Tom Ballard burning down the ABC (and it’s quite brilliant to witness)

Back in the early 1990s when low-rating Channel Nine soap Chances was cut from twice a week to a single episode in a late night slot, producers decided to go for broke.

Storylines infamously went for the outrageous, with sex, bondage, lesbians, an angel on a Harley Davidson motorcycle, an Egyptian Sun Goddess, laser-wielding vampires, man-eating plants, and neo-Nazis. It was so camp the show actually began to find a cult audience and it’s now all anybody remembers about a show that began with a lottery winning family.

I’m reminded of this because since ABC announced Tonightly with Tom Ballard will end (tonight), the team has similarly gone for broke with its comedy. There have been flashes of brilliance in recent sketches and bold ideas, notably in its Conservatively and Tonightly2068 editions.

Last night Ballard delivered one of his most scathing monologues yet. His take on the whole sorry Climate Change saga and backdown on emission targets took aim at Malcolm Turnbull, Labor, the Greens, and the political system.

That the production team have been able to deliver this material daily is remarkable -US shows have teams and budgets light years ahead of Ballard’s. I get that the numbers currently don’t work. You can’t hire that many people to make a show rating that low without something eventually giving. It’s a bit of joke it was ever expected to deliver.

ABC has a history of comedians who all pushed the envelope with firebrand comedy: from Aunty Jack and Norman Gunston to Max Gillies, John Clarke, John Safran, Andrew Denton, Wendy Harmer, Shaun Micallef, Judith Lucy, Chris Lilley, Kath & Kim, Doug Anthony All Stars, The Chaser and more…. Many of them bucked the establishment, and Australians loved them all the more for it.

They also got their start before TV was in the silos that now exist (Pilot Week anyone?).

The youthful Ballard team have indeed made errors -including one sketch for which it will long be remembered – but it also has to be given room to make mistakes. Creative endeavour should not be a victim of a cultural war between Ultimo and Canberra, nor Ultimo and Holt Street.

ABC needs to grow a spine and back its talent.

Look to your history. Make the numbers work as a weekly show on the primary channel, guys!

Now, before you watch this Climate Change monologue, a word of warning…. the language is e-x-t-r-e-m-e. Ballard drops countless F-Bombs (which has been an ongoing problem, not because it’s offensive, but because soon it becomes all you end up hearing).

That aside, this is classic ABC anarchy… biting, provocative and brilliant.

Isn’t that exactly what ABC wanted?

Warning: language.

26 Comments:

  1. It was unwatched, unloved, and missed more often than it hit – but I’m glad it was around long enough to see the Murdoch-backed, Trump-loving, so-called-“Christian”-powered Coalition climate skeptics eat their own parliamentary leader.

    That – along with some home truths pointed right back at the ABC – generated Tonightly’s finest moments. Lame as it often was, it went out on a high.

  2. The whole Ballard show was just rubbish and will not be missed. Comparing that talentless foul mouth with Denton and McDonald is insulting some of Australia’s TV greats. The ABC suffers from Murdoch/Trump/Christian/Coalition/Climate skeptics derangement syndrome and when the network narrative from news to comedy reflects the same leftist cult’s hatred manifesto no wonder nobody watches it.

    I like to know how Sky News on one hand is something nobody watches yet is to blame for this show’s demise and the booting out of a Labor turned Liberal former PM Turnbull. You only have to look at the former PM attitude to realize that the party was right to throw him out.

  3. jezza the first original one

    This is yet another example of ABC narrow casting rather than broadcasting. Or.. failing to promote, develop strategically and bring a show to a wider audience. They need to look at how the UK have managed to bring shows to a broad audience from a narrow begining. Prime examples would be the likes of Inbetweeners, Top Gear, Line of Duty etc..yeah slightly different shows but they just grew and grew. While I never watched this, mainly cos I had no idea it existed, it seems from the commentary that it could have done better if it made all public figures cringe and squirm, and maybe a few 10-20 promo punchlines on the main ABC would have driven more traffic….

    • Not sure it helps to compare with Line of Duty & Top Gear. ABC has shows that have grown as big hits, ie. Gruen, Doctor Blake, Miss Fisher. Tonightly was pitched at a younger audience because ABC audience skews older.

    • Your example of UK broadcasters only works if you overlook all the flops they’ve created & tried, which we almost never see.

      You’ve probably heard of “Gunpowder”, which flopped – but what about Gambon’s “Little Women”? “The Miniaturist”? You may also have heard of Jo Brand’s “Damned”, which got two seasons – but was also a flop. The “Porridge” remake flopped. “Big Heads” (seriously, one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen on TV). “Don’t Ask Me, Ask Britain”. “Pitch Battle” (has that been seen here, or did one of the local broadcasters talk about doing a local version of this flop?).

