Like many others, I tuned in to ABC TV’s new screen panel show Screen Time a month ago.
Unlike many others, I continued to watch it, but only because the screen continued to function after I threw the remote at it.
Has there been a worse panel show in the history of ABC broadcasting? Well, yes, if you count Vulture in 2005, a late night arts panel show whose sheer boringness helped send the ABC on a death spiral in the pretence that it takes the arts seriously.
Unlike other fields of human endeavour – sport, politics, even advertising – the ABC has a problem with examining the arts in a panel format. It has never managed to work out the middle ground of entertaining and informative; it’s either mumbling eggheads or the sort of throwaway insult Screen Time proved to be in its first three episodes.
It seems as if the ABC’s idea of informative is to chuck its guests a Cabcharge, a list of shows to check out, then shove them into the studio.
Coming after the announcement of its axing the long running The Book Club and the longer running Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton At The Movies (a program it co-opted from SBS), Screen Time promised one last hope of covering a single aspect of the arts – screen culture and its audiences – with some respect, if not intelligence.
We got neither in the first three episodes. Hosted by the genial but ineffective Chris Taylor, Screen Time was to film and TV reviewing what Sunrise is to journalism.
Taylor is surrounded a rotating roster of four guests. All of them are accomplished in their own fields but most appear here to be only expert at being on the right side of 40 and offering random opinions on pop culture you’re likely to hear on numbskull breakfast radio.
Other than former Triple J film reviewer Marc Fennell, none – including the host – seemed to have no more than a Facebook-feed knowledge of film or television making.
It seems as if the ABC’s idea of informative is to chuck its guests a Cabcharge, a list of shows to check out, then shove them into the studio where whatever they say or do, keep it light and breezy! And try and come up with some zingers while under the lights! If the gags fall flat on broadcast, that’s only because there aren’t the resources to edit them.
Discussion of the art form is dumbed down for the apparent fear of alienating the attention-challenged viewer, or timidity in being charged elitist.
So among the show’s snippets of film and TV drama is junk such YouTube ads of dodgy plastic surgeons or game shows. Last night’s program included a segment devoted to a new game show. Screen Time filled two minutes of airtime mocking Channel 7’s The Wall, its host and its contestants. If Screen Time has nothing insightful to say about why people might like the show, then all it is adding is cheap snobbery.
No wonder viewers have such an attachment to At The Movies and The Movie Show. Margaret and David’s chemistry provided the entertainment while the informative was supplied by the extensive film clips and interviews with filmmakers. As if the Australian film industry did not have enough problems in attracting audiences, Screen Time erased one of the few mass forums where it could get coverage.
That was until last night’s instalment, which offers hope that the show’s makers are realising their mistakes.
A month ago Taylor told Daily Review: “What interested me about the show was the opportunity to have a conversation that everyone is having in their own homes or workplaces or barbecues”.
But last night’s show did not just include the stuff you normally hear at home.
Nakkiah Lui steered the show out of the obvious and irrelevant.
In reviewing Netflix’s Stranger Things 2 and the new Australian film Three Summers from director Ben Elton, the panel and Taylor steered the show out of the obvious and irrelevant by offering some genuinely engaging conversation and criticism.
This was largely driven by panellist and playwright Nakkiah Lui who has an expert’s knowledge of dramatic structure and character.
She offered a surprising and oppositional view on the much lauded Stranger Things and although none of them much liked Three Summers, Lui led a discussion about the rom-com’s failings. In addressing how the film shoehorned social justice issues into its well-worn premise of two attractive young people finding love, she spun the discussion into a short discussion of Indigenous cinema.
Fellow panellist, comedian Susie Youssef, suggested a reason for the Three Summers’ misstep in including environmental, refugee and Indigenous sub-plots might have been due to Elton having to “tick the boxes’’ to get government funding. You don’t often hear that spoken out loud on the ABC.
The panellists concluded that Three Summers was ultimately another rom-com with “two cute white people” at its centre. This was ironic given they were at the Screen Time desk in which the most diverse collection of panellists you’ve probably ever seen assembled on the ABC were sitting with its anchorman, Chris Taylor, at its centre.
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