If Julian Morrow had one request of politicians on the hustings it would probably be for them to engage, engage, engage when approached by The Chaser.
Now shooting on their sixth federal election campaign, the ABC comedy troupe are a familiar feature to both pollies and accompanying media.
“In the first 2 or 3 campaigns you could could get stuff executed without everyone else around. It’s still possible to do but it’s pretty rare,” Morrow explains.
“There are so many cameras around now, and I think there’s more of a viewing culture seeing things in their raw form.
“Years ago we were able to edit out our fumbles and f*** ups, but they are sadly long behind us.”
With politicians now wiser to their stunts, they are also getting better at laughing off their approaches or playing good sport. For a comedy show that’s not exactly ideal.
“There aren’t as many difficult customers as there were in the old Bill Heffernan, Mark Latham days. Everyone is pretty savvy to the idea that you grin and walk on. Rarely will they say much,” he continues.
“It’s more like an intentional smile, keep walking, make a couple of offhand comments and don’t engage. That is the standard M.O.
“You have to work pretty hard to get more than that.”
“The amount of face time you get helps”
Somewhat surprisingly, Morrow looks back on the Howard-era with some fondness, if only because the era before selfies and a proliferation of camera phones naively allowed extraordinary access.
“Say what you like about John Howard –and we have- but his early morning walk was one of the greatest institutions comedy was ever served by! It was an amazing level of access to a Prime Minister that you wouldn’t get any other way,” he notes.
“But the more things change the more they stay the same. At some level the challenge is still the same. There aren’t many Chaser stunts that run for more than 30 or 40 seconds if they involve public figures. But the field is a lot more crowded.
“Any form of engagement gives you more to work with. The amount of face time you get helps because you can cycle through a few lines, dump your less-good ones and do live pick-ups. If they engage that’s the best, but it’s been a while since we got that.”
The show also has to be quick on its feet. With limited advance warning of itineraries, stunts have to be ready-made to be attempted.
“The day to day process of making the show is a constant juggle. For example today we had one idea that was prepped and ready, and another that we had just discussed which wasn’t quite ready. So there was one we thought ‘Let’s go for it today,'” Morrow says.
“So we have content that relates to most of the key players in process but whether our prep and their schedules coincide is always a bit of guesswork.”
“We don’t believe in quality…..we believe in quantity of desk metres”
Being flexible also pertains to production as a whole. The Checkout has had to be paused after 4 episodes to insert 5 episodes of The Chaser’s Election Desk (it will resume thereafter).
“We should have known better than to take the government on its word of a September / October election!” Morrow protests.
“I suppose the other thing is the team is essentially the same. Everyone who has been working on The Checkout is on The Chaser’s Election Desk.”
And what a big desk it will be. The team (sans Chris Taylor) will be seated at a desk bigger than the 33 metre ABC studio.
“We don’t believe in quality of coverage, we believe in quantity of desk metres as the true measure of a great election coverage,” he insists.
“It was an off-hand comment in the Writer’s Room that ‘We have to have a bigger desk than anyone else.’ Almost instantly everyone realised that would be a fun but flexible concept.”
The show will also record at 5:30pm same day as its 9pm broadcast.
“We’re straight after Shaun Micallef in the rundown. He records the day before so we will be trying to reference things on the day as a point of difference, but we’ve always found comedy or entertainment shows back to back during an election seem to go pretty well,” Morrow says.
“Gruen and Chaser have gone together for a long time, and it’s a shame they’re not around this time for the sake of the audiences but we’ll happily go after Shaun any day.”
The Chaser’s Election Desk begins 9pm Wednesday on ABC.