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ABC's Q and A: A studio audient's review

ABC's Q and A: a studio audient's review

by Peter Hindrup

An interest in world affairs, production techniques and ideas, informed views and ideas gets me to many and various venues and events. The fact that I cannot keep my mouth shut gets me thrown out occasionally, and on one memorable occasion I had beer cans thrown at me.

So it was that I was invited to the pilot of the ABC Q & A show. It was streamed on the net, but not broadcast.

Arrival time 7 : 30 pm, for a 9 : 30 start, roaring 'music' the guy at the console deluded, believing he was in charge of a rock band. Free tea, coffee and biscuits and the interminable waiting.

We had been asked to submit questions by email for consideration, but they also had 'cards' which they handed out for people to submit (further?) questions.

Tony Jones came out and gave us run down on how the show would work. Those whose questions were chosen would be identified and a copy of the question given to them. Though it may not be possible to get through all the questions selected. (They never do)Questions would be taken from the audience, and from questions submitted via the web. Members of the panel would not have prior knowledge of the questions. 'Most of all, have fun'.

We file in, seating wherever we wish. The names of those whose questions have been selected are called out, and the camera operators and Tony plot their positions. Production housework is discussed. Wait for the overhead mike, don't look at it, don't shout questions out, wait until Tony indicates that you can speak. Put your arm up if you have a comment on the discussion.

Going to air live there is a lot of work getting set and the floor manager, then the producer rattle off their spiel. They work on the, to me, utterly deluded idea that the audience must be 'warmed up'. They bring on an idiot suffering from the delusion that he is funny, who is supposed to impart some information as he goes along, and people scrunch down in their seats, cringing and wondering why the hell they are there, how much more of this they can take, and thinking ' I might just go home.' Mercifully the torture ends, suddenly time is of the essence and the final hectic adjustments happen as the panel is let in, one at a time to some applause ― the odd boo ― and 3, 2, 1 second and the show is underway.

I have been now been on three occasions. ― the free tea and bickies, you understand? On one occasion they had one of the Chasers, I think, doing the 'warming up'. Informative and entertaining as opposed to trying to be funny, and I say this not being a fan of their show.

Back home I emailed the producer.

I thought the Q & A evening went well enough, but!

Observations: Your people repeatedly thanked people for their time, but the organisation of the event never reflected this appreciation or concern. The repeated apologises for the 'unfinished set' were overdone. In the first place, apart from the lack of the logo, who knew, or cared? The show will not live or die by the perceived quality of its set design. In reality, how much of the set is seen, anyway? If the show 'works', it would work if there was nothing more than the desk at which the panel sat and the seating for the audience. It is the content, or lack of it that will determine the success or failure of the concept. Everything else is frippery.

Why not have all questions emailed in so that the selection process could be already done before the people turn up? You could then have the selected questions typed up, and handed out as those who posed them signed in.

Having waited for far too long, being battered by far too loud music, ― what about some soft, background music that people can easily ignore, or talk over? ― that at best can only be to the taste of some of your audience, and being shepherded into the auditorium, more time is 'wasted'.

Obviously you have to have the floor manager's piece, the sound level tests and such, but must you show your charity by bringing in an unemployed, and unemployable would-be comedian?

I can hear people saying: he is there to 'warm up' the audience. In fact it is a trial of patience: just how much more of this crap do I put up with, or do I leave now?

I contend that people who turn up for what is hopefully to be a night of serious discussion do not want, or need, 'warming up'.

At one point the session was really animated. Everyone was involved, the questions and answers were expanding on the topic, were not repetitive and had not become polarised, yet it was cut off as: 'we need to move on'.

I make two assumptions: the show is intended as entertainment, or at least intended to be entertaining, and that if everybody in the studio was finding the discussion interesting/engaging, it is a reasonable assumption that the home audience would be equally engaged.

I do not believe that the success of the show will depend upon how many questions are raised, but upon how well the questions raised are explored, and if the answers are restricted then it will be little different from a news/Lateline interview where often enough people are cut off 'because of time restraints', just when issue seems to be moving into areas where the guts of the question might be exposed.

Thanks for the evenings entertainment.

I was invited back!

At the studio you are faced by a revolving, round, glass entrance. A po -faced individual in SS black pushes a button, the door revolves and you are in. Having been before I point in the direction of those queuing to be marked off, and given a ticket with a large, meaningless number. 'Thank you sir'. Perhaps he is not SS.

