Opinion: Can of Worms: Will Denton open a Can of Beast, Tench or Gruen??

Another month, another “Zapruder’s Other Films” program premieres.

In recent times, Andrew Denton and Anita Jacoby’s production company has churned out shows including Hungry Beast, AFP, The Gruen Transfer and Gruen Nation, all to varying degrees of success.

On the whole, there is a consensus that shows that they formulate are new and inventive, if nothing else. Before their respective premieres, they are also shrouded in secrecy, with man of the key talent kept under wraps, as well as the format, premise and general feel of the show.

This is one of the reasons why it is difficult to predict the success of the show. Their policy of secrecy is a double-edged sword, as obviously not knowing anything about the show builds up a sort of mystique, and of course builds the curiosity factor. It also encourages people to watch the show for the central premise, rather than fob it off after seeing a personality one dislikes on the promo (Dicko is nowhere to be seen on the talking-head promos, despite the fact that he is the host).

On the other hand, the vague “Australia, we need to talk” tagline is not quite explicit enough for some people to feel an urge to tune in.

The “talking heads” that appear to discuss various issues which touch on “porn”, religion and the internet. So its clear that we’re in line for some modern, frank discussion. Presumably there is a newfound market for this kind of discussion, what with these type of discussions being brought up frequently on Q and A.

Obviously the show wants “Australia” to start talking. It wants families to start these type of discussions in their own house. This will create further word-of-mouth between friends, etc. etc.

Whether the show is aiming to set the agenda on new issues or rather react to issues in the news is unknown.

So, what do we know we can expect?

Read on to find out…

It’s to be hosted by Ian “Dicko” Dickson, who is an interesting choice, to say the least. Way back in 2003 when he rose from virtual obscurity on Australian Idol, he was touted as the next big thing. Well, at least Channel Seven thought so when they poached him in a multi-million dollar deal.

Vega also thought so when they nabbed him to host their breakfast show with Dave O’Neil and Chrissie Swan.

But since then, it’s fair to say he hasn’t been involved in a phenomenally successful show.

His involvement in a rebooted My Restaurant Rules was unnecessary and puzzling, to say the least, and ratings subsequently reflected that.

He was then shoved embarrassingly onto Dancing with the Stars, once as a contestant, and once as a guest judge in a horse-racing special, which, quite astoundingly managed to outdo the absurdity of his My Restaurant Rules hosting role.

But is was all just emblematic of Seven’s confusion of how to use him in a worthwhile and profitable way.

He then rejoined Ten and the Australian Idol panel, and while it enjoyed a brief resurgence, he was forced to move into the role of “harsh, but fair” judge due to Kyle Sandiland’s presence as the unnecessarily critical judge. The show also became tired and pointless, ending its run in 2009.

Dicko was also utilised on the now defunct 9AM with David and Kim as a music reporter.

His radio show, while lasting several years, couldn’t manage to hoist Vega out of its ratings mire. It was given the axe last year.

But in saying all this, Dicko’s credentials as a TV personality were never in doubt.

He has always been an honest, uncompromising celebrity, who has always got something to get off his chest. He is also someone who can be effortlessly wry and deadly serious at the same time. He can also be engaging and endearing in the right format.

And obviously Andrew Denton and co. think the same way.

However, like it or not, he will be the face of the program, so its entire fortunes depend on him. Its a lot like the situation on Channel Nine, where any show hosted by Eddie McGuire becomes another Eddie show.

Time will tell if he has the same “turn-off” factor that Eddie seems to have at the moment. I don’t believe he does yet, as he doesn’t have the ubiquity-factor that Eddie has. He also isn’t associated with being sexist, homophobic or racist (although he could be accused of being “weightist” after the Paulini-Australian Idol comments), which is always helpful.

There’s also Meshel Laurie and Dan Ilic, two people who wouldn’t be as well- known as Dicko, but, on paper, seem to be handy additions to the regular guests on the show.

Laurie has a radio show on Nova and has also appeared on Rove and The Circle, she is also funny, which is good.

