Not live, from studio 13 at Gordon Street

A little while ago I bought myself the Collected Shaun Micallef — a box set of numerous shows of his, including The Micallef P(r)ogram(me). The kids and I have been watching our way through it.

I remembered that I had gone to a recording of the show, but had no idea which episode it was. The other night it became very obvious that it had been the final episode of season 2 — in a sketch parodying The Price Is Right, there I was, in the audience.

In the audience at The Micallef Programme, 1999

Coincidentally last night we went to a recording of one of Shaun’s current series — Mad As Hell. We arrived about 5pm, and around half-an-hour later were let into a waiting area, then into the studio itself, with recording starting at about 6pm. With stops and starts and gaffs aplenty, it took until about 8pm to record the half-hour show.

It’ll air tonight.

Mad As Hell studio recording

Most unintentionally amusing moment: after numerous warnings to go to the toilet before recording started, the warm-up guy asked if there were any final questions before beginning, only to be faced with one gentleman piping up: “Is there time to urinate?” — he was whisked off to do so.

Best moment you won’t see on-screen: an audience member who is a musician from Morocco (who has just emigrated) being invited onto stage to play a guitar they’d found. He played a North African song which (if I got this right) is about a bloke who pays a dowry for a wife but is dudded by the father (who has dudded many suitors) and ends up alone.

I don’t think there were any shots of the audience filmed for the show, but the warm-up guy took a photo of part of the audience. I’m up the back, a blurry blob in the dark, waving.

Mad As Hell audience

Lots of fun… apparently they still need audiences for later in the season.

My blabbering in the TARDIS

Deep within the bowels of the ABC studios at Southbank…

ABC Southbank (Melbourne) studios

…there is a Triple J studio called “TARDIS”.

TARDIS studio, ABC

Well, recording booths. I discovered that they’re not bigger on the inside.

I was there the other day at lunchtime. My blabbering has shown up as part of a Triple J “Hack” story on the costs of public transport vs cars.

Some further thoughts on Digital TV

High Definition-only channels

ABC News 24 was the first HD-only channel.

There’s more on the way: Channel 7′s offering aimed at the male demographic “7-Mate” will also be HD-only.

Channel 10′s new “Eleven” will be SD, but it will replace the SD version of their sports channel “One”.

There are rumours Channel 9 will launch a new channel next year, and inevitably that’ll be HD-only, given they have to continue to broadcast their main channel in SD.

Time, perhaps, for those of you with no HD tuner to look into upgrading.

How many channels?

Once the commercial networks launch their third channels, by my calculations we’ll almost be at capacity, with 15, though it’s unclear to me if SBS has the right to put up any more channels.

Certainly things have grown since just a few years ago when there were 6 (analogue) channels: ABC, 7, 9, 10, SBS and Channel 31.

Melbourne TV channels
Note the graph is not linear. Based on some stuff from Wikipedia, counting distinct programming, and main channels only, not things like channels displaying TV guides, which were used at one time last decade. I may have missed a few minor and temporary ones, like that 3D test channel that ran for a while this year. That bump in 2001-03 was the ABC’s initial extra channels FlyTV and ABC Kids, both of which got canned.

Ian, an Englishman used to the old UK channel numbering of BBC1, BBC2, ITV (implied “3″), Channel 4, Channel 5 etc, once remarked to me that when they first discovered Australia had a “Channel 10″, they wondered if we also had channels 1 to 9. We didn’t of course, but now we do, though they’re not all numbered like that. (In the mean time of course, the UK has also expanded its channel range via digital… and interestingly, the BBC’s “CBeebies” and “CBBC” are similar to the ABC2 and ABC3 daytime children target demographics.

How many people are watching what?

Here’s some figures from OzTam, Melbourne between 6am and midnight, for all homes and including cable TV share:

  • Seven   20.00%
  • Nine   18.20%
  • Ten   15.80%
  • ABC1   10.50%
  • GO!   3.90%
  • ABC2   3.40%
  • 7TWO   3.10%
  • SBS1   2.80%
  • ABC3   1.30%
  • One   1.20%
  • ABC News 24   0.80%
  • SBS2   0.50%
  • All cable channels   18.50%

ABC News 24

Despite glitches like those that affected Sunday night’s repeat of Insiders (where it started late, accidently switched to Inside Business for a mistaken minute or two, then flicked back but was cut short just as Barrie Cassidy made an interesting point), I’m very much enjoying ABC News 24.

This interesting piece highlights something that hadn’t occurred to me: because it covers major press conferences live and unedited, it’s proving a boon for niche journalists, such as the tech press, who are covering the debate over broadband, as they can’t afford to physically be at these press conferences, but can listen in via the TV coverage. And of course their readers, who can also watch the coverage for themselves.

ABC News 24 – utopia for news junkies?

The ABC’s 24 hour news channel, imaginatively named “ABC News 24” will launch on Thursday 22nd of July. Apparently they’ve been racing to try and be running before the Federal Election is called.

Apart from the looping promo now running on the channel-to-be, ABC1 is awash with promos, including the tag line “Events don’t wait, and now you don’t have to.”

Which would make sense if the channel was actually running, but since we’re still waiting for it, doesn’t really.

