Courier Mail, 10th June 1998

Working For The Weekend

The ABC's Good News Week team has been holding the fort for Australian comedy while the commercial networks get their act together.
Now, GNW will be holding the fort for Roy and HG while they are on assignment in Britain.

They have big shoes to fill but there is a lot of talent on and off the screen involved in the Good News Weekend, the new Saturday night live entertainment show on the ABC.

The public faces of GNW are Paul McDermott, Mikey Robbins and Julie McCrossin.

They have a strong rapport with their audience - particularly McDermott, the high- profile former ratbag and now respectable GNW host. McDermott's inspired anarchy as one of the Doug Anthony Allstars won him a cult following.

But behind the Good News scenes is a team of seven comedy writers. Only one, Rachel Spratt, is new to the TV game. Iam Simmons was head writer on Denton (which also employed George and Simon Dodd, Steve Johnston and Bruce Griffiths) and satirist/ cartoonist Patrick Cook (the Gillies Report) completes the team.

Until now, their job has been to write McDermott's acerbic commentaries on the news of the week for GNW - the rest of the cast have to think on their feet.

The new Saturday night show will allow the writers to stretch their imaginations in comic skits and kick around a few ideas about popular culture.

The Good News Weekend will focus on films, television and music, rather than the news of the week, Simmons says.

McDermott, Robbins and McCrossin will not have the full hour to themselves, however. They will have special guests doing stand- up routines, playing music and singing.

And yes, the glorious tones of the McDermott voice box will be exercised for more than a few lonely bars - there may even be a combo or two with guests.

The writing team has been busy over the past few weeks writing comedy routines for pre- recorded skits. The rest of the show is live.
"We did not kick Roy and HG out. We have been asked to fill in for them," Simmons says.
"We are just keeping the seat warm for 10 weeks."

The writers' wish list of guests included Kirk Pengilly from INXS and Fiona Horne from Def FX.

"There is not a show like it on TV now - whether that is a good or a bad thing, I don't know," Simmons says.
"We are doing something that no one else is really doing."

Drawing comparisons with something like Tonight Live draws a negative response: "Hopefully, it will be nothing like Tonight Live."

Simmons's opinion of Hey Hey It's Saturday is even less flattering.
"Hey Hey It's Saturday is past it's used- by date - it's used- by date was back in 1971," he says.

"It makes me so angry. It's a show which has been incredibly successful and has the reputation which gives it extraordinary access to guests.

"It's nice to see bands getting a chance to perform because there isn't a lot of opportunity out there for Australian acts."

Of course, The Good News Weekend will give Australian acts the national spotlight but any desirable international names will be gratefully accepted, says Simmons.

Simmons, who has been writing comedy for 16 years, started writing and performing in the Macquarie University revues - he was also studying for a communications degree.

He spent four years on breakfast radio before becoming a full- time writer on Denton.

"I love writing. It gives me the greatest joy," Simmons says.

When the new series of GNW returned this year, a few people wrote in welcoming the show back, he says.

The show has had a positive response but there are always those who are easily offended.

Any jokes about organised religion attract letters of condemnation, he says.
"I receieved a great letter the other day from some guy who didn't like the story about Jeff Kennett not being allowed to receive Holy Communion," Simmons says. "To my thinking, the jokes were aimed at Jeff, not the Catholic church.

"People don't listen. As soon as they hear the word 'Pope', they switch off. He was saying we were damned because making fun of organised religion is blasphemy, unless it attacks religions such as Islam, which are clearly 'wrong'."

So how does Simmons, who wrote a song called Where Did Azaria Go? to the tune of Johnny B Good for a uni revue, know when something is funny?

"I have been getting paid for writing comedy for eight years so, whether it's arrogant or not, I trust my instinct," he says.

"We want to make The Good News Weekend as different from Friday nights as we can."

With two shows a week, the writers have their work cut out for them.
As it is, they are writing an episode from the moment one show ends right up until the next show is being recorded.

They knew they had done something right when the ABC gave them better editing facilities this year so that GNW is recorded only a day before it goes to air, strengthening the show's immediacy. Previously, it was recorded two days before it was shown.

In Perth, GNW even tied with Burke's Backyard, the king of the Friday night 8pm timeslot.

"GNW is one of the ABC's consistant performers. We churn it out 42 weeks of the year," Simmons says. "There aren't too many people doing that on television."

* The Good News Weekend starts on the ABC on Saturday, 10:30pm

-unknown author

Typed up by Eloise from the MOSH!! board.

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