Two programs in, and so far this lively bit of Tuesday night teeve on Our ABC is still working. I'm trying to work out what it has that makes it different from earlier TV arts chat shows which have nearly all been excruciating to some degree or another. Here are the three things I've come up with so far: no gimmicks, ruthless editing, and Jennifer Byrne.
Byrne was great tonight. She was funny, she was smart, she kept everybody more or less on track without being in the least a bossy cow (this is no mean feat; I could never manage it in tutorials), and she is an extremely experienced TV person who knows what works and why. Being married to Andrew Denton must help a lot, I should think, but Byrne goes further back with TV even than she does with Denton and I am sure they bounce ideas off each other about how best to use the medium. Having said all that, my favourite moment tonight was when she lost patience with all the others, who were humming and hawing about Dava Sobel's Longitude not being enough of a rattling good yarn, and said 'Well, I think you're all fools!'
The editing was obtrusive in that the jerkiness of the conversation was quite obvious and the continuity was pretty nonexistent; the discontinuity, if you will. But at least it got rid of (this much was clear) a lot of waffle and left only the most lively bits of the conversation safe from the cutting-room floor.
The two surviving panelists from last month's four were Jason Steger and Marieke Hardy, aka Ms Fits; Peter Cundall and Jacki Weaver had been replaced by Pru Goward and John Safran. I wonder what the rationale is; is it two out and two new ones in per show? Did Cundall and Weaver (by far the best last month, I thought) only ever sign up for one show? Surely they can't have been got rid of after the fact; they were both great.
Tonight Jason Steger loked far more relaxed and comfortable (as it were) in front of the camera, and what he has to say is always interesting and articulate. Hardy was good, and looked gorgeous (this is important; it's television, after all). I thought she was being a bit wilfully dopey about Longitude, but what she had to say about The Shadow of the Wind was great. Pru Goward was all right but managed to get in an obligatory, and really silly, disparaging remark about 'left-wingers', apropos the admittedly shocking revelation that Gunter Grass was in his youth a member of the Waffen-SS. And John Safran ...
It'll be interesting to see who they get for the first Tuesday in October. It would be really good to see someone up there who can match Byrne for intelligence, intellectual sophistication, performance chops and passion, because nobody has come close so far. Louise Adler? Robyn Archer? David Marr?