Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Australian TV Sitcom Writers Are Not Very Funny"

By Darryl Mason

Interesting comments from Bevan Lee, head of creative drama at Channel Seven, on why Australians are not interested in watching Australians in science fiction, fantasy or non-middle class sitcoms and TV dramas.

From NineNews :

....Lee said that the Australian television industry was suffering from a "cultural cringe" factor, with viewers unable to believe high concept stories could happen here.

True Blood, set in a fictional southern US town, has been embraced by Australians, but if it was set or made here local viewers wouldn't accept it, Lee said.

"Vampires in a country town in Australia is equally valid but ... (the audience) would say what a lot of nonsense - vampires in Australia.

"It would be laughed off screen."

So why not a sitcom, then, about vampires in an Australian country town? If Australian audiences would be laughing anyway....

Likewise fantasy or science fiction doesn't work locally, Lee said.

"They go if you're going to come all the way across the universe to invade, are you really going to bother with Australia," he said.

Lee cites the interminable Hey Dad as, rightly, an example of a very successful Australian sitcom, but rails against TV comedy writers who sneer at the show.

"The problem with sitcom writers in the country is they're just not very funny," he said.

That should stir them up a bit.

But I think it's also the case that generations of Australians have been so utterly soaked in American sitcoms and TV dramas, from channels like Seven, that it still sometimes seems odd to hear local accents coming from the mouths of the actors on screen, especially when they're trying to be sitcom funny. We're just not used to it.

But just how committed are Channel Seven to making new Australian sitcoms work? Would they keep a new show on air long enough for it to find its groove, despite crap ratings, like they do in the US?

For example. Have you ever watched the pilot and the very first episodes of Seinfeld? It's like a completely different show. Jerry is Woody Allen-gauge insecure, George is the font of all wisdom when it comes to women (and sells real estate, with confidence), Elaine doesn't exist and Kramer is an apparently alcoholic, morose, shut-in who hasn't left the building in a decade.

Seinfeld, in season two and onwards, however, most definitely found its groove. But the whole show had to be completely overhauled and restructured.

Would Channel Seven ever make such a heavy commitment to a (potentially) funny and successful new sitcom?

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