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Why Charlie Pickering is no longer nailing it: a speculative essay

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I’ve only watched one episode of The Weekly this year, but it’s my sad duty to report that Charlie Pickering is no longer “nailing it”.

I know, I know. How can I possibly make that assessment having not watched the vast majority of this season?

And I know, I’ve written previously about my strong aversion to the series and managed to quit the show after watching the first two seasons in full. So what’s the point of coming back to critique it yet again?

I’ve already followed what’s probably the most frequent, if not particularly helpful, piece of advice given to critics of TV: if you don’t like it, change the channel.

But it’s since come to my attention that The Weekly has barely come to my attention at all this season. So I returned to the series last night to see what I’ve been missing.

The Weekly really hasn’t changed at all, and doesn’t set itself apart from the US shows it seeks to emulate in any meaningful way. The criticisms I’d previously made about the overt sincerity of Pickering’s hosting remain relevant: he tends to flatten out whatever entertainment value there may be in the writing, and the show’s clear desire to become a player in international political satire is still misguided.

The only difference seems to be that almost nobody is talking about it this season.

The year’s first episode, at the start of February, made a minor splash when Adam Briggs joined the team for a segment on the movement to change the date of Australia Day out of respect for Indigenous people. (Although his song January 26 was a much more powerful statement.)

Since then, I’m not sure The Weekly has popped up in my social media feeds at all, and certainly not in any actual, real-life conversations.

Has Pickering “nailed it” even once this season?

For the last two years, media outlets would constantly report that Pickering had “skewered” x, “nailed” y, and “ripped into” z. This happened after almost every show in the latest season, resulting in a veritable social media saturation of The Weekly clips.

“if a segment on The Weekly didn’t go viral did it even really happen?”

These political satire/commentary shows — popularised in the US by hosts like Stephen Colbert, John Stewart and Jon Oliver, and followed closely in Australia by Pickering — are designed specifically to attract that kind of attention. The editorials presented by their hosts are meant to set an agenda and become viral content — the kind that people who share the same opinion can point to on social media and say: “That’s what I mean! That’s my argument!”

The lack of social media traction achieved by Pickering this season is made even more stark by the comparative success of Waleed Aly, who replaced Pickering on Ten’s The Project. Aly’s recap of Trump’s first week as president has been viewed more than 25 million times on Facebook alone.

Colbert, Stewart, Oliver, Pickering and Aly all often attract far, far greater audiences for their editorials through social media than they do through traditional broadcast. Viral content is a key metric for this kind of show, and there’s been nothing much that’s gone viral across nine full episodes of The Weekly this year.

It’s arguably an even more important measure for the ABC than traditional ratings, but the show hasn’t surpassed 600,000 metro viewers even once this season.

The show is built so strongly around that viral content model it almost seems fair to ask: if a segment on The Weekly didn’t go viral, did it even really happen?

Junkee recently shared The Weekly’s take on the Cooper’s Brewery-marriage equality scandal, and earlier this year the program’s Make Australia Second segment received a modest amount of attention. But there’s been a marked drop in viral content since the first two years of the program.

So why isn’t Pickering “nailing it” this season? Or why isn’t he perceived by the media to be “nailing it”?

Well, I can only speculate, but perhaps Donald Trump is to blame.

“Perhaps the analysis of Pickering and his writers just hasn’t evolved much this season…”

Last night, Pickering’s major editorial segment was on Trump’s inability to apply his alleged business skills to his political relationships. It was actually pretty smart and well written, but the market for Trump satire and commentary is already flooded by international media outlets. Despite Aly’s international success, how much attention can a small scale comedic Australian TV show really hope to garner in that climate?

The other option for The Weekly is to focus entirely on local politics and media. But could that even work when our attention is so consistently taken up by what’s happening internationally?

Or perhaps it has nothing to do with that.

Perhaps the analysis of Pickering and his writers just hasn’t evolved much this season, and even the journos watching the show for shareable content haven’t found much worth sharing.

