So much for all your highbrow Marxist ways… What @abcQandA could learn from Bolt Report, and vice versa

I have a terrible secret.  I enjoy watching The Bolt Report.  It is trash television.  I know it’s trash television.  Bolt seems to realise that it’s trash television.  The only people who don’t seem to realise that it’s trash television are the scary neo-cons who think it’s a ‘breath of fresh air’ and the lunatic lefties who take it way too seriously.

The Bolt Report took a massive hit in the ratings last weekend.  The week before, it beat Insiders (which is the pinnacle of ABC’s navel-gazing: journalists interviewing each other.  7.30 is going the same way).  I think Bolt realises that he’s some form of performance art (which is a shame for sane, rational conservatives like me, because he drowns us out).

But what most don’t seem to realise is that ABC’s Q&A has been trash television for quite a while now.  Back in March, two people co-wrote in The Drum that

Its eponymous raison d’être has been stifled since it devolved into a barely-civilised Jerry Springer for people with degrees (credits to @lhlh70) where the most inflammatory and ill-informed panellists dominate what passes for discussion and no one can learn anything or hear a cogent opinion. [Source: Shaw, J & J, ‘Q&A jumps the shark’, on The Drum]

This year, Tony Jones has seemed very keen to ask questions of his own, making it seem more like a weird-format Lateline than Q&A.  It really started to push the limits of credibility when it began to be used by Jones as a vehicle for creating news: earlier this year, Jones kept baiting Hockey about quotas of females on boards, which then became ABC’s headline news the next morning, even though Hockey didn’t say anything newsworthy.

The Bolt Report lacks any idea of what sort of show it wants to be.  Is it a panel show?  Is Bolt to interview others, or is he there just to spurt out his own opinions?  It darts so rapidly from format to format, not really getting anywhere.

Q&A knows what it is: a light entertainment panel show.  It plays to those strengths through troll-baiting both the audience and the panel, through linking to Twitter and Get Up! initiatives, and through scheduling comedians to sit on the panel.  I often find it infuriatingly funny when they get a bunch of nobodies to discuss their interpretation of complex policy debates.  They’re not alone in their guilt, as First Dog on the Moon noted earlier this week (Angry Birds discussing SlutWalk).

Where it goes wrong, week after week, is in its treatment of issues.  Instead of sticking to one issue and exploring it in depth, it flitters and flutters around, never really nailing any points.  I also use Q&A to describe marginal utility: each episode, there’s deadwood weighing the conversation down.  Last week, it was Brendan Cowell.  The week before, it was John Roskam.  The panel is far too large for a one hour show; trim it back in order to cultivate more depth.

The Bolt Report, for all its faults, chooses two or three subjects and sticks with them throughout the show.  It’s panel segment has the right number of people for its five minute duration.

In short, both Q&A and The Bolt Report would be better shows if they compared notes.

Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based PhD student, writer, and policy wonk who writes about law, conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

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