I have a cunning plan

Channel 9 have announced that Freemantle Media will deliver for them a new live variety program in 2011, hosted by Ben Elton. The program will be called Live From Planet Earth. Is this to be the long awaited successor to the D-Generation’s The Late Show that held so much attraction on Saturday nights on the ABC back in the 90’s? So much promise, so much potential…

Without question this is Channel 9’s to screw up. If they jump the show around in the schedule, it will likely fall over. If they dump it late at night, it will likely fail. If they try to run it any earlier than 8:30pm it will struggle due to limitations on the content. I really want to see it succeed – not only am I a big Ben Elton fan, but Australia has been crying out for decent sketch comedy for years. Ronnie Johns helped. That Sketch Show, imported from the UK, did alright. There have been many shows far more forgettable than these that have attempted to fill the void. Australia doesn’t do sitcoms very well, but we do live comedy pretty darn awesomely.

From the press release:

Live From Planet Earth will be 100 per cent comedy and 100 per cent LIVE. It is a studio-based variety program hosted by Ben Elton with a cast of regular sketch performers, plus guests, comedians, comedy music acts and international stars. Elton will also be delivering his world-renowned stand-up routines and his influence will be felt throughout the program as he revels in the producing, writing and performing roles.

Elton’s multi-award-winning portfolio of work includes sitcom classics such as Blackadder and The Young Ones and numerous sellout stand-up comedy tours. He is a prolific writer of top-selling novels including Stark, Popcorn and Dead Famous and his smash-hit West End stage plays are regularly performed around the world. He has also had phenomenal success with writing, producing and directing the Queen rock musical We Will Rock You. Elton lives with his Australian wife and their three children in Fremantle, WA.

“It’s the ultimate great night out, but we bring it to you. No babysitters, no designated driver, no dodgy take-out on the way home. Just smart, high-energy live entertainment with plenty of attitude. The audience, the performers and our guests will all play a crucial role in the fun which, uniquely for an Australian prime time entertainment show, will not feature either sport or cooking. It’s a radical concept I know, but you’re just going to have trust us on this one” said Elton.

Earlier this year FremantleMedia Australia forged an exclusive creative partnership with Elton and Live From Planet Earth is the first project from the partnership.

“Simply put, Ben is a world-class creative force. This show will be fantastic,” Ian Hogg, CEO of FremantleMedia Australia, said. “This commission is a credit to our creative director, Jason Stephens, and his development team for their work with Ben on creating Live From Planet Earth. It feels great to be delivering such a fresh and unique comedy program to the Australian audience.”

Live From Planet Earth premieres on Nine next year.

Yes, the Jason Stephens mentioned in this press release is that Jason Stephens (of Muckrakers fame) who was a cast member of the aforementioned Late Show cast.

While I am excited about what Live From Planet Earth could be, I am puzzled why we feel the need to have Ben Elton host a program of Australian comedy. Sure, it will likely make the product appealing to international markets, however in the same way The Sketch Show didn’t really translate into the US Market (apart from offering them the hilarious Lee Mack) Australian comedy will not translate very well into too many other markets. Do I need to remind you of the car accident that was the US Kath & Kim? Even though the cast seems pretty good, the jury is still out on the US version of Wilfred. We don’t have a great track record when it comes to Aussie comedy travelling well overseas. Two words: Young Einstein.

Couldn’t this have been drawn from the rich comedic talent we have available to us right now? Not even the same old suspects – there’s lots of great new comics discovered or otherwise that would kill for a break like this. The ensemble cast will be telling in that aspect: will Fremantle/Channel 9 trust Elton and go with largely unknown talent for support, or will they seek a couple of marquee names to flesh out the CV of the show?

We’ll find out for sure in 2011.


Image sources: ColinThomas.comThisIsLondon.co.uk.