Pop Culture #624

Subscribe to Forte Magazine

Pop Culture #624

In a development that pretty much anyone with access to a ratings guide could have seen coming, Josh Thomas’ sitcom Please Like Me was bumped from its 9.30pm Thursday timeslot on ABC1 after just one week. Which might seem harsh, until you see that in its first week it rated just 127,000 viewers nationwide, which for anything shown on any free-to-air network in prime time is pretty poor. And yet, that was still almost double what it had been rating in its previous series on ABC2. That raises a number of questions, most of which can be answered with; “US cable network Pivot pretty much pays for the entire show – they picked it up after the first series aired on ABC1, back when Chris Lilley was a successful Australian comedy export and US networks were sniffing around looking for talent they could poach – so the ABC gets it for close to nothing.”
But that still leaves the ABC in a bit of a bind. While Please Like Me has rated poorly pretty much since day one – and despite what a seemingly endless run of “it’s the best show you’re not watching” articles would have you believe – those poor ratings have been the kind where a season starts out relatively strongly, then loses half or more of its viewers over the run, which suggests that the real problem is that people are watching then tuning out.
It’s been close to universally praised by critics here, which means that dumping it in a rubbish timeslot or online would stir up a bunch of bad press. So strong is the local critics’ love for Thomas’ series that when Please Like Me was bumped, influential TV blogger David Knox suggested on his TV Tonight website that the real problem for the poor ratings for a heavily promoted show in its third series was that it wasn’t shown even earlier at night directly after The Chaser’s Media Circus.
“Despite its M classification, Please Like Me was not given The Chaser’s Media Circus as a natural lead-in, but an historic costume romp in Musketeers. Why didn’t ABC wait until it had a Wednesday night slot for the show?” Knox’s theory is that the ABC airdate was tied in with the Pivot screenings, which makes sense (especially once you consider that as soon as it airs in the US it’ll be pirated online, which would only further cut into the already small viewing figures).
With ABC2 seemingly having abandoned new Australian programming this year – at the end of 2014 they only announced four new local series, and one of them is yet to air – Please Like Me either had to air on ABC1 or go direct to online, and we’re back to the outraged press. Perhaps the ABC programmers knew that Please Like Me was never going to draw sustainable ratings on ABC1; Thomas himself is best described as a “polarising” figure, and his show hasn’t been embraced by anyone here outside of critics and inner-city types. So rather than give it a decent timeslot where a failure could cause some real damage, they tossed it into the 9.30pm Thursday spot to sink or swim. And sink it did; if Pivot funds a fourth series, who knows where the ABC will show it?
Written by Anthony Morris