One rumour suggested it might launch on the 24th of July… that is, 24/7. Neat, but no, it’s on Pi day (22/7) instead.

I love the idea of a 24 hour news channel, provided the content is good. It will mean that for a news-junkie like me, there’s always something to watch, even when there’s utter crap on all the other channels.

NewsRadio

As it is I often tune into ABC NewsRadio when I’m in the car, particularly on the weekend. I know they can’t just constantly repeat the same headlines, but they have a good mix of local and international news.

I wonder if this week the Radio Netherlands guys will be bemoaning their World Cup loss. And Deutsche Welle, with their announcers who all curiously seem to have very Anglo-sounding first names, have some very interesting programmes.

Apart from Parliamentary broadcasts (which are often a bit dull, but fortunately only go to air on weekdays, when I’m unlikely to be listening), the only problem with NewsRadio is that at times they descend into half-an-hour of spot. Ahem. Sport is not News, guys.

Hopefully ABC News 24 won’t fall into either of these traps, and will provide good solid actual News.

And what would be really nice is if they give over some time regularly to news from each state, so that it’s not only national and international stories that get a good run.

Channels

Curiously, while the ABC have announced that channel 24 will be the home of the new channel, when I did a rescan on my media PC, it decided that the ABC channels are now all numbered from 100, rather than 2 and 21 to 24, as I expected.

Odd. Anybody else seeing that, or is it just me?

Of course, ABC News 24 will be on the ABC’s one High Definition channel, because all the others are occupied, and I guess they decided they were obligated to keep running ABC1′s Standard Definition channel. Which means, I assume, that there’ll no longer be an ABC1 HD channel, and that News 24 will be the first Australian channel not available on SD — though it will be available online.

Incorrect assumptions

You know when you have some of the information, and the brain tries to fill in the blanks?

Many times I seemed to be watching Lateline, and a report from Norman Hermant would come on, often from Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East. He works for the ABC, but has an American accent.

For whatever reason, they never seemed to show his face.

My brain decided that he was black. He was a brainy-looking black guy, with a round face, and glasses. Yep. Definitely.

More recently, he’s started appearing in his news stories. And as you can see, perhaps the assumptions I made weren’t entirely correct.

Norman Hermant, of Australian ABC News

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ABC web site useable again

I noticed the other day that the ABC Local web sites were down for maintenance.

They got a revamp in mid-2008 that left it incredibly messy. Apart from the garish green and black colours, it was impossible to find things.

It’s like they forgot that they’re most often promoted via the ABC Local Radio stations; finding programme information and clips was really difficult, lost in a sea of links.

Happily they’ve given it another facelift, and not only are the colours a bit easier on the eyes, it’s a easier to find things again.

ABC web site late-2008 ABC web site early 2010

Progress, definitely progress.

Red Dwarf – they thought it was an arts programme

You want comedy? I’ll show you comedy.

When British sci-fi comedy show Red Dwarf came on the scene, the ABC programmers didn’t know what to do with it. First they put it on Saturday afternoons, as a filler.

The following year, the summer of 1990-91, they aired it again, this time as part of the Sunday afternoon arts coverage. Because, y’know, it fits in well with programmes about Mozart and Giotto.

And they got the Sunday Arts presenters to introduce the episodes. The first one, read by Helen Wellings, included a run-down of the plot, just in case we couldn’t figure it out for ourselves.

Just to further irk the fans, they also managed to get the name of the show wrong, repeatedly calling it The Red Dwarf.

Oh wait, you want proof? Very well.

The other consequence of showing it in the middle of the day is that they took the knife to the episodes and made numerous cuts, particularly to the second season. One episode got skipped completely.

A year or two later the ABC figured out what kind of show Red Dwarf really was — a potential cult comedy classic — and started airing it in the evenings.

In a way it’s similar to how other free-to-air networks have treated sci-fi over the years. Badly, mostly.

And the Sunday Arts show? It’s getting a revamp.

Digital TV

I had a dream last night that hundreds of new TV channels showed up on digital TV tuners. Weird.

I haven’t yet upgraded to digital TV. I’m in the unfortunate position of:

(a) having bought a 4:3 CRT TV at precisely the wrong time, about 7 years ago, just before the prices plummeted when widescreen LCDs and plasmas went mainstream, and apart from occasionally having a flickering line at the top (I think due to a bump while moving), that TV works admirably;

(b) not particularly wanting Yet Another Box and Yet Another Remote to have to deal with; and

(c) not having huge amounts of cash to throw around just now to buy a shiny new telly.

So I’m umming and ahhing. I suppose at some stage HD set-top boxes will become cheap enough that it becomes a no-brainer just to get the extra channels. Alternately a Digital Video Recorder might be the way to go.

I find the whole Freeview push amusing. All those ads. More than one person has asked what it actually means. They seem underwhelmed when I tell them it’s just digital TV. (And Freeview’s insistence that it’s all free is undermined somewhat when you point out that well, they’re not giving away set-top boxes, you do have to pay for them.)

The analogue signal won’t get switched off in Melbourne until late-July 2013, so I guess there’s a fair bit of time to continue procrastinating, but it would certainly be nice to get ABC2, and solve my slight ABC1 reception problem.