Wednesday Night Television

In Brisbane, we receive six "free-to-air" HD channels on our new Sony HDTV-- Seven, Nine, and Ten, which are all commercial networks (and they're actually known by those numbers), and ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), ABC2, and SBS, which are government owned, although SBS shows commercials. We really haven't felt the need to pay for cable or satellite, as there is plenty for us to view for free. For example, I can watch the nightly news broadcasts from several countries, including the U.S., on SBS. I'm also so impressed with the picture quality of these HD channels--something we didn't have back in our house in Atlanta.

Wednesday is my favourite TV night, mainly because everything we see on this night is produced in Australia (and doesn't involve cops and murders). Here's a rundown of what we watch (after Will has his bath and goes to bed, and provided V. hasn't fallen asleep yet!).

7-7:30. Home and Away. Seven. This is a long-running soap that takes place in a fictional bay town north of Sydney. It's on every week night. The cast is generally young and good-looking, the outdoor locations beautiful, and the melodrama is cranked way up. This show is also very popular in the U.K. It's fine to play in the background because I don't feel like I've missed anything if we happen to be putting Will to bed or cleaning the kitchen after dinner.

7:30-8:30. Thank God You're Here. Ten. This "live" comedy show involves putting some celebrity performer into the middle of a sketch, complete with a high-quality set and props. He or she then improvises lines with other actors who create the situation and sort of control where the sketch is going. I don't think I have recognised one of these celebrities yet--they are mostly Aussie comedians, radio DJs, and sitcom players. Still, most of the sketches end up being quite hilarious. Interestingly, a U.S. version of this show was piloted this past spring while I was still in Atlanta, and it wasn't nearly as funny.

8:30-9:00. Spicks and Specks. ABC. This is my favourite Aussie show. It's basically a music trivia game, in which two teams of celebrities compete for a few points. The two team captains (Myf and Alan) are the same each week (Myf is a morning DJ for Triple J, a fantastic alternative public radio station), with other guests typically being Aussie comedians or musicians whom I usually have never heard of (although a member of Squeeze was on a few weeks ago!). The questions are really tough, and there are plenty of interesting challenges for the players, such as having to identify a rock song from listening to a team player sing the tune while reading from a dishwasher manual, or figuring out what's missing from an old record album cover. I am in total awe of the players' knowledge of music trivia that can extend from knowing the name of the first Pixies album to being able to finish the lyrics to an Everly Brothers' song.

9:00-9:30. The Chaser's War on Everything. ABC. It's hard to describe the Chaser, which, as implied by the title, satirises everything. It's part "The Daily Show" and part "Borat," but its style is mostly original. This week's episode was significant because it aired a stunt that recently attracted worldwide attention (including CNN). The Chaser boys hired a few limos, attached Canadian flags, and were then allowed to pass through two security checkpoints at the APEC meeting in Sydney last week. It's clear from last night's footage that the Chaser team really didn't think they would get that far, and even started to turn around when they got to Bush's hotel. It was only when one cast member dressed like bin Laden got out of his car that the police even noticed the prank. Eleven people from the show were arrested over the incident and face charges next month. Last night's episode also included stinging pieces about George Bush (who referred to APEC as "OPEC" and "IPEC" during the meeting, and talked about John Howard's visit to the "Austrian" troops in Iraq), John Howard, Steve and Bindi Irwin ("help save the Irwins, who are dying off at the rate of one a year"), and Kevin Rudd, the opposition leader. And this is all on a public television station!

That's the Wednesday line-up in our household. Of course, this will all change in a couple of weeks. Australian TV series, just like in the UK, typically have only 6-8 episodes in a season. I'm sure they will find another 22-episode American police drama or two to fill the void.