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.