So it looks like the ABC’s attempt to revive Spicks and Specks is over. According to various reports, not only will the ABC be pulling the show after airing 20 of the 26 episodes – the remaining six will air later in the year, which is usually code for “the non-ratings period” – but the ABC has also confirmed that “there aren’t plans for the show in 2015”. While this is slightly sadder news than the usual demise of an ABC panel show – unlike both Randling and Tractor Monkeys, the revived Spicks and Specks was occasionally actually entertaining – this wasn’t exactly difficult to see coming.
In May alone, the four episodes on ABC1 averaged 415,000 viewers, with a peak of 490,000 and 20th place overall in the ratings on May 21, while the low point was May 28th, when it was 29th with 331,000 viewers. So now we know: if you can’t pull in half a million viewers on a Wednesday night, you’re heading for the door. Unless you’re Jonah from Tonga, of course, which has repeatedly rated the same or worse but at only six episodes long probably wasn’t worth the trouble of rescheduling.
The real question now is, ‘What is the ABC going to do about replacing it?’ (No one answer “more old episodes of QI”.) Outside of a handful of increasingly old-looking programs – the Gruen series, whatever The Chaser feel like doing – it seems increasingly unlikely that the ABC will be able to come up with anything that will rate above the magic half-million mark on a Wednesday night.
The whole idea behind reviving Spicks and Specks, especially after all the talk that it would never work without the original cast, was that it would be a strong-rating program that would prop up the rest of the night. Without that kind of strong lead-in, everything else suffers – even if expecting anything like the big ratings from the good old days was crazy today, thanks to Ten actively programming shows on Wednesday nights like Offspring aimed at chipping away at the ABC’s comedy audience.
While the failure of Spicks and Specks 2.0 is disappointing, in large part because the ABC clearly have no tricks left when it comes to making a long-running, broadly popular panel show, and without one their overall comedy slate is going to struggle, it wouldn’t be a serious problem if it wasn’t just the latest of a long line of comedy failures from the ABC since 2011. While they’ve had a few half-hearted successes since then, mostly involving Shaun Micallef (though Upper Middle Bogan and It’s a Date rated reasonably well, and Please Like Me was picked up by a US cable network), it was only a few years ago that Spicks and Specks was drawing in over a million viewers a week.
With those days gone and former comedy legend Chris Lilley now clearly yesterday’s news, there’s nothing there that the ABC can point to as anything approaching a mainstream comedy success. Comedy is meant to be something the ABC does well. Good luck persuading audiences of that these days.
Written by Anthony Morris