The Hollowmen: articles

Hollowmen TV series lifts lid off federal politics

THE brainchild of Working Dog Productions, the creators behind improvisational comedy Thank God You're Here, The Hollowmen is primed to be the latest issue on the agenda when it hits the small screen on Wednesday night.

"I am sure they (political advisors) will be looking at each other going 'Did you speak to Working Dog'," says Lachy Hulme, who plays senior political advisor David "Murph" Murphy in the program.

"I suspect they will be wondering if there is a Deep Throat inside government feeding information to our team. One thing is guaranteed ... just about everyone involved in federal politics will be watching this show when we go to air."

A satirical comedy series set in the offices of the Central Policy Unit, a special think tank personally set up by the Prime Minister to help him in the most important job of all - getting re-elected, The Hollowmen examines the rise of a new class in Canberra, that of the professional advisor.

They are the Hollowmen.

Writer, director and actor in the program Rob Sitch, who plays principal private secretary Tony, is joined by The Matrix Reloaded star Hulme, Underbelly's Neil Melville and acting newcomer Merrick Watts in the series.

For funny man Watts, whose television experience is limited to sketch comedy and stand-up routines, participating in The Hollowmen has been a daunting but rewarding project.

"These guys have put faith in me to carry of this role and you look around and the actors in this show and that's one thing that made me least comfortable," says the radio jock.

"I am the most novice, with the least experience. But, this is political satire, it's not the boring side of politics. It's very funny."

Could this mean a new direction for Merrick Watts?

"It makes me feel like I have a qualification for the first time in my life," he jokes.

"I still see myself very much as a comedian first. Certainly in my mind it isn't the start of a new path."

Bruce Baird, former Liberal member for the Australian House of Representatives from October 1998 until he retired in November 2007, gives his verdict on ABC TV's newest program creation The Hollowmen.

"THE latest instalment from ABC Television, which describes the works of politics in Australia, has produced another winner.

The characters are real and one suspects that the actual offices of the Ministers and the Prime Minister were used in the filming because it's so real to life.

The Hollowmen highlights to the degree of which the politics in Canberra is subject to spin and very often lacks in policy, however they are still responding to the political issues of the day.

The glib comments in the program, made by the Prime Minister's principal private secretary Tony (played by Rob Sitch) such as "can do approach" often goes down well and shifting the blame when negative feedback occurs, as does in this first episode, is a Canberra honoured tradition.

The reinterpretation of what focus have to say in this episode also highlights model politician reality.

Focus groups dictate much of what goes on in Canberra, which has been remarked about by past politicians. As the former Prime Minister famously once said "This group in Canberra wouldn't get out of bed unless they had a focus group telling them to do so".

The background briefing of ill thought out plans to journalists of ill smacks very much of what often happens with policy on the run. The Hollowmen also highlights the pressure for stories, with over 100 journalists poised ready for any story, means producing policies which are little thought out.

The only thing that struck me as unrealistic is to think that any Sports Minister would try and use their authority over what appeared to be the Health Minister, in reality that is very unlikely.

The Sports Minister position is either given to someone on their way out or someone just on their way in, certainly not someone mature in the game.

The involvement of public servants and the process driven approach to policy is highlighted a lot more in the program, compared with the quick fix of political reality in Canberra. Obviously if all decision were simply handed to public servants we might have a long time waiting.

The character of Rob Sitch is a classic role that epitomises the character perfectly.

It classifies the spin merchant, the political fixer and the staffer who grabs onto any piece of good news for his minister to highlight the fact he is doing a good job. As I said previously, shifting blame is also part of that when ensuring the Prime Minister and his staffers are not put in a difficult situation. That's one of the rules of the game.

I think all the characters are well played, the lobby groups were classic and their complaints are typical of those of interest groups who feel let down by quick spin policy fixers."

By Erin McWhirter
July 05, 2008
The Daily Telegraph