Metro, supplement to The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 March 1998

That was the week that still is

As host Paul McDermott has it, Good News Week differs from its British counterpart by dispensing with the lisps, the inbreeding and the landed gentry. But can it sell CDs? RICHARD JINMAN listens in.

Self-promootion. Some love it, others tolerate it. Paul McDermott, the acid tongued host of ABC-TV's Good News Week , is firmly in the latter catergory. The former Doug Anthony Allstar is supposed to be spendinf the day with the Good News Week writers working on material for the new series. Instead he's holed up in a record company office discussing Paul McDermott Unplugged - The Good News Week Tapes Vol. 1 , a collection of more than 70 of his monologues from last year's program.

"The record was originally just for cast and crew, a stockingfiller," he insists with the weariness of a man adjusting to the promotional merry-go-round. "The dolls are coming out shortly, then the coffee mugs and the caps ..."

Modesty aside, Unplugged is hugely entertaining. It's also a reminder of how far McDermott's humour pushes the envelope. Subjects such as the death of Princess Diana and the trial of English nanny Louise Woodward are simply grist to his comedic mill.

"There's a certain degree of self-censorship but no subject is taboo," he says. "It's just finding a way in that's valid."

McDermott's edgy monologues seem all the more extreme because Australian television particularly the commercial sector, is still inherently conservative.

"In the US you have the late-night shows attacking the political system," he says. "Look at the Clinton/Lewinsky incident which was on Letterman, Jay Leno , everywhere. We don't have that level of satire of news.

We do have The Panel , of course. Devised by the Frontline team, Channel 10's wry loo at current affairs seems to bear a passing resemblance to McDermott's own show.

"I think that it's admirable that Channel 10 has gone with a news-orientated satirical show. The more programs that cast a humourous eye over the week's events the better, because the news services on commercial stations are a parody of themselves.

McDermott's Good News Week material is tightly scripted. It has to be, he insists. "It gives the chaos that happens around it something to hang onto." And he's toned down his physical gestures - "schlepstick" was a trademark of DAAS comedy - or the cameras. "It's like Bruce Lee," he laughs. "I was moving too fast for the cameras to catch all the comedy."

He's delighted with the way the show - Good News Week was based on the long-running British program Have I Got News For You? - has forged its own identity.

"It's vastly different to the British show," he explains. "The Australian sense of humour is more brash and aggressive. The English have an established class system and the humour relies more on inbreeding, lisps and landed gentry."

McDermott also reveals that Ian Hislop and Paul Merton, the leading lights of Have I Got News For You? know the answers before the game begins. "We don't give Julie [McCrossin] or Mikey [Robins] the answers so it's much more like walking a tightrope."

Plans for the future? McDermott will be with Good News Week for at least another year. ABC viewers will also see him in a new mid-year show filling in for Roy Slaven and H.G. Nelson.

-Richard Jinman

Typed up by ktwong