His original plan for the show was to have it air every night in the same way as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart airs in the US.
“The plan was always to try and do the show every night. A proper, nightly show. And the idea is to eventually have it 2 nights a week, then 3 and then be on every night,” he told TV Tonight.
“We’re growing our writing room, but we probably need 3 times as many writers. But that’s the plan. I just want to see one of those sorts of shows on.
“I don’t even mind if I’m not hosting it. I’d happily produce or write or be involved in some way.”
In a nod to a format more in line with a nightly format, last season the show incorporated less sketches. This year the show has not one, but two seasons, each of 10 episodes.
“Last season it moved away from sketch and more into comment, I guess. Mainly because I was tired and I didn’t want to dress up. So we did a lot more material at the desk and everybody else dressed up,” he says.
“It’s really interesting to anticipate where we might be by the time we enter, what will be our fourth season around September. So we have a nice, long view. We’re not living hand to mouth, day to day like we have been in the past.
“I can’t think of any show I’ve been involved in that has this tenure and security about it!”
Unlike its previous season, Mad as Hell now comes to air under a new Abbott government. Micallef says the change of power has given the writing team plenty of new material.
“It’s great. If we had more of the same we’d be worried about repeating ourselves. But it’s a very different dynamic. (Writer) Gary McAffrie and I were talking about it, saying ‘It’s interesting, the material seems far more aggressive. The interviews are far more full of tension.’ We seemed to be doing that without even thinking about it,” he says.
“But that very much is the climate. There seems to be genuine animosity between the political parties and politicians, and genuine tension between the media and politics. So that’s good for us. I don’t know if it’s interesting for anybody else!”
Yet the show will also air at a time when ABC has been under the microscope. In his inimitable style, Micallef meets the challenge head on.
“We have to behave as well as put on a good show. I’ve never had to do both before. Fortunately it’s a show with a tiny budget, so I can’t imagine that the efficiency scrutineers will be looking at our show. They’d be astonished at how well the show looks given the oily rag that is used to power it,” he notes.
“But in terms of not just the efficiency and potential budget ramifications in May there’s the question of basic affection for the home team. The interesting thing with a Comedy show as opposed to a straight News show is that the attitude is harder to divine, I think.
“It may be there is no allegiance to either side in a joke. It’s simply a joke. But if the job of editorial policy makers is to look at everything and making sure there’s balance, it’s a little harder with a joke and easier with a straight news bulletin.”
All cast members are returning to the show: Francis Greenslade, Roz Hammond, Veronica Milsom, Tosh Greenslade, Emily Taheny and Stephen Hall, upgraded from guest to ensemble cast member. But if some cast members enjoy extra time in the spotlight, it’s because their characters are firm favourites.
“Roz Hammond seems to have the best hit ratio. She has lots of characters that everyone loves writing for,” Micallef explains.
“She had a character called ‘Vomatorium Catchment’ who was a right wing bloggist, and who turned up to give balance to the show by pushing the Coalition’s barrow for them.
“She’s very smug now. She should be hosting the show!
“But I think most of the characters only come to be because the writers like coming up with the name. ‘Vomatorium Catchment’ is a beautiful name.”
While he says Mad as Hell is, at its core, a sketch comedy show, Micallef’s approach to production means there are no shots of audience members laughing, and there’s a strict ‘no-sweetening’ of audio with a laugh track.
“We have a policy that we never sweeten. Sometimes when we take a joke out for time the laugh that follows might sound a bit weird, because it’s so close to the preceding laugh. The audience hasn’t had a regular time to fill its lungs or relax back. So to our ears we think it makes the laugh sound fake, so we might take off the laugh or reduce it, if anything,” he says.
“The first season we were accused of sweetening it.
“And also we don’t show the audience. I hate those shots of the audience laughing. I think they intrude on the reality you’re trying to create, so I tend to avoid it. But they’re very common those shots.
“I loathe them.”
Micallef is hands-on with his show, from writing, performing, editing, and promoting right across the week, including weekends. He also watches the show go to air with his family.
That level of commitment has meant, indirectly, another Micallef project –Mr. & Mrs. Murder– has not resumed. I ask if it’s true he tired of that show’s heavy shooting schedule?
“It was really a choice between this show and another season if Channel TEN had wanted it, which is not a given. But it was a choice I had to make,” he insists.
“I enjoy acting and I enjoy presenting. I really want to do both. I don’t want to be ‘Mr. Man Behind the Desk’ all the time. I still feel that acting is a love of mine. Mr. & Mrs. Murder was the first chance in a long time that I’ve had to do it.
“I’m sure I could approach a show where I could act and not mean I can’t do Mad As Hell. I want everything. And I want it now, Daddy.”
This season die-hard Micallef fans should also spy a nod to the past on the ABC.
“We found the Micallef Tonight neon sign from the chat show at Nine. Before they burned down the Channel Nine studios we found it in a packing crate,” he says.
“We’ll stick it up on the set, so keener-eyed viewers will be able to see a show that was at a rival network ten years ago. That’s recycling!”
Fans will also delight in the show’s cheeky synopses in the Electronic Programme Guide which have fun with bizarre show descriptions. This week’s episode notes, We really should have changed the name but it’d cost us a fortune in letterheads and show graphics.
“I don’t think any of them describe the show this time around. Last year I picked episodes of The Night Stalker as my program descriptions and I think this year some of them may be Three Stooges episodes,” he recalls.
“I don’t think (the ABC) has noticed. No-one’s complained. It’s like an Easter Egg if you have the remote.”
Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell returns 8pm Wednesday on ABC1.