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Thursday, July 25, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Fading memories as the ABC falls to pieces

Michael Theo, star of Austin… “his timing is exquisite and his deadpan delivery is exactly what’s needed to claim centre stage.” Photo: ABC

“On any given day, the ABC’s viewing line-up is overwhelmed by repeats; most of the rest are BBC propaganda freebees such as Antiques Roadshow or Grand Designs,” writes The Gadfly columnist ROBERT MACKLIN.

There was a time when the ABC’s 7.30 Report was the unmissable highlight of ABC programming. 

Robert Macklin.

Alas, those days of Mike Willesee, Richard Carleton, Kerry O’Brien and Leigh Sales are now but a fading memory. 

The current version with Sarah Ferguson in the chair is virtually unwatchable. 

It’s not her fault. She is a professional, socially pleasant person, I’m told by mutual friends. And were she properly managed and coached she might well join that elite crew who made 7.30 a winner. 

But the ABC under Ita Buttrose and her executive team was falling to pieces.

Sarah follows a national news that has taken a dive ever since the wonderful Juanita Phillips departed. Its current occupant sounds like a BBC reject from the era when Ita was an up and comer at Kerry Packer’s Cleo. 

The other news and current affairs programming is tired at best and weird at worst, not least the former powerhouse Four Corners with its recent half-baked story of alleged Chinese spies and a modern-day Don Quixote fighting wind turbines.

Sales is wasted on Australian Story and Paul Barry, who once cast his net across most media, has reduced his focus to commercial “junkets” and the limitless excesses of Murdoch’s madhatters. But even he could not resist giving the ABC a slap in the kisser for its second-rate coverage of the Bondi shopping centre knife attack and other breaking news events.

The recent NSW floods brought forth a raft of articulate women stringers who put their lazy Canberra bureau prima donnas to shame… except, of course, for the courageous and insightful Laura Tingle, whom the suits instantly abandoned when she told the truth about her racist countrymen. 

Sunday morning’s Insiders has lost its edge and simply parrots what everyone knows already or gets lost in the weeds where no one cares. And the seemingly endless David Speers’ interviews are more harrowing for the viewer than the interviewee. Even Mike Bowers’ Talking Pictures segment is now so rushed it’s lost its former elan. 

On any given day, the network’s viewing line-up is overwhelmed by repeats; most of the rest are BBC propaganda freebees such as Antiques Roadshow or Grand Designs, and even they are repeated ad nauseam. 

Moreover, they’re separated by multiple reruns of promos for other shows that are as dull as the shows they’re promoting.

Indeed, the occasional homegrown hit such as Back Roads or Hard Quiz was so wondrous to Ita and the suits that they exploited it to death. HQ’s Tom Gleeson’s shtick – making cheeky critiques of Ita, the network and its audience – once taken in delighted jest, now generates an embarrassed silence.

Drama and comedy are something else. And sometimes it’s hard to separate them. 

Typical is the recent Austin, which has all the hallmarks of a hastily assembled cast and crew built around the discovery of an autistic charmer, Michael Theo from a fairly typical ABC venture, Love on the Spectrum. Add a couple of British “stars” in Ben Miller and Sally Phillips; raise a budget from the ACT government, Screen Australia, ITV Studios and Screen Canberra; shoot some of the thing in Canberra with the Hyatt for some handy “contra” and the rest in England, which doesn’t match with the antipodean footage, and away we go.

Trouble is, Ben and Sally don’t know whether they’re in a drama or a comedy so they just over-act and hope for the best. Turns out, the best is Michael Theo himself. His timing is exquisite and his deadpan delivery is exactly what’s needed to claim centre stage. But even he can’t compensate for the absurd plot and the madcap performances from Ben and Sally. 

At least they picked the perfect mirror for the network to screen it. Kim Williams, over to you. 


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Robert Macklin

Robert Macklin

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5 Responses to Fading memories as the ABC falls to pieces

cbrapsycho says: 11 July 2024 at 7:28 am

Thankyou Robert! You’ve managed to put all my feelings about the ABC into an article that should hit home, if the ABC execs were listening / reading. This year things have gotten decidedly and rapidly worse. When I go out, I don’t miss anything worth watching any more.

The good side of all of this is that where once I was engrossed in many wonderful shows on the ABC, I’m now switching off to do other things. The frustration of seeing the same shows pop up night after night, the repetitive ads and the once loved shows of Insiders and 7.30 becoming a waste of time as well as really annoying. And we lost the Drum which was almost always fascinating, as we heard so many different views.

Robert Kennedy says: 11 July 2024 at 8:53 am

What Robert fails to mention is all the funding cuts and jobs losses the ABC has suffered over years. These are the reasons that the ABC is “Falling to pieces”. Read this from the Conversation. “As we noted in our research in 2019 and 2020, a total of $783 million was removed from ABC funding between 2014 and 2022.”

cbrapsycho says: 12 July 2024 at 9:27 am

But hasn’t their funding been boosted since then? Why is it continually getting worse? Has there not been enough funding? If not, why not? Kim Williams might like to explain the situation? Or the CEO might?

Cassandra says: 15 July 2024 at 1:14 pm

There was a small injection of around $84m and the restoration of indexation, but neither of these measures went close to addressing the decline. The indexation formula hasn’t been sufficient to keep up with the costs of inflation or the escalating costs of production. The results are there for all to see. Kim Williams has said that he will pursue funding for the ABC as a priority.

Colin Smeal says: 13 July 2024 at 5:06 pm

Oh! so spot on, Robert. It almost makes me cry to watch ABC now – in fact I keep switching off. You didnt mention the appalling ABC TV breakfast show – it outdoes the commercials for crassness and nonsense and has become a bit of an “ambulance chaser” into the bargain. I feel sorry for the people presenting this rubbish, they must be embarrassed. And by the way, has anyone else noticed that now speech seems to be overwhelmed with loud music on every show, including docos, to the extent you cant hear the commentary or interviews?


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