Sep 21, 2007

Chasing anonymity

The Chaser boys are at it again. Today they showed up at Sydney airport, trying to steal luggage belonging to North Queensland Cowboys players who had arrived in town ahead of the NRL preliminary final tomorrow night. In an obvious take on the new OJ Simpson drama in the United States, the Cowboys looked on with grins as the Chaser boys attempted to take their "memorabilia" by force.

Now that's a funny stunt, but really, it's hardley breaking-APEC-security level, now is it? Frankly, you have to feel sorry for the Chaser these days. The group's sheer notoriety means anything they try to pull in the view of other media will get reported, just in case it's one of those ones that might get them into trouble. They've lost a lot of the element of surprise that was once their most powerful weapon. Politicians know who they are now, and they're working on their witty comebacks. Don't get me wrong, they're inventive and more than capable of hitting the right buttons (see the recent 'Save the Irwin' sketch - youch!). But it makes me wonder if the boys will be able to survive the media attention, or if they're far too visible now to ever go back to flying under the radar, and will eventually implode under the burning glare of the mainstream media.

My opinion is The Chaser's War on Everything can and will continue, as long as the writing and satire remains sharp (the program does have its flat spots, but 80 to 90 per cent of it is like a razor in a zoot suit) - and as long as it remain on the ABC. The boys may have begun their broadcast careers in commercial (late nights on Triple M - I remember because I used to listen and cackle), but they've found their niche at Aunty. Kath and Kim may get away with a commercial switch, but its satire is in the suburbs, and even commercial television welcomes the piss being taken out of its core audience (see Today Tonight). Bagging out politicians, spin doctors, big business, the advertising industry - you've got to maintain your own relative independence. The Chaser may not see themselves as the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong, but while people think they think they do, they must stay commercial-free.

Way back in 1996, I began watching a little show called Good News Week. As far as I could tell from surveys around the schoolyard, only me and one of the school captains watched it. I fell in love with the show, and it wasn't just because of Paul McDermott. OK, it was mostly because of Paul McDermott (so dark and handsome! witty! so attractively bitter!), but I liked the format. It was a fun take on current affairs, and benefited from good writing, clever guests and tight editing. By 1997, it was a solid hit, with a lot more fans than just me and Todd Vallance. (G'day Todd, wherever you are now. Going to that school reunion, by the way?) By my first year of university, I had joined the UQ Good News Week Fan Club (run by the same despot who oversaw the kingdom of the DAAS Fan Club), and even attended a live taping of the show at the Suncorp Piazza.

But in 1999, the show defected to Channel Ten, who thought they were getting a massive instant ratings booster. They got that for a few weeks, before disillusionment set it. It wasn't the same. It got extended out, allowing more crappy jokes and bollocky guest banter in. The variety-based spin-off GNW Nite Lite was just an excuse for Paul to sing a series of duets with hot rock and pop chicks. And by 2000, I was getting well over Paul's singing.

Gasp. I know.

But it wasn't just me - the rest of Australia seemed to feel that way too. Ratings dropped, never reaching the highs of the ABC days. The show was cancelled by the end of 2000.

I'm optimistic about the Chaser though. They know commercial money isn't worth sacrificing national broadcaster cred, at least not with The War on Everything. They've also already recorded a sketch imagining what the show would be like if it was, as rumours earlier this year suggested,bought by Channel Nine. They know that would be thrown back in their face if it came true - and I think they'd rather cop jail time over the APEC stunt then wind up hosting another The Nation.


  1. Are they exportable? It's about time Australia produced another Dame Edna.

  2. Hey Japing Ape!

    Love your page by the way, and thanks for reading mine! It's nice to know there are people out there in the wilds of cyberspace tuning in.

    I reckon the Chaser boys might be exportable - although they'd obviously need to tone down the "Oz"-ness a bit. Their satire skills are sharp, they already have a go at major international figures, and they have a guy based in America goes out and does vox pops with questions like "Do you think all Muslims should be made to wear an ID badge?" or "Can you point out Iraq on this map?". We all like to laugh at stupid Americans (no offence, if you're from there).

    Cheers, Natalie.

  3. Ah yes, Good News Week...I miss the old days - if it was still on in its original form I'd watch it for sure.