Either way, it seems something isn’t quite sparking.

33 responses to “Why Charlie Pickering is no longer nailing it: a speculative essay

  1. A nice young chap. Puts a lot of work into it. Wants to be liked. But no. Pleasant, but needs more adrenelin and communication skills. Also the need to add a strong dash of courage. I watched only the 2 shows.

  2. I think Cliff that is the problem, since the world has changed, due to Trumps ascendency, comedic political satire is in very different territory now. But pleasant just isn’t what’s needed now. I suggest if the approach isn’t changed and quickly, The Weekly could find itself on the scrap heap. My preference now is the Planet America with John Barron & Chas Licciardello, I watch it as it cuts out the nonsense but also has a satirical dig at what is happening.
    Bring on Shaun Micaliff he is what the ABC needs now, he needs to take over THe Weekly spot as I think he will be so much more creative with what is currently happening in America.

  3. Charlie got somewhat stitched up when he was convinced to leave The Project. He was good. His authority, influence and entertainment value has gone downhill every day since. And to be realistic, I can’t see a place a for him the current and likely future set-ups.
    Overseas perhaps ?

  4. Not to malign the talents of CP and his writers, but there has always been, as you agree, Ben, this central problem with the show: it seeks to do Stewart/Oliver.
    The program borrows not just its centrist liberal politics from those guys, but an entire format. And it doesn’t matter how talented the team is, they’re going to create an inferior product in a nation less than ten per cent the size of the US.
    You can’t just import politics from a nation considerably to the right of Australia and hope they will translate. And, you can’t just dream that your relatively tiny budget will produce anything that sharp.
    Micallef outruns this problem by being not only Micallef (we can all agree, an exceptional talent) but by being unafraid to be Micallef. His jokes do not depend on expressing, as Charlie’s do, a particular and very US-dependent political standpoint, but on being funny. The “zinger”, for example, remains in the language because the people that write that show do not consider themselves moral arbiters of the correct sort of politics. They simply want to make people laugh.
    There are very, very few comedians who can seek to do anything more than that. Again, CP is clearly talented, but this does not mean that his whole purported “punching up” liberal view of the world is equal to that talent. I know, and the audience knows, where he’s going to land on just about any issue, because his politics are of a very predictable “let’s be tolerant” sort. We know what’s coming.
    I have a comedy writer friend who tries to avoid creating jokes, as shey puts it, where you can “hear the click of the keyboard”. This is the great flaw of CP’s show. You can hear the jokes being written, and you know where they’re going to go. Intolerance bad. Diversity good. You can learn this stuff everywhere. Why watch CP when you can get this stuff better from Oliver, or you can have your views formed after five minutes on Twitter?
    I really don’t like doing anything to dissuade our nation’s good comedians, and I know the staff of this show take the criticism hard. I have written similar critiques and I have been told. not unreasonably, that I am ruining their chances of developing.
    But, FFS, this is the ABC and why not take a risk? Why do the family friendly mild politics of Waleed, whose Ten audience is likely to be broader, when you can go somewhere else? If he wants to stay with analysis and not always do pure comedy, per Micallef (who I happen to think ends up being quite political, in that he makes all politicians look absurd) why not ask questions like “why are young people joining the alt-right?” and try to understand that in a way that is not just “because they’re dicks”.
    The show is one of ingroup favouritism. You watch it to have your bias confirmed, never challenged. Sure, it is different to the Sky News or Daily Telegraph view. But, it is identical in the conclusions that it draws to every other Australian media outlet not run by Murdoch.
    In order to be funny (and Waleed is not funny, so the “nailing it” comparison is not entirely fair) the comedian needs to be prepared to be hated by even the people who normally like them. CP is so “united front” in his attachment to tolerant centrism and he seems very reluctant to do anything that would disturb harmony within his ingroup.
    He can keep doing this stuff. In the meantime, the young audience he seeks are splitting into factions of their own. You get kids exploring extreme socialism and others whose avatar is Pepe the frog. Of course, most people are going to be just fairly uninterested in having a political view at all, but someone doing a political comedy show needs to stay on top of these trends, or risk irrelevance.
    I think that people like Samantha Bee and John Oliver, who are also, however good they are, very predictable in their attachment to centrism are beginning to become irrelevant. Liberalism is a dying thing, and comedy depends on new life.
    Anyhow. Good piece.

