The big loser in the recent Sunday night clash of the Aussie dramas was the first episode of the new series of Rake (ABC1, Sundays, 8.30 p.m.). Which makes no sense if you think about it, because Rake is an actual good show that’s entertaining on its own merits, while both Seven’s INXS miniseries and Nine’s Schapelle Corby telemovie were firmly in the trash TV bracket.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking Australia can’t actually make entertaining drama that’s actually good – so often do we get telemovies and miniseries that are only watchable if you take a sarcastic, jokey attitude to everything you see on screen – and with the increasing popularity of Twitter as a platform for people to make jokes about what they’re watching, it’s more than plausible that the networks know this and program for it.
Obviously docudramas have always had a big role on Australian television – thanks in large part to the generally abysmal state of television writing in this country; at least if it’s based on a true story you don’t need to pay someone to come up with that part of things – but in the current climate even when they don’t work you still win. If your true story drama works as quality television, then viewers get to watch quality television, which presumably they’ll enjoy; if your true story drama is a sloppy mess with bad wigs and accents and loads of gratuitous nudity, then audiences get to go on social media and have fun making fun of it. So if you think about it, why would you bother making something with a smart plot and fun characters? Yes, it might be “good” – and again, it bears mentioning that while Rake does have its problems, it was easily the best of the three local dramas by any real comparison – but good isn’t what it used to be. Look at it this way: the job of television is to get you to watch it, even if it’s the ABC.
Why you watch it doesn’t really matter – you could be watching the news or current affairs for information, some big live event just to see what happens, a comedy to laugh (probably not an Australian comedy then), an historical show to be informed, and so on. In the past, the reason for making “good” programming was to a): keep people watching as it happened and b): get people to talk about it afterwards so that other people would tune in next week – you know, “word-of-mouth”. That didn’t work for crap programming, because people would stop watching and tell their friends it was crap.
But now, thanks to social media, it doesn’t work like that: people will watch a bad show to tweet about how bad it is, and people on social media will see people tweeting about a bad show and tune in to see what all the fuss is about. So a bad show – just so long as it’s an “event”, preferably with a local hook – works just as well when it comes to getting people to watch it, right? Actually, it works even better: if a show is good (with interesting characters, engaging plot and so on), you’re going to actually want to watch it. It’s only the rubbish shows where you can go off and tweet about them, because you don’t really care about what’s happening as anything more than something to make fun of.
Congratulations: we now live in a world where bad shows no one really enjoys make for better television than good ones.
Written by Anthony Morris