Beginning as a Saturday morning cartoon show for children, Hey Hey, It's Saturday went through a number of format changes during its run. It is somewhat ironic, then, that the host's refusal to make changes to the format, in spite of requests to do so from everyone save the cameramen, eventually killed it. During the mid to late 1980s, it was the best thing for those with nothing to do on a Saturday night to watch. During the 1990s, however, it slowly devolved into an unwatchable farce, made all the more intolerable by the egotism of its host, Daryl Somers. You can also see his difficulty in staying relevant to his audience during later seasons, as he addresses guests who happen to be in their mid-teens (Christina Ricci being a good example) as if they were three years old. Make no mistake from some of the user comments offered. This show was canceled for a very good reason, and it was not canceled soon enough. In fact, Somers desperately tried to save the show towards the end of its run by proposing some of the changes in format that had been recommended by staff or fans.
Naturally, Somers was the only one surprised when the network, one run by Australia's answer to Rupert Murdoch at that, was no longer interested in Somers' ideas. By then, the show was rating in single figures, which is no small feat for a country that has only five free-to-air television channels, and still thinks impediments to its recording industry like Molly Meldrum are relevant. No, Hey Hey had been dead for at least several years, and like the vicar with the nymphomaniac wife, Somers was the last to know. It was almost sad to see the clear desperation with which Somers tried to appease the critics. About the only funny thing left about the show, which had previously thrived upon irreverence, was how staid and formulaic it had become. Even the Gong-Show style variety segment, Red Faces, had grown stale thanks to a clear lack of willing talent.
It has been pointed out before that after Jacqui McDonald retired from the show for reasons that have been lost to time, Somers' ego began to run rampant. This is true, although the problem didn't really manifest until Ernie Carroll, the voice and puppeteer of one Oswald Q. 'Ozzie' Ostrich, retired for what was cited as health reasons. With nobody else to share centre stage, Somers went rampant, basically dominating every aspect of the show, and keeping his co-hosts as out of the picture as he could. In fact, there was a big gap in the mid-1990s where there was no regular co-host. I don't think it is a coincidence that most of the damage that drove viewers away was done during this period. What really drips with irony is that until about 1998, Somers was unwilling to change the series' format, crying that the format was what kept viewers tuning in. He seemed utterly unaware that the Hey Hey of 1991 onwards and the Hey Hey from 1983 to 1990, probably earlier, were two utterly different shows.
This is not to say that the show was always bad, or even all bad. As I have intimated, the show was quite entertaining during its peak in the 1980s, where predictability was the last thing one would associate with it. Red Faces, even when its contestants were as boring as the rest of the show became, managed to entertain because of regular judge Red Symons. He had the nerve to say about an act what everyone in the audience was thinking, a quality that is sorely missing from every variety show of the current era. Forget Simon Cowell - Red could easily chew the man up and spit out barbs that would make grown men cry. My personal favourite was when a man dressed in a bad chicken suit attempted to do a twisted keyboard and vocal version of These Are The People In Your Neighbourhood. Red's comment was simply that this man had accomplished the impossible by making the other two acts look good. Given that this segment was filmed in the declining days of the series, I don't think much imagination is required to understand what the other two acts were like.
Sadly, many shows show the terminal signs of inflexibility or idea dearth much sooner than did Hey Hey. The problem is that getting anything canceled in Australia is an uphill battle at best, even when advertising revenue is not a tenth of what it could be. There is only one show that lasted as long as Hey Hey and stayed good from first episode to last, and it did so because it regularly changed staff, allowing new ideas to make their way in. It was also British. In contrast to what many will tell you, nobody who saw Hey Hey in its last eight seasons will miss it.
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