Comedy, Film, News & Commentary

ABC cuts? Less Lilley more Wheat Street, please

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Before we get too upset over the $36 million cuts to the ABC, understand they will be partially offset by savings in brown facepaint and fuzzy wigs because Jonah Takalua probably won’t be back anytime during the forward estimates.
Despite a high profile publicity campaign and an innovative binge view experiment on iView, the second episode of Chris Lilley’s new offering could only manage 287,000 viewers this week, down from 419,000 the week before. That’s less than half the amount that watched the first episode of Ja’mie: Private School Girl last year. Not very quiche at all.
Last week, would we have bothered with all the opinion pieces, counterpoints, online discussions and hashtags if someone had travelled back in time and said “Don’t worry, it’ll rate worse than a repeat of QI” before telling us to beware the Cigar Smoker, the one we call Hockey?
And all this collective brow furrowing meant we’ve missed one of the real TV successes of the year.
ABC1’s The Gods of Wheat Street drew 458,000 and was the seventh most watched show overall during it’s Saturday night debut on April 12.
Since then it has remained in the top 10 programs for the night and broke the half a million viewers barrier on April 26 with 512,000 people tuning in to the trials and tribulations of the Freeburn family.
Yes, it takes less viewers to reach the top 10 on a Saturday night and yes, Jonah From Tonga has only just started its run. But for any weekend show, let alone an indigenous drama that doesn’t star Ernie Dingo, to outrate a prime time weekday program that has the benefit of a lead-in from Spicks and Specks is impressive.
So if more people are watching Wheat Street, does this mean the end of Lilley and some real flavour for the flat white that is Australian TV?
Will Jessica Mauboy swap Eurovision for Summer Bay?
Should we expect Nazeem Hussain as a love interest on that show I keep confusing with Packed To The Rafters?
Sadly, no. Wheat Street‘s figures are still small compared to the million plus people who watch the MasterVoiceRules conglomeration and besides, Australia’s Man of a Thousand Vaguely Offensive Faces has one last card to play
Lilley’s shows are the televisual equivalent of clickbait. Their content is of secondary consideration to the fuss and attention they cause. This phenomenon was first manifested in 2007 when a Summer Heights High inadvertently paralleled a real-life fatal overdose and continues with his penchant for millennial minstrel shows.
Maybe Lilley has what he believes are valid artistic reasons informing his character choices but I bet when he decided to get back in black, the ABC marketing department was already calculating the amount of free publicity the inevitable op-eds would generate.
Incidentally, the news websites that publish these articles love Lilley as well because they can have it both ways. They get to criticise him while still including a video clip of the offensive performance to increase hits.
Since Adam Hills replaced Clive James as the BBC’s pet Australian, Lilley is the ABC’s lone mainstream star. And I mean proper mainstream, Kyle and Jackie O mainstream not regular Q&A panellist mainstream. You can download his characters as ringtones. I’d like to see Annabel Crabb achieve that. A Lilley hasn’t been this accepted by middle Australian since Dennis.
And that’s why – despite the ratings – it will be Jonah mugging for the cameras at next year’s Logies while Wheat Street will probably get a consolation AACTA Award before being placed in the drawer marked “Worthy Niche Program” next to Redfern Now and The Circuit.
The ABC told Fairfax on Wednesday that “jobs will be lost, investment in Australian content will decline and innovation will be stymied as a result of the cuts” so some difficult decisions have to be made.
Does it continue with recognisable-yet-fading stars like Lilley or invest in the promise of shows like Wheat Street, despite its admittedly challenging subject matter?
Readers can have their say when the final episode of Wheat Street airs tomorrow. If the rating improves and #gows starts trending then maybe the mavens at Ultimo will have to take notice. They may even choose to commission another show by Wheat Street‘s producers Every Cloud Productions.
Let’s hope so because if they don’t, you just know Lilley is workshopping an inspirationally disabled character and then we’ll have to got through the whole controversy pantomime all over again. Ringtones and all.

20 responses to “ABC cuts? Less Lilley more Wheat Street, please

    1. The Gods of Wheat Street is an excellent program, and a worthy successor to the Redfern Now series. Brilliant indigenous (no, Australian actors), and characters you can really relate to.

    2. Same here: Lilley is as funny as haemorrhoids, while “Wheat Street” is a quality production that rivals “Redfern Now”. Give Lilley to Channel 10, as he would be a better fit for their juvenile audience!

  1. GoWS is a favorite at our house. Strong writing and fantastic acting. I really care about what happens to the characters. I hope Auntie sees fit to commission another series of it.

