While baby-boomer television writers remain obsessed with the likes of Mel, Koshy, Karl and Jessica, the real television battle is now being fought between the hours of midnight and three AM.
There was a time when late night television consisted of the NBC Today Show, classic Hollywood movies, repeat drama on the ABC and the SBS test pattern. Not any more.
A few years ago, Channel 10 decided to break the mould with “Big Brother Up Late”. In the first year, they hadn’t really thought it through, resulting in endless hours of people asleep. Yes, snoring. To be honest, I don’t think they were inspired by Foucault and I don’t think they’d intended to deconstruct the medium, but somehow they did.
The following year they realised they needed a few tricks up their sleeve and so began to replay highlights from earlier programs and word games where contestants could win up to $1000. Since then, they’ve begun to introduce alcohol and late night parties as a means of enticing those late night viewers. By the time this year’s “Big Brother” had arrived, the housemates were fully worded up and appeared to be staying up late on purpose, in an effort to tap into the late night voting audience who, perhaps under the influence of a little too much alcohol, might actually vote to save or evict one of these tragic souls.
Recognising the value of the revenue that could be gained from asking lonely people to call or send an SMS when at their most vulnerable – and not quite desperate enough to SMS “flirt” or call Adult Matchmaker – Channel 10 last year introduced a program hosted by “Hot Dogs”, one of the most appalling Big Brother contestants ever. “Hot Dogs” went into recess when “Big Brother” made a return a few months ago, but now he’s back, along with a host of others. Along with a producer, a director, and maybe two cameramen (hey, this is a high budget production) tonight he was joined in the studio by “gay hairdresser Rob”.
But if the sight of a third rate celebrity asking you to participate via phone or SMS in a word competition is not your style, you could always tune over to Channels 7 or 9.
Oh hang on, they’re offering exactly the same at exactly the same time? Is this what Helen Coonan assumes is the free market offering what the audience wants?
Well, at least the Channel 7 program seems to offer more than just one presenter. As well as the camp guy saying hello to his friends who work as cinema ushers, there’s also a woman in a bikini asking people to call in to nominate ABBA songs in an effort to win $500. As an ABBA fan, I jumped on the phone straight away, only to be “rejected” as not making the short list. So yeah, I’d paid 55 cents for nothing. And so I tried again and again and again. Can you believe that “Dancing Queen” wasn’t on their list and that the top $500 winning song as the wonderful, yet obscure “When All Is Said & Done” from ABBA’s final album “The Visitors”?
Meanwhile, at Eddie Maguire’s Channel 9, it’s a REALLY low budget production with just one camera that I suspect the presenter is operating. I also suspect the presenter is answering his own calls as he loudly declares “Hello, welcome to Quizmania, who’s there”? And sometimes, no one is. Oh hang on, it’s Brodie, a Big Brother intruder who was quickly voted out a couple of years ago. Brodie is looking for a word that completes the clue for “DR_SS”. Although I suspect the word he is looking for is “dress”, I think it’s more accurately “dross” that should be front of mind.
The appearance of “Hot Dogs” and Brodie has destroyed my theory that all of these people hosting the shows were “Big Brother” rejects. Missing out, I thought, they’d tried for “Australian Idol” and also missed out. “X-factor”? Sorry, maybe next time. “Yasmin”? “Playing it Straight”? Hardly. And so they’ve ended up hosting word games and wearing far too much hair product on late night commercial television.
Yes, this is the future of free to air television. And in that future, “Hot Dogs” is about as good as it gets.