October 23, 2012

Horse 1385 - The Unbelievable Truth

Channel 7 is currently playing a television series of The Unbelievable Truth. Originally a radio series on BBC Radio 4, the premise of the game is simple. Contestants must present a short lecture in which they must tell lies and hidden amongst the lies they must smuggle past five pieces of true information; they get a point at the end for every truth that goes past unnoticed. Competitors gain a point for identifying a truth and they lose a point for mistaking a lie for a truth.
Consequently many players on the radio series end up with scores that are in the minus and a final score of 1 is sometimes enough to win.

I've seen two episodes on telly now and I'm still not sure if it works, or maybe it just hasn't hit its strides yet. On the telly version, people have the use of visual aids which I suppose is necessary for television but is unhelpful when it comes to the flow of the lecture.
The BBC Radio 4 show is hosted by David Mitchell, who it must be said brings a sort of annoyance to the role. Mitchell being the master of rants which usually hinge around the exactitude of things is perfect for the role precisely because he is so pedantic and nitpicky, whereas Craig Reucassel on the Channel 7 show is an amiable host and to be frank, is far too nice (which is a little strange considering that on The Chaser, he's probably far more prepared to rip into people).

The thing about the BBC and radio generally is that spoken comedy fits it so well. Aunty Beeb has a plethora of panel shows (Just a Minute, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, The News Quiz, The 99p Challenge,, etc) and some of them have been adapted to television but because they're usually more of an intellectual battle of wits rather than visual spectacle, they often don't migrate.
A show like Have I Got News For You, which is now in its 44th season, is also a panel game which for the most part thrives on visual simplicity. Of course it helps that Ian Hislop is the editor of Private Eye magazine which I guess is could be described as the comedy print version of ABC 1's Media Watch but even that is a poor approximation.
When HIGNFY was migrated to Australia, suddenly it became this largish extravaganza, was renamed Good News Week and developed into its own sort of thing; to be honest, I still don't find it as witty, dry or scathing as the original. GNW  certainly doesn't attract politicians and journalists the way that HIGNFY does.
Actually if there was to be a proper Australian version of HIGNFY, I'd be hoping to put Mark Colvin and Joe Hildebrand in the two permanent chairs on the panel. Mark Colvin is a brilliantly restless journalist whilst Joe Hildebrand I suspect needs a proper vehicle to drive his journalism/comedy talent.

I rather think that The Unbelievable Truth would have been better off on radio. 702 ABC Sydney's afternoon drive slot with Richard Glover has an hour segment at the end of the week called Thank God It's Friday. TGIF almost without fail completely fills its studio audience on a weekly basis. I bet that it also gets a wee bit of a ratings bump at the end of the week too. This means to say that there exists a market for radio comedy, it's just that it needs to be built.
If it ran on Friday nights where Norman The Quiz usually does, I bet that it would do well; such a program could be carried nationally the same way as ABC Grandstand shows do. I also would get that the podcasts of a Friday night comedy show would start to be downloaded en masse in the same sorts of numbers as the Beeb's are.

Maybe I'm just a little annoyed that the ABC has missed out on getting a show which it could have done better and cheaper. Maybe I'm a little miffed that the ABC didn't put this on the radio first; maybe just maybe, I'm disappointed that David Mitchell isn't the host. Whatever it is, the show isn't quite yet believable and that's the unbelievable truth,

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