Thank God You're Here: articles

Thank God You're Here

I still giggle when I think of Frank Woodley as a Roman general in the first episode of TGYH. Returning from the eastern front to report to his emperor on the progress of the battle - "The barbarians are going off their nut!" - Woodley spent a lot of time griping about the weight of his armour before being forced to invent a poem entitled Rome, Glorious Rome.

Earlier that night, Fifi Box executed an admirable routine as a woman promoting a bizarre piece of exercise equipment on daytime TV. Trying to make some sense of the contraption she was supposed to be plugging, she was forced to explain that the fingertips were an often-overlooked part of the body when it came to getting in shape.

Welcome to the wacky world devised by Working Dog, the production company that has previously given us Frontline, The Late Show and The Panel. These people know how to make TV and here they've created a format built on the elation and terror of improvisational comedy.

There are elements of Theatresports and Whose Line is it Anyway? as four guest performers each week are introduced to the studio audience, dressed in costumes and thrown into a surprise scenario. They're welcomed into the story with the line "Thank God You're Here" and forced to figure out, very quickly, who they are and what the hell they're doing there. Maybe, like Angus Sampson, they'll be a world-renowned doctor who has pioneered a ground-breaking surgical procedure. Maybe, like Shaun Micallef, they will be the co-host of a Play School-style children's TV program.

The producers must be having a lot of fun figuring out how to use each of their gutsy guests in set-ups that will throw them off balance but afford them opportunities to be funny. And the guests do need to be gutsy: it's possible to soar in this set-up, or to come crashing down in a very unfortunate manner. But either way, it makes good TV.

Tonight's guests are Glenn Robbins, Fifi Box - again the only woman and already a three-show veteran - Frank Woodley and Akmal Saleh. Early ratings suggest that Working Dog could well be on a winner and this show changes each week, not just as the set-ups, but with different performers taking up the challenge of thinking fast on their feet.

The ever-changing cast could mean a promotional bonanza. A show like this generates goodwill because the guests are prepared to have a go, and, even if some work better than others, the final announcement of a winner, selected by judge Tom Gleisner, is probably unnecessary. Keep the final sequence with all of the guests gathered into a story together, then give them all a warm round of applause and maybe award each of them a commemorative TGYH mug as a token of appreciation of their efforts.

Ten has programmed the new comedy in a 7.30pm timeslot that restricts the guests somewhat: there are places they can't go and words they shouldn't use. Perhaps, if the show continues to attract a healthy audience, there's a case for the odd special edition later in the night that would allow the performers more latitude: a sort of Thank God You're Here Uncut. Well, they're at the right network for that.

By Debi Enker
April 19, 2006
The Age