The arrival of the Digital Video Recorder and the Digital Program Guide provided TV viewers with an unprecedented amount of freedom. Thanks to that electronic revolution we no longer have to watch what the programmers think we should; we can put together our own viewing schedules. And now, if #7 Days Later is any measure, it seems we have the ability to not just select but construct the shows as well.
#7 Days Later is an experiment by the ABC that flowed out of its partnership with Screen Australia to produce $2.5 million dollars worth of innovative programming. One of the winning concepts was a comedy show that constructs its stories according to what the audience requests. So, each week, fans contribute plot elements via the show’s Facebook page to a sketch under development – “The story, characters and dialogue were developed by our audience – it may contain nuts,” the voiceover proclaims. Scriptwriters, art directors and costume designers swing into action and, as the title suggests, a week later the program pops up on Auntie’s airwaves.
So far the #7 Days Later team have produced eight-minute skits on restaurant robberies, alien invasions and Oceans Eleven-style heists, to name a few. The results have been equally varied. Some are comic and insightful; others are a reminder of what it was like to sit through a high school talent show. For all its interactive brilliance the series is a clear example of art over content. It’s so important to stick to the seven day schedule that the art direction, the script, even the comedy have to give way. One of the most interesting things about the series is actually it’s companion program #7 Days Later Diary, a weekly digest on everything that went into making a show in such a short time. But will just meeting the challenge each week be enough to keep audiences coming back?
No. Humour-under-pressure programs like Whose Line Is It Anyway and Thank God You’re Hear work because comedy is, by its very nature, insightful. We laugh because it operates by highlighting the incongruities in our world. That’s not to say that #7 Days Later hasn’t produced the goods so far. A recent show included a parody of Q&A on which the Prime Minster expressed his concern that too many Australians were becoming zombies. The funniest part was when the host steered the topic inevitably towards marriage equality for the living dead. It was a tacit acknowledgement that no matter how serious the topic, someone would still manage to turn the discussion towards their pet issue – real-life host Tony Jones should take note.
In the past Christian writers occupying chairs like mine have taken this opportunity to rail at the way comedies have made light of subjects that should be taken seriously. Some of that continues to happen, but I’ve great hopes for programs like #7 Days Later. After all, our culture has a rich tradition of pointing out the ridiculous, particularly when it relates to our spiritual well-being. I’m sure Jesus had his audiences rolling as he pictured the blind offering to lead the blind to safety and a man trying to remove a speck in someone’s eye while he harboured a beam in his own. But accurate insights are the product of time – in Jesus case, and eternity of watching us flounder around – and time is something #7 Days Later just doesn’t have at its disposal.
Release Date: Tuesdays, 9:00 PM