“Comedy has been overdue”: Skewering TV on We Interrupt This Broadcast

We Interrupt This Broadcast_The Bachelor featuring L_R Elliot Loney and Duncan Fellows_Channel 7 (1)

Mark Fennessy: “It’s a high-risk genre. Programmers, I think, are inherently a little bit afraid of it.”

From The Block to The Bachelor; MAFS to MRK, nothing is off limits when sketch comedy series We Interrupt This Broadcast hits Aussie TVs to skewer the programs that are shown on them.

With more than 25 comedy writers working behind the scenes, on-screen We Interrupt This Broadcast showcases eight of Australia’s biggest names in comedy: Christie Whelan Browne, Bridie Connell, Michelle Brasier, Adele Vuko, Duncan Fellows, Greg Larsen, Ben Russell and Bjorn Stewart.

The show is a Helium original production for the Seven Network.

Mediaweek spoke to Helium’s Mark Fennessy about bringing the show together ahead of the premiere at 7.30pm Tuesday, 28 February on Seven and 7plus.


Helium founder Mark Fennessy

It’s been a long time since sketch comedy was aired in primetime on Australian television, but after a particularly intense few years, Fennessy says that now was the time to lighten the mood of the nation.

Comedy has been overdue for quite some time. With Covid, the world’s lost three years and that has left us all pretty serious. The world’s changed a bit, and I just think it’s great to be able to step back and have some much-needed absurdity and silliness. 

“I’ve made a bit of sketch comedy before, it’s quite a joyous process from a producer’s perspective. Comedy is by far my favourite genre – it’s very difficult to get right. It’s probably the hardest genre to sell in the market. For broadcasters it’s the unicorn: they love it, but they’re afraid of it in a sense. All power to the Seven Network for fully backing it, they’ve got an incredible legacy and heritage of success with comedy.”

When asked what exactly it is that has historically made comedy such a hard sell, Fennessy says that it’s a genre that can require “the planets to align” in a lot of cases. 

“Comedy is very culturally specific to any audience. Like a lot of Australian television, we were weaned on extremely good comedy from the UK and the US – particularly British comedy, which is my absolute favourite. 

“The bar is set very high, and the road is littered with car crashes over the years of comedies that have been tried and not hit the expectations. It’s a high-risk genre. Programmers, I think, are inherently a little bit afraid of it. I don’t mean that in a critical manner, they’ve just got to look at the odds.”

The typical sketch in We Interrupt This Broadcast tops out at 90 seconds, and in a one-hour-long show that’s a lot of movement between scenes. When asked what the benefit was of such a fast pace, Fennessy pointed to both the history of sketch comedy and the fact that we live in a world where people don’t have very long attention spans.

“It’s the nature of audience viewing habits and viewing patterns. It’s sketch comedy, it’s not a sitcom – audiences like pace. When we produced Comedy Inc, the sketches were even shorter than these ones. You need that balance between a sketch that might be 90 seconds and a sketch that’s 19 seconds, it’s all about how it flows. 

“You don’t sit down and say to a writing team that this is exactly how long the sketch should be. It’s about what it deserves to be, and how long you know it has merit.”

We Interrupt This Broadcast takes its inspiration from whatever viewers can find on their TV – be it on free-to-air, streaming services, or the occasional fictional show. When asked if it’s possible to have too much content to work with when making a show like this, Fennessy says it’s the exact opposite.

Not only are we having fun with the genres and brands and franchises that everyone’s familiar with, but some of them are completely made up. There are fictional shows and fictional personalities, as well as ones that we already readily identify with – whether that’s Married at First Sight, or MasterChef, or Border Security, or a series like Squid Game. For a comedy writer and a comedy production team, it’s manna from Heaven.

“From a comedy perspective, the more the merrier – keep it coming, guys!”

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