Frontline - Mustard comedy magazine

Cult Corner


This Australian satire of a current affairs TV show has pathos as well as bite.

Frontline (known as Breaking News in the USA due to their documentary series of the same name) is an award-winning Australian satire set behind the scenes of a fictional current affairs TV show, where back-biting, corruption and hypocrisy are rife.

As a 1990s parody of behind-the-scenes journalism, there are obvious comparisons to the UK's Drop The Dead Donkey. But it actually skews closer in tone to Larry Sanders; each deals with office politics, double standards and egocentric presenters, and each is blissfully free of a laugh-track.

The star of the fictional Frontline is self-obsessed anchor Mike Moore, who sees himself a cutting-edge investigative reporter, although his job essentially requires him to read the autocue and say "hmmm" authoritatively at the end of other journalists' broadcasts.

The reporters are just as bad, stopping at nothing to get ratings and maintain their status; from good old-fashioned foot-in-the-door bullying interviews to hidden cameras and chequebook journalism. Meanwhile, all the real work is being done back in the office by their long-suffering production staff. However, the show treats them as human beings who we can feel some sympathy for despite their flaws.

The use of a real office as the set, the hand-held camerawork and naturalistic acting and writing all help create a world we can believe in. It's a mockumentary style we've since seen in The Office and which was influenced by Christopher Guest's films. Indeed, Guest's regular collaborator Harry Shearer (of Spinal Tap and Simpsons fame) turned down a spot on Seinfeld to appear in a Frontline episode as a pretentious Californian management consultant/feng shui expert.

The Frontline writers' main target is popular media's trivialisation of social and political issues. In many cases, plotlines were based on actual events, and we get to peek behind the curtain at the inner workings of dumbed-down, exploitative TV in all its horrible glory.

Of course, by criticising network TV, Frontline's writers are biting the hand that feeds them. So how did the show avoid getting watered down by real-life TV middle-management? The answer lies in the show's small, close-knit team. Three of the four writers took main roles: Rob Stitch plays Mike Moore, Jane Kennedy is super-bitch reporter Brooke Vandebrook and Santo Cilauro plays Geoff the weatherman, as well as operating the camera on all the scenes his character isn't in. On top of that, the team co-produced, took turns directing and oversaw everything from casting to wardrobe.

Also, the writers came from the background they are satirising, so they know of whereof they speak. They had each spent many years working in current affairs, where viewing figures are everything and the televised 'debates' are manipulated and edited to create confrontation. As one Frontline character puts it: "what's going to keep people watching: a reasoned, measured discussion – or all-out fisticuffs?".

After three series of Frontline, the team moved on to making movies, including The Castle and sleeper hit The Dish, starring Sam Neill which told the true story of the Australian involvement in the moon landings.

~ A.M.

Photo: Actors Jane Kennedy, Rob Stitch, Bruno Lawrence & Tiriel Mora © Frontline productions/ABC


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