Improvements were made. Roll-ups are now 8 :20. The rock band has gone. Unfortunately the unemployed idiot was shown charity and bought back at last Thursdays show. However the bloody ABC has gone commercial! Tendered out the opportunity to inflict your music upon a captive audience, for almost an hour. An older chap sits and plucks at some stringed instrument. It is okay, below the conversation level. I wonder whether he feels he is getting his moneys worth, and how much he tendered. It seems to me that to most, he is invisible.

Joining Q & A this week are: the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Penny Wong, Shadow Treasurer, Malcolm Turnbull, scientist and global warming activist, Tim Flannery, businesswoman, Catherine Harris and the Director of the IP and Free Trade Unit at the Institute of Public Affairs, Tim Wilson .

The panellists file in, but there is obviously something strange going on. 'Malcolm Turnbull', and in stomps an android, all smart polished paint. The woman sitting beside me mutters something and I reply: ' I've never seen him in anything but that outfit, his office is 50 metres from my place'.

The first question is a plant, a Dorothy dixer, Tony gives it to Malcolm. His operator pushes the button for one of his three poses, this one 'look presidential'. His sound system crackles and squawks, and he is off on what was obviously a wrongly load data disk. Like the babbling brook he prattled on about some person I have heard of from prehistory ― something before 2000 bc I believe, and Tony Jones failed to stop him, or couldn't stop him. He talked of 'Howard', (who?) And if they had won the election and . . The mechanism groung to a stop. Tony said: 'you never answered the question', the change position button was pushed and he moved to the 'look prime ministerial mode'.

I said to woman next to me, 'my god, that is the problem, he is a robot.'

An aside: I was of the opinion that Turnbull would make a good frontman for the Libs. I am now of the view that I the would be a bloody disaster.

Penny Wong, quietly spoken, almost never touched upon party politics. Interesting, ― the highest compliment I can give ― would love to have dinner with her.

Dinner: from the past . A fine ― and expensive ― restaurant, in after 9 :30, three or four other people, superb food, very little wine and conversation, ideas, views, conversation until finally, 3; 30 or 4 am, making homeward exhilarated and sober.

Catherine Harris, of Harris fruit markets in Sydney, but I do not know how far further afield. Intelligent, articulate, pragmatic. Little wonder that they have a very successful business.

Tim Flannery; one of those people who are in the flesh as they are on tv.

Tim Wilson, possibly another, much improved robot, who for some unfathomable reason had been loaded with either the same data disk as was Malcolm, or something from the same era.

At one point responding to a comment, Tony warned, 'my wife is in the audience!" Later, in the midst of a session on the subject of same sex marriage Tony managed to hear himself say: 'I don't see why I cannot marry Malcolm!' Embarrassed, in a frantic effort to recover he simply made the situation worse. The whole place fell apart, all except the obsolete robot that sat unmoving, holding the 'presidential' pose.

The panel is allowed escape and the rest of us file out. I find that they have abandoned the 'what do you think?' forms at the door.

Having been on three occasions and never got in a question/observation from the floor, I'm not certain if I will go again. I'm not fond of 'being in the audience'. Much prefer forums where questions and discussion flow.

That said I have a friend in the country who has indicated he would like to attend next time he is in Sydney and in a week or two Germaine Greer ― remember the self-proclaimed 'female eunuch' ― as those who bought the paper back will remember .

Perhaps they deserve just one more chance?

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"Sport", that is "games", is of little interest to people whose life is about doing things, rather than watching things.

The media promote this nonsense by their "us ozzies lerv sport" nonsense. The ABC could be the worst offender.

Sport that is games

Good to see that someone else seems to recognise that there is a difference between the two. Witness the newspeak dumbing down of our language. And don't get me started on the "sports industry".

There is a grey area between games and sport, sometimes; but in general people play games, and engage in sport. I have yet to hear anyone say he has come to the gym to play a game of boxing.

7's Olympics marathon - hard work

I just read Fairfax WA online site bagging 7's coverage.

It's dumbed down to the point of idiocy. Schmaltzy and micro tailored to the needs of junk food advertisers rather than the public, it interrupts even the plethora of ads with an avalanche of self-promotion that stuns the viewer far more even than Stephanie Rice's gold medals, which we are never permitted to see the highlights or repeats of.

Have had enough of Griggs, McCavaney and some of the other tired old already, from previous overdosings on tennis and footy.

