Hungry Beast

October 1, 2009

Sandwiched between some of the biggest shows of the year, the premiere of ABC’s new current affairs program Hungry Beast last night went almost unnoticed. But for those that did manage to pry their eyes away from the Hey Hey reunion were witness to a very fresh take on news. But did they actually tell us something we didn’t know?

Produced by Andrew Denton’s Zapruder’s Other Films, the idea of Hungry Beast has been sitting in the wings for quite a while now. In 2008 calls were put out across Australia for fresh talent in reporting, writing, editing, graphic design and a whole range of other areas with the prerequisite of being able to tell Australia something we don’t know.  In theory, the idea is great. Once you get past the Jules Lunds and Shelley Crafts and other too-tanned Nine personalities, the talent pool on Aussie TV is pretty slim. HB aims to bring a new generation of personalities to our screens. Helmed by Denton who has such a good track record on ABC and including up-and-comers like Dan Ilic (creator of that wonderful Freeview parody) and Marc Fennell (the movie guy from triple j), I was awaiting for this show with baited breath.

And I wasn’t disappointed. Sure, it was only the first episode, and much needs to be tweaked- but it was a damn good start.

The show itself is a slightly different take on news and current affairs. Yeah, we’ve heard all about ‘new news’- The chaser did it hilariously, Newstopia was gold (even if no-one watched it). Even the 7pm Project is attempting it. But it was the unknown personalities, the unkempt set and the delicate mix between comedy and serious issues that sets HB apart from the rest.

The show opened with a chaser-style segment that proved just how incompetent news sources are in Australia. The HB team created a fictional research institute, and released a phony press release detailing which Australian cities are the ‘most gullible’. You’ve probably heard about it. The story was run on numerous online sites, in newspapers, and even on the 7pm Project…none of which ever checked to see that the ‘Levitt Institute’ was nothing more than a derelict old building. This is why I don’t watch news.

Filmed sketches and interstitials between stories also proved to be both amusing and informing. The Today Tonight-esque segment about a devious neighbourhood cat highlighted the sheer ridiculousness of some current affairs stories perfectly.

It wasn’t all fun and games though. An interview with the mother and wife of deceased Australian soldier Brett Till proved that they could go the hard yards in serious current affairs as well.

Like any good show aimed at young people should, the show is backed up by a commendable website, facebook and twitter presence. Viewers are able to submit and upload their own news stories and videos, with the chance to get it shown on the show.

Certainly, there were some misses amongst the hits. A sketch telling us to ‘F**k Pandas’ fell a bit flat. Some of the presenters felt a little awkward in what is probably their first time on national telly. But, that’s what gives HB it’s charm. It’s not polished. It’s not packaged by a crazed network executive who only cares about ratings. Give it time, and I’m sure we’ll all find out plenty more we don’t know.

Hungry Beast airs Wednesdays 9pm on ABC1, repeats Thursdays 9pm on ABC2, and can be viewed anytime through iView on ABC’s website.

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