedy. Good to see SevenMate air Kinne and Bogan Hunters in 2014. Sadly though, Bogan Hunters wasn’t Paul Fenech’s best work out there. He should of stuck with SBS and his fine work there.

    When was the last time Nine aired a sitcom/sketch show?

    Ten had a handful of comedy, but not much. Russel Coight might be the last good scripted comedy it aired (I think?). Good News Week was awesome and wish it returns, but its Good News World sketch show that followed was pathetic!

  3. One of the many reasons we need Aunty.

    It at least is able to give comedy a chance, and yes, we do not all agree with it but at least it gives it a fair run.

    To be able to stick it up everyone without fear or favour is unique to Aunty and SBS. This riles many critics who would like to silence those they disagree with.

    Keep commercial editorial influence out of the media, until you remove it, you need the ABC.

  4. We do need more comedy. But I think we need more drama too.
    Still mad they axed The Time of Our Lives, and we don’t know if Janet King will survive. Put those back on ABC and stop worrying what other channels are doing.
    Plus of course Spicks & Specks wouldn’t make it; can’t beat the original.

  5. We have some very funny talented Aussie comedians. My favs are Pete Helliar, Tommy Little and a recent discovery Joel Creasy. Joel and Chrissie Swan have me giggling watching their natural humour on I’m a Celebrity. Not an easy thing to get me to laugh usually.

  6. I Would like to see Seven’s Youth Focused Channel 7mate air a Lot More Adult Sitcoms other than just Family Guy and American Dad. The Channel needs to Man Up as Well and air New Episodes of The Goldbergs and Marry Me on Tuesday Nights at a Reasonable Time after the Seth McFarlane Comedies.

  7. Couldn’t agree more! It seems like such an obvious strategy too.

    ABC’s role in the ecosystem is to continue to be a breeding ground in this area. Unfortunately Nine is still unwinding from the strangulation of the WB deal and Ten is an outright basket case – because if they weren’t, the digis would be the perfect launch pads. much in the way 7Mate has been for Bogan Hunters (and yes, it’s not the best example with SBS running Fenech shows for ten years – but it’s proved great business for the channel).

  8. Why would they care what the ABC says? Would the ABC take programming advice from Nine?

    Comedy is risky, its hard to appeal to everyone and the ACMA reduced the local production points for comedy because Networks were meeting their quota with cheap sketch comedy.

    Not going to happen.

    1. Hugely more risky than a drama?

      I don’t think history backs you up there, but you’re indeed correct in regard to how the commercials were abusing the quotas. To that end, if you were Ten, wouldn’t it seem like a good idea to be developing a sketch comedy series for primetime (probably considerable cheaper than bidding on a lukewarm format)? Oh, that’s right, we have to wait for the Brits to develop it first!

    2. It’s good someone is bringing attention to how little local comedy there is on commercial TV. Talent needs to have an outlet. And I don’t think comedy is any riskier – humour is subjective, sure, but comedy is generally cheaper to produce than drama.

  9. That is an absolute classic! The ABC comes a distant fourth! They desperately need to get their ratings up they should rather watch and learn from the commercial channels. I don’t think any of the commercial channel need advice from the ABC unless they want to halve their share. What the ABC has forgotten is that the goal is to get viewers to watch your channels!

    1. “The ABC comes a distant fourth!”- ABC consistently beats TEN. ABC was #3 in 2014, beating TEN.
      “watch and learn from the commercial channels.” – What exactly should ABC copy from the commercials? Late start times, air incomplete seasons, play hide-and-seek with programs, and what “comedy” programs should ABC “watch and learn from the commercial channels.” ?

  10. I can’t imagine Utopia having any traction on a commercial network. I loved it, but it’s definitely something that could only exist on the ABC.

    Despite every journalist on planet Earth praising Please Like Me, no-one actually watched it, thereby vindicating the commercial networks’ decision to avoid Oz comedy.

    Remember Die On Your Feet? There aren’t many success stories, are there?

    The only comedy I think the networks might touch would be Upper Middle Bogan. That would pull 1 million viewers on a commercial station.

    It’s much easier and cheaper to churn out yet another soap opera than to make a good comedy. Even Z-grade dreck like Wonderland gets half a million viewers. Why take the risk with comedy?

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