  5. Infotainment as news is the problem and Chuck isn’t the solution. You want to see how it SHOULD be done. Trevor Noah nails it.

  6. I watch and enjoy the Weekly. I think Charlie has a great team; Tom & Kitty are both great comedians too. I would like to be spoiled and have both Micalleff & The Weekly on the ABC. After all it’s not the ABC’s fault that all the right-wing commentators (generally on commercial channels, inc Fox, or Sky, or whatever it’s called) lack a sense of humour.
    Right wing mass media dominate the world-wide commentary, thank heaven for our moderate ABC, cut deep but carrying on.
    Post the Trump coup; a huge joke that you can’t actually laugh at, humour is about all the left have left.

  7. Hopefully, these sorts of crits will help kill off this show and its ilk and we can get all our political satire/humour from Fox and Friends (now there’s a show). Under the present leadership, the ABC won’t need much persuading to can the show. Good work Ben and Helen.

    1. Amy only issue is Hard Chat.I cringe when the chat is on as it is to my mind banal.I do agree that political satire is not encouraged by the ABC board and the lack of mention of climate change anywhere when we have had another unexpectedly intense cyclone,which was predicted as an outcome from warming oceans and warmer air.Surely we can get one comedian to get the message through? Probably Micallef can rise to the occasion?

  8. Charlie Pickering is just another private school boy with a law degree punching down at those he considers to be his socio-economic and intellectual inferiors. Like many others of the same ilk, he’s about as funny as a haemorrhoid.

    1. Steve, I agree with you, with qualifications.
      Because I’m a paid critic, I try not to do the ad hominem thing. Which is to say, I try not to say, “you’re bad because you’re a rich kid”. But, you’re writing in the context of internet comments here, so no diss.
      But, whether Charlie is a child of privilege is not really the problem. That he acts as such really is.
      His view of others outside the ingroup is really comparable to Clinton’s. Her famous comment about the “deplorables” is one truly believed by so many people.
      I can’t begin to say how much this troubles me. Let’s even suppose that people *are* deplorable. Why are we not asking how they got that way? Could it maybe down to the dwindling of education resources, for which Clinton herself has long been a champion? She and her husband are still very much in the business of promoting private education and it was long ago, when she was on the board of Walmart, that she began bringing corporate America into the classroom. So, yeah. If there are people who are “deplorable”, maybe there’s a reason for that. Not everyone got to go to Brighton Grammar and enjoy Enlightenment conversations on how to be a good citizen. Our functional literacy rates, even in Australia are the “deplorable” thing and to leave these facts and the political urges of the many just down to your privileged disgust is disgusting.
      Time and again, he fails to understand the basis of political economy. Which, for a political show, is an extreme oversight. He could overcome the myopia of his privilege if he wanted He could engage and actually ask the question “why are hard right parties being voted in across the West?”I mean, it’s a real worry, right?
      The base unit of our political economies is private property. They are built from that foundation. You are right in saying that he seems to be ignorant of this, perhaps because he actually has some private property.
      I am just so bored with commentators who chide others for making “immoral” decisions. WHat are you going to do to correct this? Keep telling them that they’re stupid? Apparently so.
      Instead, you could overcome the “people are bad” narrative and learn a little about political history. But, no. It’s just, as you say, a middle-class wankfest in which viewers get to congratulate themselves about how enlightened and non-deplorable they are.
      The thing here is that in a time when many of us do not have private property, regular income and expensive educations, he has a really limited audience. As long as the precariat is a class growing in number, and it very much is, he limits his fanbase.

