Working Dog’s secret to finishing on top

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If any one group of creatives has a hallowed place in our hearts it must surely be Working Dog.

Five of their shows polled significantly on TV Tonight‘s Revivals survey: The Panel, Frontline, Thank God You’re Here, The Late Show and The D-Generation. Their films including The Castle and The Dish (airing tonight on Nine) remain much-loved, while Utopia and Have You Been Paying Attention? have done good business on air this year.

The team of Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro, Jane Kennedy, Tom Gleisner and Michael Hirsh can seemingly do no wrong.

The perception of Working Dog is that they like to go out on a high and leave viewers wanting more. But according to Rob Sitch it’s not so clear cut.

“If we didn’t enjoy thinking up new things so much I think we would be quite good at leaving things on a low!” he says.

“I don’t think we’ve ever walked away from anything. We’ve just moved on to something else.

Frontline always had 3 seasons planned.

“At the end of the third someone said, ‘You’ll do a couple more won’t you?’ But I never know what the right number is.”

“In my head I’ve kept him running for my own amusement.”

Frontline (1994 – 1997), widely touted as changing the fortunes of current affairs television for ever more, is frequently mentioned in conversations about classic comedy, possible revivals or both.

“The one thing I really enjoyed was the character. People would ask -more in the years straight after- ‘Would you do a recording for a charity night?” says Sitch.

“We have a green screen at work and I would put the wig on and do a comedy skit about their night.

“I did one for Sam Neill for a hospital fundraiser. I said, ‘He’s not dead is he?’ So they’re a lot of fun.

“I can’t think of any joke that’s not more fun to say as Mike Moore. So in my head I’ve kept him running for my own amusement.”

Sitch did resurface publicly as Mike Moore for ABC’s Mental As... benefit event last year, purportedly hosting an Asia Pacific chat show in Auckland called Less is Moore.

thepanel

“Most of the TV moments we remember, it’s amazing how many were Live.”

The Panel, which ran from 1998 – 2004 is another fan favourite. It continued in annual Christmas Wraps until the team were so busy raising young families.

“Between us we had about 20 children in about 3 years and everyone got busy doing other things,” he recalls.

“We had a rule that you literally turned up without planning for the guest. There was no producer in our ear, no meeting before the show -so you’re guaranteed to have rough edges, but also something that was a bit conversational.

“You would have to be a brave person to do that now.

“I think Larry King didn’t even read his research so that everything was a discovery to him.

“We were so cavalier about doing things Live back then. But I look back now and think ‘Geez, would you do it Live now?'”

Sitch laments the dilution of Live television shows on Australian TV.

“The number of things that are done Live now (is diminishing).

“We know how exciting Live television is, but you have to restrict the boring bits.

“Most of the TV moments we remember, it’s amazing how many were Live. Don Lane, the Logies.…”

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‘When people are bullshitting they are really funny.”

Thank God You’re Here was never Live but its guest performers were certainly flying by the seat of their pants, over 4 seasons on TEN and Seven.

“When someone went through the door I was like an audience member because we didn’t know what they were going to say or do,” he notes.

“It embraced a sense of humour which is bullshit, and when people are bullshitting they are really funny. So you can’t go fantastical or bail from the reality. You were stuck in a reality.”

With Utopia, Have You Been Paying Attention? and upcoming animated series Pacific Heat, Working Dog remain so busy that any talk of revisiting past project seems a long shot. But he concedes there is an upside to finishing on any unintended high.

“I do look back sometimes and think ‘It’s nice that it stopped then.’”

TOMORROW: Mark Mitchell

9 Comments:

  1. They are brilliant and have rarely, if ever, delivered a dud. Their stuff is not only the best in Australia, it’s often world class. But what I’ve never had an explanation for is how they are able to do this when most Australian TV looks like the product of a sheltered workshop (which indeed it is given local content requirements). I can’t believe they are the only talented people in Australian TV and presumably they face they same production, funding etc environment as everyone else so what do they have that no one else does?

  2. The musical acts that performed on The Panel were good too. I miss the great musical misunderstandings on The Late Show, Joan Kirner instead of Joan Jett, I wish that was brought back in some form. Unsure who we could get now, maybe Troy Kinne instead of Troy Cassar-Daly.

  3. On the down side, remember that these are the same people who pioneered in Australia the concept of networks deliberately running shows past the advertised finish time, just because. They made finishing 15 or 20 minutes later than scheduled acceptable, as we all kept watching to see just how annoyed Sandra Sully would be at 10:47…

    • At least with The Panel it was live and we all knew it would run over to some degree, and it was a show that could justify it’s extra time with it’s content. With pre-recorded reality rubbish like TBL running up to 12 minutes over time pushing back HYBPA? there is really no excuse to not have the EPG reflect that.

      • Sure but at 10.30 it’s not like there was much on afterwards. Most people would prefer more of the Panel than whatever 10 was dishing up late on a Wednesday night.

    • Secret Squïrrel

      Hey, that’s true! However, I didn’t mind it because it was live, it was actual content not padding, they were open about it and Sandra was in on the joke (as well as suffering from it), and I was staying on Ten for the Late News and not looking to switch over anyway. And, because it was news, I could always bail early if I needed to.

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