Five ways we can make Q&A more watchableHating Q&A (Mondays 9:35pm, ABC 1) has become, in certain circles, a badge of honour. Every Monday evening at around 9:30, my social media stream fills up with dozens of people tweeting about the fact that they are not watching Q&A, followed by a barrage of updates at about 9:35 that even if they were watching it, they are no longer doing so. This doesn’t really happen with any other show, and why would it? Watch House or don’t, those are the options, I do not care which way you go on this. But Q&A has earned a special place in the hearts of many, the show we love to hate, loudly and often.
But the scorn is in many cases deserved, if a little smug – and it’s a shame, because occasionally it does feel like the nation has stopped what it’s doing of a Monday night to bask in the warm glow of democracy in action. This is, of course, demonstrably untrue, but it’s a nice thought to have.
So is it just that the format is fatally flawed? Is there something inherent in the idea of a group of people sitting around a table answering questions that dooms this show to such staggering mediocrity? I’m not so pessimistic – and with that in mind, here are some suggestions.
--1. No More Clapping.
None. New rule, Q&A audiences, you have had your clapping privileges revoked. If you give a comment so much as a golf clap, you’ll be dragged out the back of the ABC and have the crap beaten out of you by Barrie Cassidy and Leigh Sales. Think on that for a bit, gang. Cassidy. Sales. Phonebook.
And I’ll go one step further. No more audience warm up. They’re too warm; these people are on a hair-trigger to the point where it’s jarring and confusing when watched from the relative calm of a lounge room. If anything, they need to be calmed the hell down and sobered the hell up. Instead of a warm up guy, I suggest getting an old man to sit on the front of the stage and look through old photographs of his late wife, quietly commenting on them to himself until the audience in rendered speechless by the poignancy of it all and the timely reminder of the transience of all things. Then roll camera one.
The clapping is not just obnoxious and tedious; it actually influences the way the panellists behave. It’s become the rubric with which success on the show is measured, and it’s a stupid one. Generally speaking, the things that get applause on Q&A are vacuous one-liners along the lines of ‘Education is a good thing!’ and ‘Peaches are delicious!’ So instead of anyone taking a run at any kind of meaningful discussion, it’s reduced to pithy statements, completely devoid of substance.
2. No More People Who Have No Claim To Be There
There was a minor Q&A qantroversy (deal with it) this year when singer/songwriter Kate Miller-Heidke went on the program and proceeded to be essentially terrible. But why was she there at all? It’s not like she’s a particularly political musician, if there was going to be some discussion of the arts, I suppose that’s fine, but what’s she going to do for the rest of the time? And it’s not just musicians – when news has broken, I have never, for example thought to myself ‘Well that’s all very interesting, Mr Newspaper, but I think I’ll wait to hear what the Austen Tayshus angle is on this before I make up my mind’.
The problem is that, yes, diversity of opinion is important, but not all opinions are equal. The show would be completely horrible were it just partisan hacks and politicians, so it makes sense to get a broad range of voices, and sometimes these guests are excellent. It’s just a lot of the time, no one, not even the panellists themselves, knows why they’re there.
3. Do Something About The Twitter Problem
The problem isn’t so much that there is a Twitter bar. I think most people have made peace with the fact that news producers have decided that we all want to be part of a conversation for some reason, and that it’s not going away any time soon. The problem is that they seem to be filtered by an algorithm that trawls the site for the most stupid, tedious, predictable opinions.
There are some interesting things tweeted by interesting people during the show (for the record, I do not claim to be one of them); these people have mad knowledge and stats and opinions that go beyond ‘bad things are bad’, but we are far more often treated to the bland musings of the residents of the middle of the road. This goes back to my point about the guests – why do I care that NedKelly666 thinks that ‘the whole country is going to the dogs’? I don’t. I straight up do not care what that person thinks. Why? Because I don’t know who he is, why he’s saying it, or whether he’s doing so from a sex dungeon covered in his own faeces. Or maybe he’s just a normal guy. In that case, I don’t want to hear from him. I know what that sounds like because that is me.
4. No More Video Questions From Lunatics
Here’s another new rule. If you are posting a video question in which you are wearing a stupid hat, in a stupid location, posing in a way that is stupid or just being an arsehat in anyway – your video will not only fail to make it to air. Jonathan Holmes will personally come to your house and tell you you’re an idiot. And when you get burned by Holmes, your face literally implodes with shame.
It’s not adding colour. It’s not zesting up the joint. And even if it were, why exactly does the joint need zesting, again? Do the producers really think that we as a species are at the point where we literally can’t sit through an hour of television without seeing someone in a stupid hat? Is that the fear? That, having endured a full forty full minutes of stupid-hatless agony, we’ll be forced to change the channel in search of someone in a fez?
Video questions, like the Twitter stream can be a force for good if the selection criteria goes beyond ‘Can Tony Jones give the camera a wry smile after this clip is played?’.
5. If None Of This Works...
As I see it you've got a few options. One of these options is a Thunderdome scenario. This is by far your best bet to attract viewers, but it's unlikely the hand-wringing lefties over at the ABC will have a bar of it. Failing that, why not double down on what you've already got? Go the whole hog with a show where a panel of ex-Big Brother contestants answer questions posed by people dressed as their favourite foods with a running commentary provided by a Twitter-bot that sends out random lines from Ulysses - all, of course, to rapturous applause.
Ben Jenkins is a Sydney-based writer. He blogs at abafflingordeal.com and tweets at @bencjenkins
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