      1. I comprehend that Ms Razer is criticising the navel-gazing, choir-preaching Weekly for its lack of revolutionary thinking, but I can’t let this Clinton “deplorables” comment go. It is at the centre of this critique.
        Watch / read the ENTIRE statement she makes – Sec. Clinton is actually predicting the exact problem that caused her to lose Wisconsin & Pennsylvania. Her comments, in a nutshell, are: on the one hand, there are the “deplorable” supporters who are easily written off and too easily focused on, but let’s also look at the other group – these are folk whose jobs have disappeared and who feel insecure and pissed off that the system – government and business – has dudded them.
        Sec. Clinton *concedes* that there is (going to be) a significant core of Trump voters with legitimate economic concerns. Of-course, no-one looks at that; we get drawn into the obvious and oft-repeated sound-grab that confirms the perception of Sec. Clinton as an elitist, heartless politician. (I admit she was part of the problem and acknowledge that the first part of her statement was unwise to sputter into a live microphone).

        FTR – if “precariat” isn’t your own word, congratulate its creator.

  9. I have sympathies with all of the above comments. I’m a marginal, occasional viewer and have even less exposure or expertise to comment on the merits of a show that is only ever at best background in our house. To be more marginal I note the observation “Viral content is a key metric for this (kind of) show.” I accept that the digiverse is now more important than ratings. Fine. But what kind of babel fish are the audience that connects with a product only to then use more telco services to communicate with other people (who they may or may not know)? I was one of them when straight after “Flash Nick from Jindivick” I rang my best mate to dissect the show. Same response with more limited technology. But I was a child. Are we saying that the viral reactions of a childlike audience are a ‘key metric’? Fuck me why do we even try with criticism? Ben, Helen you have tough gigs!

  10. Couldnt agree more, what a sad disappointment. (fkn boring actually, yawn) You all keep saying CP is “talented, but”….I dont think he is talented. This sort of centrist humour is, well, centrist, therefore never close to the edge, where comedy belongs…bring back Micallef soon please, and yes, “Planet America” is great, Chas is cool.

  11. The Weekly without Charlie Pickering would probably be more appealing. Kitty Flanagan can be great in her segments, and daggy Tom Gleeson sometimes gets it right and when he doesn’t he is fun to laugh at.

    But Pickering? He did bad mouth Australian attitudes in favour of American attitudes* on a one+one episode, so it is no surprise if he copies American models. Including talking too loudly and lots of ‘look at me’ mugging. His ego gets in the way of the material which can be good at times.

    I can recall some good recentish segments, like a compilation fast editing of commentators contradicting each other after the WA election that worked well as satire… The election was ‘a disaster for One Nation, while being good for One Nation, had no Federal implications, while at the same time having deep implications for Federal Liberals etc etc.

    But I can’t be bothered much with it now. Too jangly and shouty Pickering. Which is a shame, as satire is needed even in this post-satire world.

    *Charles, American attitudes lead to Trump…still that good?

  12. It seems that OP just discovered that Australian television is mediocre. In other news, water is wet.

    If it’s any consolation, its critics are mediocre too.

  13. A good relevant piece and on the money by Ben Neutze. I want to be a fan of The Weekly but I continually find it very disappointing. To me, Charlie Pickering comes close to ‘nailing it’ as Ben describes but his two side kicks, Tom Gleeson and Kitty Flanagan are the true disappointments. I couldn’t believe that they were brought back for this season as it should have been obvious to even Blind Freddie that they were dragging the show down. Gleeson and Flanagan are no doubt talented, but so often in The Weekly, their contributions are puerile and and just not clever. With the wealth of incredible material to work with at present, this season’s sinking ratings should provide a crystal clear message to Charlie Pickering. He should realise that it is his show and his reputation on the line and he might need to ask some tough questions to avoid his show becoming unnoticed and a huge disappointment to the art of satire and comedy.

  14. The show is so heavily scripted as to be completely lacking in spontaneity. Plus the jokes are predictable and often fall flat (the Malcolm’s Musings segment has definitely had its day). Take some risks, Pickering! You might even enjoy it.

