Here’s a strange question to be asking: what happened to local sitcoms on the ABC? It’s a strange question because Utopia is currently chugging away at 9pm Wednesdays, and season three of Josh Thomas’ Please Like Me (all 10 episodes worth) is about to start up and will no doubt get the ABC through to the end of the year. Plus, in news worth getting excited about, Shaun Micallef’s sitcom The Ex-PM is also due before the end of the year. So asking what happened to local sitcoms on the ABC? Very strange question indeed.
Except… okay, let’s break it down. Utopia was commissioned last year, and as the ABC almost always gives shows two series, what we’re seeing now is the second half of a show given the thumbs up over a year ago. Please Like Me is an ABC2 series that’s now almost entirely funded by US network Pivot. So the ABC basically gets it for free (it’d still be made even if they didn’t want it), and it’s only on ABC1 because ABC2 doesn’t actually seem to be showing any new Australian programming any more.
The Ex-PM is what we’re getting instead of a second series in 2015 of Mad as Hell – though with the just-finished The Weekly having run for 20 weeks, it’s more likely the Mad as Hell s2 budget went there. The only other free-to-air ABC1 sitcom this year has been Maximum Choppage, which again, was originally an ABC2 project. Oh, and it seems likely that Sammy J & Randy in Ricketts Lane will turn up on free-to-air eventually, even though all six episodes have already been put up on iView. Again, that seems like a pretty decent slate of programs for the year until you look closely: if ABC2 is no longer commissioning original shows, then two of the five sitcoms for 2015 are from a source that’s no longer available.
Sammy J & Randy’s show was funded through a digital initiative (that’s why it’s on iView first – though zombie drama Glitch, which was also funded that way, aired on free-to-air at the same time as it was available on iView), so that opportunity’s most likely gone too. That leaves a year where ABC1 made just two Australian sitcoms (and no sketch comedy, though indigenous sketch show Black Comedy will be returning) and filled the gaps with leftovers from elsewhere. If this is the new normal for the ABC’s comedy output, it’s a fairly grim situation. Sure, there’s been plenty of other comedy programming – though stuff like the various Agony guides, How Not to Behave and now Gruen aren’t exactly “comedy” – and with Mad as Hell, The Chaser and The Weekly there’s going to have been news satire on pretty much each week of the year. But when they hit, sitcoms are pretty much as good as comedy gets: unless the ABC is saving up to pay for some top-secret Chris Lilley project. Don’t worry, Lilley’s last few series have all been largely paid for by overseas networks, so if they don’t want him the ABC alone probably can’t afford him – it looks like the cupboard for local sitcoms in increasingly bare.
Written by Anthony Morris