I have found myself getting particularly bored and irritated with evening television lately. Maybe I’m stating the obvious here but it’s not really getting any better is it? Is endlessly repeated programming meant to be so familiar it’s soothing and relaxing (snore!) or is it just designed so you have a better chance of programming the PVR? With the decline in TV advertising revenue this trend is probably only going to get worse as networks struggle to buy new content. So, I’ve been going back to YouTube again in search of rivetting entertainment, careful of course to wear headphones so I don’t disturb TV addicts in the room. But I’ve been a bit disruptive since I discovered Channel 101 which tends to put me into fits of hysterical laughter. The channel, which claims to be the ‘the unavoidable future of entertainment’, operates like a festival calling for submissions of short TV pilots (under 5 mins) every month which are then curated and screened to a live audience. The audience votes whether to make a show ‘prime time’, and if so, a second episode is greenlit. No extravagant claims of new business models for filmmakers I’m afraid. This is how they put it on their website:
For the creatives that participate, Channel 101 is where the rubber meets the road. The deadlines are unreasonable, the time limit is impossible, the pay is non existent and the judgment is blunt. The amount of ego and sense of entitlement with which you enter is exactly proportional to the amount of pain you’ll experience before you leave. Channel 101 is where you learn three things: How to fail, how to succeed, and finally, how there is no difference between the two. After all, the only thing as bad as being told your pilot failed is being told that your third episode was worse than your second. And the only thing as good as having the number one show is having a chance to come back with something new.
So what are the TV series worth checking out? I must admit to being addicted to Ikea Heights, a soap which features characters who live out torrid lives totally within an Ikea warehouse store. There’s also a great restaurant saga, The Food, which gives Gordon Ramsay a run for his money and without nearly as much swearing. Channel 101 is a great concept and a fantastic example of audience filtered and selected content really working.
Gary Maddox in a recent article in Spectrum pointed to the continuing need to shift Australian filmmakers and screen agencies to a better appreciation of the audience. Maybe an Australian Channel 101 is long overdue with filmmakers given the opportunity to get direct feedback from audiences on their ideas. Could we go further and scrap the bureaucracies altogether and institute regular screenings and online festivals which select the most audience friendly projects? But maybe this is a bad idea, maybe our bureaucracies are a rich source of creative material. My idea for a Channel 101 pilot is not to set it within Ikea but within the hallowed halls of an Australian screen bureaucracy. Characters suffer daily angst as they struggle to interpret the intent of obscure policies, maintaining transparency and financial accountability at all times while deciding what it is an audience really needs. If it weren’t so true to life it might be funny.