    1. No need for ”s” with = for two reasons:

      1. It translates as “equals”;
      2. The apostrophe as you’ve put it implies ownership where there is none.

      No need to thank me.

  15. Pickering’s show falls down in the smugness-to-funny ratio, in the sense that it’s smug-heavy. I put him in the Wil Anderson bracket, and his co-presenters don’t cut it either. Of course it’s all about the writing, and good writers are in very short supply, but if Pickering et al are mostly writing their own stuff . . . Well, there you go.

  16. There’s a reason why John Oliver’s show works so well. It’s because he and his writers are genuinely talented, highly intelligent and seriously funny. Jon Stewart’s show was the same. Look at the team of “reporters” he had – John Oliver, Steven Colbert, Samantha Bee, Lewis Black, Steven Carrell, Ed Helms, Aasif Mandii to name but a few. Talent and genuine ability are the keys to shows like this and there’s no substitute. In the US you can have a team of A class writers on your payroll. We just don’t have the critical mass of talent required to do this type of format justice.

    1. Samantha Bee “nails it” effortlessly every week, because she can. She is fearless and attacks power, because she is allowed to do that. Pickering is hamstrung because the ABC is being bullied in the media playground by IPA/Murdoch thugs. The show therefore is under instruction from management to be “balanced.” Apart from that, Pickering is a bit of a wimp who seems more concerned with remaining a nice guy. You can’t do that full-on satire job unless you are not afraid to offend the powerful.

      1. When we say “attacks power”, we mean Trump.
        Bee is, like Pickering, marvellously uncritical about forms of power that she doesn’t see as consonant with him. Not a big critic of Clinton, for example. And we can, in part, blame alleged “progressives” for failing to interrogate the problems with this nominee. When you have a nsotty, tertiary educated media class all promoting their girl, what do you think happens to people suspicious of her for good reason?
        She’s a credible performer. She is every bit as predictable about all the others, which include John Oliver. There’s such a mania for “never Trump” there is also a refusal to see the actually very funny bollocks that led to him.

          1. When Helen mounts her horse there’s no getting her off. She’s now becoming boring.

  17. Ok, I’ve just discovered that I must be boring, centrist, predictable and not a risk taker, as I really like The Weekly and have watched every episode. I find it current, relevant, funny, interesting guests. Oh well, here’s to confirmation bias I suppose.
    P.S. I like Shaun Micallef too.
    P. P. S. I didn’t go to Private School.

  18. While no great fan of Mr Pickering and still bewildered by the reverence some afford to Mr Micallef, it is worth nothing that along with the various constraints imposed by the ABC under its current stewardship etc. this REALLY ain’t the easiest time to be funny about anything, as the great Satyajit Das is quick to remind us …

    Not a viewpoint likely to get an airing from Virginia Trioli any time soon.

    1. You have your opinion we have ours..

      The weekly is fun, it always has been and always will be, don’t bother watching anymore because you obviously don’t get it and never will.

  19. I’ve enjoyed the snarky digs at Mark Latham and Ross Cameron’s cooking snippets. But this hasn’t taken much writing and is predicated on your audience wanting to laugh at these two – well, who wouldn’t?
    Thanks for your critique, Mr Neutze

  20. There’s so little that is even funny on TV – CP is enjoyable at the very least. I don’t give a shit about Facebook, Twitter, going viral etc. It’s a sad day when centrist, actually liberal, views are seen as “unfashionable” and television content has to go viral to be relevant. My middle class kids get there news about the world filtered through their favourite social media feeds. That alone makes for the easy rise and rise of the far right and racist views of the most extreme kind especially amongst misinformed people who are suffering a multitude of deprivations, both actual and perceived. CP also has to cope with the new deballed, mini-funded ABC – poor bastard. Blame our government for that. What a thankless job he has trying to entertain the fundamentally disengaged, both young and old, and the self satisfied bored critics working within the IT media streams always hankering after the novel and the extreme.

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