  2. Chris Lilley’s show has had great numbers on Iview and huge success overall for the ABC. But it is time for him to create some new characters. Saturday nights are an incredibly soft night for ratings but Death In Paradise consistently attracts 1 million plus viewers but 540,000 turned off when Gods Of Wheat Street came on, hardly a validation of the show. And Redfern Now had a similarly low audience in the much stronger Thursday 8.30 slot. Both are worthy shows but the lack of viewer interest in them must be considered by the ABC. The ABC seems to make either heavily Anglo, predictable genre dramas for aging audiences and occasional indigenous drama but nothing much in between. There is a large part of Australian society which it appears to ignore and its dramas are poorer for this lack of diversity.

  3. I couldn’t agree more… In fact I ‘m wondering if I’m psychic because I was thinking this very same notion in the shower this morning (obviously after you wrote it) and thought to myself that this should be on Crikey. Thanks. Bayond all the justification, I reallyy think there is only one reason for JfT and that’s a nice junket to Tonga for Lilley and a bit of work for the Tongan actors. I <3 GoWS and am convinced that the only drama worth watching from the ABC is indigenous. The Time of Our Lives??? YAWN.

  4. Am I missing something with The Gods of Wheat Street? I have never seen such schlock in my life. The entire thing is just bogans shouting at each other at maximum volume and waving their arms around (hint to screenwriters – if the dialogue is good then you don’t have to shout it or accompany it with histrionics). Even by Australian soap standards it’s lame. Just because it’s made by Aboriginals does not give it a free pass.

  5. Gods of Wheat street and Redfern Now are both great shows, well written, funny, sad, interesting and contemporary. The other show which I won’t mention is offfensive, not funny (except to 12 year olds) and should binned. The ABC should include more Indigenous Australian shows because the commercial channels are interested in American style “dramas”, rehashed American rubbish and middleclass/unbelievable sitcoms.

  6. more of GOWS and less of Lilley?Maybe. But it will probably mean more ‘quality tv’, like… Midsummer Murders and QI. These two must be some of the cheapest available programs out there – something has to explain the quantity of them. Just as long as there’s less of Lilley.

  7. After reading this article I watched the final episode of Gods Of Wheat Street to find an explanation as to why 500,000 people turn it off after Death In Paradise. The answer may well be because it was poorly written and directed and barely reaching the level of professional quality required for prime time television. Some very good cast were left with lines which should never make the screen. Where was the producer and the ABC in all this? There was an opportunity to make something really interesting here if some real rigour was brought to it. It was not a case of it being difficult material which many would read as code for “indigenous” material. It fell well short on a craft level and the audience turned off. The ABC should be asking why.

  8. Well Victor and Billy the Fish, we await some quality scripts and finalised production deals with your obvious talents languishing in limbo.

  9. Totally agree. Chris Lilley is as funny as a heart attack. The Gods Of Wheat Street was just brilliant. I was so impressed with the story line and the actors. So much potential here. I’m certainly wishing for more.

  10. i would love to see more of Gods of Wheat street i just love the fist lot then sad to see the final please need to make more ,loved the actors waiting to see what happens next please do more thanks to Johnathan bell a Job well done

  11. Please when can we expect the next series of the Gods Of Wheat Street a fantastic show can’t get enough of it please roll out the next series soon thanks Jonathan Bell you are an excellent writer and producer can’t wait for the next series as I have just about worn out my DVD Copy so to speak which I only received at Christmas, I’m so impressed with the actors and story line I am unable to stop watching my copy,this leaves me wishing for the new series ASAP…..

  12. I just watched Gods of Wheat Street on Netfilx. I am so impressed that we had a drama based in a country town with real issues being aired. Please give us more quality stories that are uniquely Australian. Some of our satire goes too far and becomes offensive.

  13. Im about to watch the last episode of gods of wheat street tomorrow and im shattered that theres no more episodes……PLEASE DO ANOTHER SEASON IT IS AN AWSOME SHOW

  14. Gods Of Wheat Street, I am devastated today is the last episode. Its my favourite show, real people nd issues, love it. ABC WHAT ARE YOU DOING…..BRING IT BACK!!!!

    1. we are in Canada and are stunned that there is no second season of Gods of Wheat Street… It really should go on for a few more years as there’s lots of room for the development of this plot… eh? come on ABC show CBC Canada how to do it…

  15. Please ABC/Cloud creative productions make a season 2!!!!
    Come on, I miss these shows! Real stories we can relate to! Love the cast and they can bloody act! Sick of seeing all the realtiy garbage they play on other tele stations… Come on ABC! BRING BACK THE GOWS! SEASON 2!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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