Over the last twenty years, New Zealand-born, Richard Wilkins has been associated with some of the worst moments in Australian television. Amongst his many car-crash performances have been stints hosting Channel 9’s “Today Show” and far too many NYE’s, including the famous one where Sydney Lord Mayor, Frank Sartor, appearing tired and emotional, tried to take the microphone away from him. Given his history, it’s no wonder he was chosen to host the Channel 9 “ABBAMANIA” television special screened tonight.

Rhonda Burchmore and Kerry Ann Kennerly

As I sit here and watch “Muriel’s Wedding” which lovingly paid tribute to ABBA while at the same time telling a great story, I’m still left wondering why Channel 9 thought it was a good idea to bring together some reasonable singers along with a group of local television personalities (who mostly couldn’t sing) for a two-hour ABBA tribute special. I suspect the idea may have been formulated by Eddie Maguire and James Packer in a lift at Channel 9.

James Packer: So what have you got planned for this year’s Channel 9 Christmas Party?

Eddie Maguire: I reckon we should do an ABBA karaoke night. We can do it at Crown Casino, cos it won’t cost anything. I’ll get the girls in marketing to write down the lyrics next time they go to a karaoke bar. And we’ll get all those people we’re about to bone to make arseholes of themselves. It’ll be a hoot.

James Packer: Great idea Eddie. And we could film it and show it towards the end of the ratings season. Anyway, we’ll have sold Channel 9 to Murdoch by then, so neither of us will be around to see it broadcast.

There were so many things wrong with this program including, the choice of Richard Wilkins to co-host, the inability of many of the Channel 9 personalities to hold a tune, and the total lack of care for the material they were working with. At least two-thirds of those got at least a line or two wrong. It was almost as if they’d hired Frida from ABBA, who notoriously got the words wrong, as the lyric coach.

That said, there were a couple of good moments, including the couple who sang Chiquitita and Rhonda Burchmore and Kerry-Anne Kennerly (pictured) who sang “Gimme Gimme Gimme”. There was also, suprisingly, more ABBA in this than I thought there would be, though nothing I hadn’t already seen.

A photograph of when I met Kerry-Anne at the Tamworth Country Music Festival.

I seem to remember blogging about these types of specials previously, arguing that putting together an ABBA special isn’t rocket science. All that most Australians want to see is some of the old songs, an idea of what they look like now, and maybe a bit of information about what’s happened in between? “Agnetha, she had a stalker didn’t she? And didn’t someone offer them a billion dollars to reform”. I’d argue most Australians don’t want to see a bunch of third-rate celebrities doing second-rate versions of the songs they grew up with.

That said, I watched it, and I bet it won it’s timeslot in the ratings. Thirty years after it all happened, Australians remain somewhat fascinated by ABBA, maybe in part to understand why we went so crazy about them, and why we can all still sing the songs. I mean, most Australians know all the words, so why didn’t the people on this show?

…still, “Knowing Nine, Knowing Nine, it’s the best they can do”.

2 Replies to “ABBAMANIA”

  1. I KNEW you watched this. [CAUTION: uncharitable comments follow] I got home from A Day on the Green and unwisely turned on the telly before scanning the guide. Caught just enough of a couple of two popettes massacring “Knowing Me, Knowing You” (shouting “Hey!” and “Whooh!” to the audience in between verses is NOT necessary in this most bittersweet song) to make me gag. Richard Wilkins indeed looked like soiled goods; Beck Cartwright-Hewitt was not only as exciting as wallpaper, but stupid enough to admit ABBA split before she was born – so what would she know?? Had to tape Muriel’s Wedding, too overcome to watch it straight away.

  2. More classic television courtesy of Richard Wilkins. Still, it could have been worse, if it had been Channel 7, it would have been Mel & Kochie. Also nice to hear from you today about the expectant couple. Not sure if I was more surprised by the news or the realisation they might actually have sex! :)

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