How hard is it to get a panel show right? Very bloody hard.
As the best ones demonstrate, striking a rapport is never easy. Translating it through the screen is even harder. But when they work like Spicks and Specks, Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation, Qi and Gruen Planet they are gold. I’d be happy to sit down with any of those teams at a dinner party and banter the night away.
The weakest ones (I’m looking at you The White Room) always feel like they are trying too hard.
Seven has been keen for some time to strike the right formula, so it’s not surprising that they have found common ground with The Chaser‘s plans for The Unbelievable Truth, after it was rejected by the ABC.
This is based on a long-running BBC radio format by former Goodies star Graeme Garden plus broadcaster Jon Naismith. The gameplay sees guests spinning lies about a given topic with the hope of slipping a truth in, undetected by their fellow players.
TV concepts also based on truths / lies include Would I Lie to You?, The Moment of Truth, Tell the Truth and there was even a regular segment on Hey Hey it’s Saturday known as “Magic Word.”
Ironically the theme song for The Unbelievable Truth is the Eurythmics’ Would I Lie to You?
This is filmed before a studio audience with Craig Reucassel as host. Fellow Chaser members Julian Morrow and Andrew Hansen appear in alternate episodes alongside a series of comedians. Unlike most panel shows this one isn’t a team vs team event, so there are 4 guests instead of the usual 6. First guests include Toby Truslove, Sam Simmons and Kitty Flanagan.
I don’t know if the show has ‘sweetened’ its audio with a laugh track and canned applause or not, but it certainly sounds like it. This put me off from the get-go.
I was further discouraged as each guest took parlour-game turns at reciting mistruths to camera. Sure, they may have had some wacky gags and a graphics team that had worked overtime to add visuals to an essentially static format, but the execution sees guests reading (sometimes shouting) an autocue at us. And they were quite long even for a half hour format because there wasn’t enough variation in the game-play as the rounds progressed.
It struck me that while this might be a format that is fun to play, or even to be in attendance on the night, but it wasn’t translating to the small screen very well.
Maybe that’s why Seven has been sitting on this show since February? Or maybe they just wanted to piggyback off a return by The Hamster Wheel.
Which is kind of the TV programming equivalent of giving us a bunch of good shows and trying to slip in a bad one without us detecting it.
If I can use that analogy….
The Unbelievable Truth airs 9:30pm Thursday on Seven.