It was November 1999. I was 12 years old. Every week for years I’d tuned in to Daryl and the gang to basically watch them stuff around for two hours+, and I knew of nothing else. The news of Hey Hey’s cancellation despite consistent ratings was a shock to my 12 year old self. How could Nine be so stupid as to cancel a show that had been running so successfully for decades before I existed?
There’s a long and involved story behind it’s axing which you can read on Wikipedia if you’re really interested, suffice is to say, the show went away for a while. The way I interpreted what happened is this: It was rapidly approaching the next millennium. The Nine Network was looking to its programming list with the gaze of a psychopathic knife wielding killer, to get rid of some of the “shackles” of the previous decades. Reinvent itself for the new millennium.
Apparently Hey Hey’s brand of “light family entertainment”, and as an outlet for Australian and international musical artists, was not justified to return after the clock ticked 12:00:01 in the year 2000. The decision was made: Plucka was going to be put out to pasture, and with it Daryl’s baby that he’d been behind for almost 30 years. It’s no surprise that Daryl Somers didn’t return to television for five years after it’s cancellation. Imagine being told that something you’ve worked on for 30 years just had to go because it didn’t fit the “new image” for the network.
In the ten year interval, the Nine Network really went the way of Hey Hey. Kerry Packer died, and his son looked to offload the network as soon as possible so he could invest further in crushing peoples dreams, pushed through the pokie machines in his casinos. There’s a really interesting book on that subject called “Who Killed Channel Nine?” that I can recommend if you have a passing interest in media affairs. Anyway, Nine went to a new owner and with that the charm of the original network was gone. People got sacked, long running shows got cancelled (Burke’s Backyard sucked anyway) and they struggled to reinvent themselves for the new decade.
So fast forward to 2008. Nine’s got their shit back together (kind of), Daryl’s given Dancing with the Stars the flick, and straight away rumours of Hey Hey’s return started. Somers stayed mum on the issue, but expressed his desire to bring it back for another shot. A kind of lame “tribute” to the show was on the Logie’s that year which had a lukewarm response from the celebrity audience but still… the rumours continued.
Early in 2009, some female fan in Adelaide started a Facebook fan group to bring it back, which started getting media coverage, meaning more people looked it up and joined it. Nevermind the fact said female fan was actually the same age as I am, and consequently can’t remember most of the show pre-1998, but I digress; Suddenly everyone’s nostalgia for the show came flooding back… Red Symonds being an unsympathetic asshole on Red Faces… Plucka being sleazy with women because it’s actually a guy in a suit… Blackman’s quick remarks… and Daryl’s lame dad jokes. The passion was reunited! People wanted it back!
Thousands of people joined the group and Nine took notice – this was it! This was Daryl’s time to shine again! Come the middle of the year, Nine and a very excited Daryl Somers announced two reunion shows to air during September/October. I repeatedly started saying that if the rumours went through and the show came back, and that if Somers failed, he would never return to television. His dreams would be forever crushed.
But despite all the critics of it’s return, it came back and for the two weeks had over 2.5 million viewers on average. Extremely successful. It was speculated that the decision to run two specials was to see how the second would perform after everyone got their nostalgia dose from the first one – and on that basis they would either leave it, or renew it. And a few weeks on, they renewed it (letting the “controversy” over the Jackson Jive skit die off first, though).
An interesting fact, while I’m thinking about it, is that Rove Live ran immediately after Hey Hey was canned in 1999 and then Rove subsequently walked away from that project just as Hey Hey was to return in 2009. Like passing the baton back and forth. The one thing I think Somers was right about, and the impression I got from the reunion shows, is that Australian television really does need shows like Hey Hey. Sure, sometimes it’s a bit daggy and old fashioned (I won’t miss Chook Lotto), but the fact remains, it’s a comfortable show for new artists and performers to kind of ‘break out’ into the Australian market. Rove was always a bit too ‘commercial’ (also it really sucked towards the end of it’s run, with lame guests and even worse performers).
The reason Hey Hey works is because it has a simple formula – it’s generally entertaining. You can just turn the show on and stop worrying about shit. You don’t have to concentrate because it’s not a drama, it’s just a few laughs.
To me, the reunion shows felt like they were meant to be. They looked and acted the same as when they left the screen ten years ago. That can either be a positive or a negative (again… Chook Lotto…), but as long as they keep Red Faces and Pluck-a-Duck, who cares what else happens on the show. The cast just works. Ultimately I think that’s where Rove Live went wrong – they had no where near the kind of charisma these people have together. It was all just kind of shoe-horned together.
As for why I think bringing it back is an excellent idea, who can pass up watching a dude in a duck suit fucking around on national television? I have fond memories of the show from my younger years and I’m fairly confident they can do it all again ten years on. Or I could just be an overly-nostalgic idiot like everyone else.