Melbourne-based writer and journalist. Purveyor of finally crafted radio plays. A Muppet of a man.
Every now and then, you might come across a disaster of some kind and have the inexplicable urge to stare at it. It could be a train accident, or a natural disaster. On Sunday night, it was on Channel 10. More than a million Australians went through this feeling, powerless to stop it from unfolding.
After resting for more than 20 years, It’s a Knockout is back on our screens – hopefully sufficient time for the nostalgia factor to kick in. It delivered a much needed ratings debut to Channel 10 to start the summer, but viewers watched in horror as their cherished childhood memories were harvested.
For the most part it was simply that the concept hasn’t stood the test of time well, but for a remake it also did little to match the tone and atmosphere. It was the equivalent of buying something dodgy from China off eBay and calling it an iPad.
Hosted by HG Nelson, Brad McEwan and Charli Robinson, it should do fine for viewers who are after some light “background noise” entertainment. For those who fondly remember slippery pontoons, Billy J Smith, and oversized novelty costumes, it’s all there, somewhere, in theory.
But for the most part, it’s a bit too slick and competent. This modern day reinterpretation is It’s a Knockout in name and theme tune only. A lot of it has to do with how much the show has sold out.
Gone are the four teams of seemingly everyday Australians from rival states. Instead, it’s divided up by not only state, but occupation as well. Victoria firefighters, New South Wales paramedics, Queensland lifesavers and… McDonald’s.
It’s a much more intense competition, with challenges directed at the physically fit, and it is probably closer to the wacky obstacle course style Wipeout than It’s a Knockout, and in this way it feels too capable.
What it’s really missing is the stadium spectacular experience. In the eighties, It’s a Knockout was filmed in a field somewhere in New South Wales with a big arena audience. Twenty-five years later it’s coming to you from Malaysia, with cheaper insurance costs, three rows of expats, and a few confused locals serving as a cheer-squad. You’re more likely to see a McDonald’s logo than an audience member.
Speaking of McDonald’s, its surprising part of this show is how “sold” it is. McDonald’s banners, a McDonald’s team, the scoreboard is McDonald’s, the replay is McDonald’s, there’s name-checks in the commentary, and two ads for it every commercial break. Channel 10 even namedropped McDonald’s in the press release they sent out on their “ratings victory”.
That’s taking it beyond overkill on the product placement. Between that and outsourcing the production costs to Malaysia, I doubt that this show cost Channel 10 anything to make.
Although, it did cost something – it cost the memory of young Australians everywhere. All of us who fondly remember It’s a Knockout will look at this and be disappointed at how much a tarnished star has been polished. The 80s show was memorable because of its imperfections, not in spite of them. With a padded environment and improved production values, it’s lost its charm.
There are some elements of the past that are best left behind in a golden age of our memories, and It’s a Knockout (much like Hey, Hey, it’s Saturday before it) is one of them. This new show was different enough to warrant being called something else, without relying on a cheap nostalgia hit. For those who actually want to watch the show, there are plenty of episodes of YouTube. Go watch Billy J Smith ride around in his golf cart, for old times’ sake.
Twenty-five years ago, It’s a Knockout felt like a labour of love. Now it’s just about … “I’m lovin’ it”.