      And that’s just _some_ of the UK’s flops from the last couple of years that were overlooked…

  4. Tonightly has been funny from day dot, and it’s only improved as the show has gone on. Like the treatment of Please Like Me, the ABC has a habit of putting shows in shit timeslots on already low-rated multichannels and expecting them to somehow magically perform overnight (started at 9pm after repeats of Spicks and Specks and other random old shows). The fact that ratings for it are being compared to something on the main channel at an earlier timeslot (The Weekly) is just dumb, and it should have been given more time. How much money is being instead wasted on an equally low-rated, repetitive news channel, or a Buzzfeed rip-off like ABC Life, rather than the only daily Australian comedy show in existence.

  5. I think it’s sad that most of the discussion about this program tends to be along the lines of “Canberra ordered its axing”. Having worked for the ABC for many years, it’s been my experience that when someone (be it politicians in Canberra or anyone else) takes aim at anything that Auntie is doing or making, the reaction is to do the exact opposite. The reality is that the program was simply not getting an audience so its continued viability had to be in question. The ABC’s problem at the moment is that it is almost entirely focused on “news” – just the other week the MD echoed her predecessor by calling the ABC a “news organisation”. All the Canberra budget cuts have come from other areas like drama and comedy leaving the news budget actually expanded. Until the ABC gets over this obsession with “news”, its true role as a “broadcaster” and maker of innovative programs will…

  6. The ABC already has Pickering doing left wing political rants and Micallef’s more absurdist weekly news satire. Tonightly failed, talent will find always find somewhere else to work.

  7. Looks like the Right Wingers and Sky after dark have had another victory. First Lateline now this. Now we in the country have sky news. Thanks ABC, for nothing.

  8. Mate, I hate social media upvotes/downvotes – but if you turned them on, this article would get a big upvote from me. You’ve hit so many nails right on the head, and driven them home hard. Well done.

  9. Amazing delivery, despite the abysmal the format should have been tweaked or moved to the main channel. Hopefully it shows commercial networks can be done. On the content, I think it’s a shame he forgot to mention we did have effective climate change action – a price on carbon pollution introduced by the Gillard Government. The Australian people voted to abandon it and have a collective responsibility for the situation we’re in. They elected Abbott and chose to ignore expert advice that said what Gillard introduced was the cheapest, most effective way to deal with climate change.

  10. Great article, but they are in a bind right? As long as the liberals are in power in Australia, they can just use this program as a reasoning for more cuts, or ‘clutching pearls’ like the right in the US. It’s biting programming, but I can’t blame the ABC, I’m certain this decision was hard for them

    • No one is clutching pearls…..up until it was cancelled Tonightly was being outrated by stuff on Sky Pay TV, ie no one was watching it. Given the resources at the ABC are limited, they could run repeats of old UK sitcoms and more audience and develop shows people watch.

      • > “No one is clutching pearls…”

        Except for all those people – politicians, right-wing media gobs, and TV Tonight commenters alike – who spent the time and took the effort to feign outrage over things Tom Ballard & others said on the show.

        Or even over the show’s very existence, or the fact it was on the ABC, or …

        • You mean the people he called “C***s”? or the people who’s religion he mocked? (note Mr Ballard has never mocked those who practice Islam, I wonder why that would be?)

          • No, I mean the people who acted shocked & ‘tut-tut’ed about him doing that.

            I would’ve thought that was pretty obvious, since that’s what the term ‘pearl-clutching’ or ‘clutching pearls’ means…

          • Tex”No, I mean the people who acted shocked & ‘tut-tut’ed about him doing that.”

            No one was shocked….it is the ABC afterall, they only abuse one side of politics.

          • Only abuse one side of politics?
            Funny how an inherent bias in all of us can influence the way we view something.

          • @TonyWilson: you’ve overlooked that I used the word “acted”, and earlier used the words “feign[ed] outrage”.

            You may be right that nobody was shocked – but if that’s the case, why did pollies, shock jocks & friends, and several commenters here, _act_ like they were?

            (That was a rhetorical question, since it’s quite obvious that the answer is “because it _was_ an act”…)

  11. I totally agree. The last week and a half or so have been the best shows they’ve put out by far and did it really have to take the show being cancelled for them to do it? I mean the music performance in the foyer was brilliant. More live performances out there would have been great. His audience seems to have grown significantly as well. I also think he could have instead made the whole show the Aussie version of Colbert Report after seeing conservatively. And the future show was brilliant too. It was too safe most of the time and just not very entertaining or dare I say funny. They left it too late and should have gone for broke starting season 2.

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