Which reminds me. Thank god they DIDN'T interrupt the footy telecasts last weegend (phew!)

For me, best highlight was the gripping, epic women's weightlifting finals on SBS a couple of nights ago, and some of the gymnastics beauty.

Q&A this week

A taste of things to come:

On Q&A this week the writers dominate. The show features author and academic, Germaine Greer, writer and artistic director, Marcus Westbury and The Australian newspaper's foreign editor, Greg Sheridan. Joining them from the domain of politics are Deputy Opposition Leader, Julie Bishop and the former Premier of NSW , Bob Carr.

Just who is Imre Saluzsinsky ?

Where did this commentator come from? He was hopeless when he tried to write an amusing column and he's hopeless at politics. Surely News Ltd must have realised by now that they are just too top heavy with writers from the right?

I must qualify my comments about Michael Duffy, Paul Walter. Occasionally he can be spot on and he isn't as rigid as the usual suspects but with his Radio National show he seems to have appointed himself as the guardian of the right.

Just watching Saluzsinsky

Just watching Saluzsinsky spinning...

"Nobody wants to see things back at the ATSIC era" and so on.

No Imre. Not at all. If we were back in the ATSIC era, before it was sabotaged by you and your Howardist mates, it was quite a good idea. What if it had been allowed to work, instead of being undermined, to overthrow Mabo, etc.

Now we have Bishop on about Aboriginals treated as "collectives" rather than as "individuals". But if the only thing current policy is interested in is privatising Aboriginal resources to swindle aboriginals, how is that anything but treating people as a "collective" rather than as "individuals".

Finishing, what a detestable panel, overall (at this point ).

Morrow and the young academic, a woman, are ok. Some of the others the writer would strangle with his bare hands. Nothing from or to Garrett about his recent decision on Tasmanian carbon sinks.

Greer Fans

Paul Walter, take the chance to go to one of Germaine's lectures if you can. It's fascinating to see the extraordinary mix of women who turn up that she has eating out of her hand. Some in the audience would really surprise you.

I can see why that young lass broke in and tied her up once, although I'm surprised Germaine didn't talk the girl into tieing herself up.

This panel show is just another example of the inane dumbing down of the ABC that happened under Howard. SBS's Insight is far better and really gets passions  fired up.

Q & A just reminds me of another of the ABCs attempts to remain neutral by putting that silly Michael Duffy on as some sort of counterbalance to Phillip Adams. Each week he is so predictable as he announces the topic and you know, just like Ackerman, Bolt or Albrechtsen, where it's going. This week he was banging on about "revisonism " history over the Hiroshima bombings and toting out the required right-wing Yanks who supported his views.

It's boring and just so dull.

A silly duffy

Mention of Duffy has me in mind of Lateline, when it was being produced by Patricia Baraclough, back in the early two thousands and the first of the Friday night forums was being tried out.

Margo Kingston was debating him, and her eventual frustration was palpable as to his dog in the manger tactics. For my part, I felt frustrated also and sent off emails to Lateline protesting Duffy, who we were less familiar with over here in Adelaide. Also to Kingston. She replied and soon I was a regular Webdiary follower, from its very early days.

Paid entertainment

Paul Walter, several years ago I got to I think three Insight shows. I think they were better to be involved in, and no matter what you think of Jenny, she handles an audience with considerable skill. Because the show is taped the day before, and edited, they allow quite a bit of freedom.

I haven’t been invited back since a show on Torture ran. They had an ex-yank interrogator by video link and he was getting away with not answering what was asked, while justifying everything they had done.

I got a call.

This is bread and butter for me, was playing these games as a very small boy at school when being called to the headmaster's office two or three times a week.

Short sharp conversation and I threw him a ‘give me’ with a hook. As he realised that he was caught he exploded. The screen bulged halfway across the stage as he tried to get to me, frothing at the mouth. He snarled some to the effect of: ‘You bastard! That is classic interrogation technique’.

They cut the whole segment, and no longer invite me back.

Oh, they began paying $50 expenses to those who joined the audience! Free tea and bikkies and $50!

Germaine lovers: I think she must be on next week. Not mentioned on email that arrived today. I know that she is here for some book event in Melbourne. I thought that she was going to be at one of Sydney Uni’s events, but I cannot turn it up at the moment.