Dan Ilic has starred on the Ronnie Johns Half Hour and more recently Hungry Beast and the play “Beaconsfield: A Musical in A-Flat Minor”. He has a reputation for being a comic trouble-maker, whose comedy is not exactly for everyone. But he obviously has a fan in Denton, whose incisive brand of comedy could be paralleled to Ilic’s.

However, when looking at the show as a whole, it is difficult to predict its success. It has been described as a more youthful Q and A.  While I would normally think it dangerous to compare a show with another, or even clone a format, you’d expect something very different in Denton’s hands.

However, to others, Q and A is not everyone’s cup of tea, so the comparison would not tantalize people in their millions. And for those whose cup of tea is Q and A, they will likely be fiercely loyal.

And if you look at Zapruder’s Other Films track record, it is also difficult to predict how good the show will be, or how popular it will be.

Will it be a Gruen (The Gruen Transfer), an out-and-out hit from the very beginning (it garnered audiences of 1.3 million in its first season)? Gruen has also invented a new genre of sorts, one that analyses, debunks and deconstructs an industry. It has spurned a book and a spin-off, of sorts in Gruen Nation. It has also received almost universal praise for its brutally honest approach. Moreover, it has made bonafide TV stars out of Russell Howcroft and Todd Sampson, with the latter going on to appear on such shows as The 7PM Project.Not to mention the rest of the advertising gurus such as Jane Caro who have gone on to appear on The Drum and have spots on ABC radio.

In short, aside from Enough Rope, there has been no bigger success story for Zapruder’s Other Films than Gruen. And given it was such a ground-breaking idea executed to perfection, it was also a triumph for Australian TV.

This is seemingly in stark contrast to Hungry Beast… So, will it be a “Beast”? A show that starts out with a loose format but ends up being its downfall? There was also not much information known about Hungry Beast before its premiere, but that it was a showcase for upcoming youth talent.

However, as it rolled on, it was clear that its mix of comedy and news was not working- the comedy undermined the serious- sometimes morbidly so- content, and the comedy was nowhere near funny enough to justify the need for any “comedy” at all. And this was duly addressed by its third season, with the “comedy” element all but removed from proceedings.

However, despite its focus on serious stories, it was still horribly divisive. On one hand, some believed the show provided an insightful look into some issues that were rarely spoken about. On the other, there were a great deal of people- especially those on Twitter- who had long ago dismissed it as a bunch of Arts Degree smart-arses who essentially just presented interesting tidbits of info from the internet.

The decision to tone down the comedy was also simultaneously a curse and a blessing; to say that having a mediocre sketch after a serious story was horridly jarring would be an understatement.

The only thing worse than a show which draws mixed opinion is one that its defenders aren’t vehement enough in their support. Mark this one down as an “average” show.

And then comes the lowest on the scale, the “Tench” (David Tench Tonight). The show was groundbreaking in its use of an animated character as a talk show host, yet drew mostly confused reactions from the audience, which led to awful ratings, which of course led to its axing after only one season.

So it’s clear Denton’s production company has run the full gamut of success, yet we can always expect innovative products, so at the very least, it is worth one hour of your time, which is more than can be said for some other shows these days.

Can of Worms premieres Monday, July 4 at 8:30pm on Channel Ten.

Note: For what it’s worth, I think the show will be a success, as long as the focus is on the debate. If viewers know they can tune in every week to see calm, rational yet impassioned debate, it will work. What I don’t want to see is reams of Tweets read out – quite frankly, if I want to read Tweets, I’ll pick up my phone, if I want to watch TV, I’ll watch TV; and scores of talking heads- I’ve seen enough of that on Hungry Beast, and they were awful and disconnected enough on that show.

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Posted on June 29, 2011, in Australian TV Shows, Channel Ten, Opinion, TV and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. John Martine

    Save me an hour of waisted time this evening and have a twitter or such a poll during tonights’ late night news! I’m dying of boredom! Can programming executive think of anything else … maybe a rerun of a 1970s tv flop! God save us from this insanity!

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