Thank God You're Here: articles

Thank God it's here

NETWORK Ten's Thank God You're Here has broken a disturbing trend in local comedy production. Shows such as Let Loose Live, Big Bite, Eagle and Evans, Hamish and Andy and SkitHouse have either run out of steam or been axed over the past two years, but Thank God You're Here succeeds where the others have failed -- it has made us laugh.

In the first half of this year, the debut season of Thank God You're Here was the most successful new show. Its season finale reached a staggering 2.65 million viewers.

Working Dog, the production company behind the series, has also made an impact internationally with the format. The concept has been picked up in five European territories, the Middle East and the United States.

International media-monitoring agency Eurodata even named TGYH as one of the two most inventive new concepts produced over the past 12 months.

There's no doubt, however, that if TGYH had been produced by a production company with less clout than Working Dog (responsible for shows including Frontline and The Panel), it's unlikely it would have made it to air.

The sad fact is that at a time when TV networks are in need of original ideas, some local independent producers say it's harder than ever to get a foot in the TV-network door.

Networks prefer to buy from established, big-name production houses such as Granada, Endemol Southern Star, Fremantle and Grundy, and Australian companies such as Crackerjack and Working Dog.

Tom Gleisner, a foundation member of the Working Dog team and also TGYH's adjudicator, confesses the show would have been a hard-sell for a producer with no track record.

Working Dog's long-standing relationship with Ten played a big part in the TGYH deal.

"It's called the fear-of-loss factor: Ten couldn't afford to risk having Working Dog go to Seven or Nine with it," a Melbourne-based producer said recently.

"If you've been going out with Miss Australia (Working Dog) for 10 years, you don't want to share her with another bloke, even for one night. She may not come back."

So what is it about TGYH that has captured the imagination of punters?

Gleisner suspects it relates to the show's formula, which sees guest actors, in turn, dress in a specific costume, then step through a blue door on to a set they know nothing about. The actors on the set are working to a script. The guest actor, however, must improvise.

Gleisner believes Australian audiences like an element of risk and vulnerability in their comedy.

Critical to its success, he adds, is that guest actors are there for their performing ability rather than celebrity value.

"We were never going to put someone on the show just because they'd been a housemate somewhere on the Gold Coast," Gleisner says.

"One of the most important things about the show is that it celebrates the art of bulls--- and survival. Aussies are natural bulls----ers. We admire people who can talk their way out of any situation."

The show's host, Shane Bourne, isn't surprised by its success. He feels it taps into something primal about Australian TV.

"Have you noticed the variety shows of recent years?" Bourne asks.

"They're still good, but they're fine-tuned. When you look at the history of television in this country, all the greatest and most classic moments came from things going wrong.

"Graham Kennedy and his dog, for the pet food commercial. Bert Newton calling Muhammad Ali 'boy'. I remember, when we'd just filmed our third show, I thought, 'This is the feeling I used to get watching television as a kid'."

Thank God You're Here, Ten, Wednesdays, 7.30pm

By Darren Devlyn
October 04, 2006