Marilyn, I see Turnbull regularly around the street. He doesn’t look that bad; however, my description of him at the show is accurate. There is no way that he could be seriously considered as a front man. What surprises me is that he is not stupid, competent in at least some areas, must be used to dealing with people in meetings and committees, yet none of this comes through.

If I had not seen this performance, I would not have believed it.

It's the loss of control

I too see Malcolm around a fair bit; he's my local member, and I've met him a few times in various circumstances.  I saw last week's Q&A both from the audience in the studio and over the web later on.

To me his performance was atypical, I've seen him look compelling indeed and very natural, but mostly in circumstances he can control, and media doorstops and conferences are in that category - situations he's trained to perform in.  Remember also that blood is thicker than water and the presence of Malcolm's own daughter in the back row of the audience may well have had an impact.

Q&A promises the viewer unscripted loosely moderated interactions - so political panellists perhaps need to strike a pose to set a foundation for their party line.  I'm not sure the program is delivering on that promise yet - it's rare that Tony J refers the panel's answers to questions back to the original questioner, so the Malcolms and Pennys of this world can spin as they like and unless Tony J pulls them up on that they get away with it.. 

I don't share the view that Penny Wong did much better.  Her answers and bodly language were, as usual, hyper controlled and metered.  I do agree that her sotto voce political snipes were artful, however.

One day I hope to see a tenacious and highly articulate Q&A audience questioner without a vested interest take a politician to task, calmly and politely, supported by Tony J's mediation.  That would be spectacular.

If only!

David Eastwood, if only! but with the forum as it is constructed, I doubt that that will happen. I agree entirely with your evaluation of Malcolm on the night. I was not intending to be political, snide or funny. I do not know how it came over, but in the flesh it was as awkward and unpolished a performance as I have seen.

Peripatetic perambulations

Peter, Peter...

What can I say?

Am actually very fond of ma wee Jenny and Insight.

But I was dead serious in asking if anyone who had watched Broken News a couple of years ago on SBS, had noticed the similarity between "Melanie Bellamie" and Brockie, as to choreographed perambulations. Who is stalking who, out of presenter and camera, in these verging on theatrical current affairs shows?

I think I almost remember the thing about torture and not liking the bod involved rather intensely.

The bout of Neo McCarthyism from the mid nineties to the mid two thousands has really left those of this era with a big legacy in the way of clean ups and catchups, in the forms of global recession, food shortages, climate change, fuel shortages and inter and intranational distrust.

Sad stuff, indeed.

Taking the pith.

Peter, Jones wants Turnbull for a wife, or the other way round (not my type )? Just thinking of this in terms of the ramifications for Jones' "wife in the audience" ( 'er indoors" ).

Michael, great to meet another Germs fan. Gorgeous isn't she?

Bring back the Robertson Hypotheticals. I'd love to see her on a panel with the likes of  Richard Neville, say, or one or two other grumpy people: BTW, a new series of Grumpy Old Women due, I thought they said the other night, 

Finally, also thanks, Peter. An insight to what all the complex manouverings and other cabaret involved with Jenny  Brockie's show could be about. Almost like she's trying to avoid falling down a septic tank, or  there's an invisible pentacle there she must be aware of that no one else sees.

Doers anyone remember a thing called Broken News, a British satire on news services, that featured a reporter, "Melanie Bellamy" , who used to do almost identical moves, hopscotching all over the stage like she was nearly treading in cat poop.


His poses are not the least of it, he even talks like a robot and has a voice that grates on the nerves worse than even Howard's did.

He always sounds belligerent and pompous no matter what he is trying to say and is a disaster of a policitian really.

You Have My Attention

I only watch if it I just happen to come across the program - but you said the magic words - Germaine Greer. It's always a pleasure to watch Germaine make mincemeat of fools.

Jeff who?

Paul, died a natural death. I went to an early show, Jeff Mullens —  I think! — moved, if he moved, and spoke only upon the instructions of the producer. It was painful to watch and he looked like death — not even death warmed up! — despite the makeup. It simply was not his forte.

I think that Q & A is mark 2, showing that they have learned from the experience.

Twixt Scylla and Charybdis

Given the rubbish on other stations, it hasn't much to beat. Anyone have any idea if they are going to do another series of that thing they did last with Jeff Mullen (forget its name). They also had a comedian, apart from some of the guests, that guy with the mo doing the cartoons...not usually that funny.

Richard: Indifference of Pinyatas? Aagh.. sorry Paul, that was almost as pithy....

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