Survival guide to silly season TV

Amy Schumer has no boundaries in Mostly Sex Stuff which airs tonight. Photo: ABC Charlie Pickering draws a big digital audience. Photo: Simon Schluter

Season five of British crime series Vera was one of the hidden hits of 2015. Photo: Supplied

Supergirl is worth catching if you subscribe to Foxtel. Photo: CBS/TNS

Delta Goodrem is a special guest on Nine’s Carols by Candlelight on December 24. Photo: Edwina Pickles.

Alex Kingston plays the Doctor’s wife, River Song, in the Doctor Who Christmas Special. Photo: Supplied

It’s tempting to just fill this column with quotes from Amy Schumer’s stand-up special airing tonight. But that would spoil the fun for you and distract from our purpose this week, which is to demonstrate that you should not get depressed about the arrival of TV’s silly season, because there’s plenty of interesting material between now and the resumption of normal programming on February 1.

In any case, many of Schumer’s observations on life as a 31-year-old single woman are unprintable in this family column. This will give you a sniff of Schumer’s style: “My mom’s a c—. I brought her to a soccer game because I wanted her to see what boundaries look like. The other day she was telling me ‘I can still fit in my wedding dress’. I was like ‘Omigod, who cares?’ Although it is weird that she’s the same size as she was when she was eight months pregnant.”

Schumer herself has no boundaries. She looks so sweet and innocent as she scarifies her San Francisco audience with riffs on abortions, AIDS, condoms, cosmetics, disabilities, masturbation, menstruation, pornography, racism, rape, semen, vaginal grooming and much more. You will learn a great deal – much of wish you’ll wish you hadn’t. Mostly Sex Stuff airs at 9.30pm tonight on ABC2.

Here, in chronological order, are some less challenging recommendations for the slow summer season:

ManSpace (GO, 7.30pm, Monday, from December 14): Shane Jacobson travels the land in search of male caves, hobbies, inventions, experiments, obsessions and dreams. This will confirm what every woman has ever suspected about her partner.

Supergirl (Fox8, 8.30pm, Thursday, December 14): Kal-El, the boy raised by the Kent family, was not the only alien child to escape from the planet Krypton. His cousin Kara Zor-El arrived too, and grew up pretending to be a pretty teenager named Kara Danvers. Now she’s 24, working for a media mogul in National City, and discovering that hundreds of villains who were jailed by her mother back on Krypton are now hiding on Earth and determined to kill her and her cousin Clark. This has been one of the few drama hits of the recent US TV season, and is worth catching if you subscribe to Foxtel.

Vera (ABC, 8.30pm, Sunday, December 27): One of the hidden hits of 2015 was season five of the British crime series Vera, which attracted similar audiences to New Tricks. Brenda Blethyn plays the wry, ruthless cop who solves an epidemic of murderers along the Geordie shore of northern England. Now the ABC goes back to the beginning, playing season one through January.

The Muppets (Seven, Tuesday, December 29, 7.30pm): The talking handsocks are back in a new series presented in the mockumentary style of Modern Family and The Office. It purports to be a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a talk show called Up Late With Miss Piggy, and includes guest spots from the likes of Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Christina Applegate, Laurence Fishburne, Kristin Chenoweth and Reese Witherspoon. It will be a bit too meta for persons under 10, but a nostalgic treat for persons over 30, who last saw these creatures in 1998.

The Missing (SBS, Wednesday, January 6, 8.30pm): James Nesbitt and Frances O’Connor play parents who have a boy apparently kidnapped during a holiday in France and who split up when the father refuses to stop searching. When this was shown earlier in the year on Foxtel, O’Connor (who has a son the same age as the missing boy) told me: “Initially I just thought ‘Wow, this is so great, I’ve got all these amazing scenes to play’ and it wasn’t until we started doing it that I realised what I’d gotten myself into. It was really a lot more than I thought it would be, emotionally. It was pretty taxing. But because the writing was so good, you did feel very supported by that. Anyone who is a parent will instantly connect to that material. And Jimmy Nesbitt, he’s also got kids, so he understands the dynamic, so he was a great support for me too, emotionally.”

And in brief: Tom Gleeson and Kitty Flanagan will analyse the past 11 months in The Yearly with Charlie Pickering (ABC, 8.30pm, Wednesday, December 16); Marina Prior and Justine Clarke will be special guests at Carols in the Domain, hosted by David Koch and Samantha Armytage (Seven, 8.30pm, Saturday, December 19); Love Actually is your compulsory Christmas cry (Seven, 8.30pm, Monday, December 21), followed by anEd Sheeran concertand a live showing on 7TWO of the Miss Universe pageant from Las Vegas, where Australia is represented by Monika Radulovic​; Delta Goodrem will be special guest at Nine’s Carols by Candlelight on December 24, hosted by Lisa Wilkinson and David Campbell (Nine, 8.30pm, December 24); Alex Kingston will play the Doctor’s wife River Song in the Doctor Who Christmas Special(ABC, 7.30pm, December 26); Eddie Perfect will host the four-hour New Year’s Eve festivities on ABC on December 31, relegating the embarrassing Lawrence Mooney to a pub quiz. A month of farewells

All things must pass, but must it all happen in the same month? Yes, because the networks have changed their policy with drama series. A decade ago they would interrupt the story when ratings measurement stopped at the end of November and resume with the new ratings period in February. Now they just play them through the silly season until they reach the end of their runs.

This provides an opportunity to check out the conclusions or the cliffhangers of shows we never quite got around to watching during the year, to determine if we should go back and binge on the preceding episodes.

Here’s a preliminary list of soon-to-enders: Fargo (this very violent comedy concludes on SBS, December 16); Josh Thomas’s Please Like Me (ABC, Dec 17); New Tricks (after 13 years, it disappears forever from ABC, December 19); Quantico (the thriller with the world’s most beautiful FBI agent ends its first half-season on Seven, December 20); Aussie Barbecue Heroes (Seven, December 22); Blindspot (Seven, December 27); Castle (Seven, December 30); The Amazing Race (Seven, December 31). The rise of the onliners

As you’ll see across the top of this page today, that mythical beast called The Average Australian spends 90 hours and 42 minutes a month watching TV on one of the boxes in his/her home (of which 7 hours and 45 minutes is recorded material, so she/he can fast-forward through the ads and the boring bits). Seems like a lot – probably more than you watch – but it’s six hours and 16 minutes less than a year ago.

The commercial networks say they’re not too worried, because the missing hours were probably spent watching TV series online via catch-up services (with compulsory ads), but the statistics from OzTAM and Nielsen suggest this may be wishful thinking. Time spent watching video on the internet (which would include catch-ups and streaming services such as Netflix, Stan and Presto) rose by only 18 minutes this year (to 7 hours 48 minutes a month). So that still leaves six hours every month in which Australians who watched the box last year are doing Something Else. This column’s wishful thinking is that they are reading a printed Sunday newspaper.

In a year when viewing was more down than up, the success story was the ABC’s catch-up service, iview, which was the most used free-to-air internet TV site. The ABC averaged more than 2 million visitors a month to the site and its apps. The ABC KIDS iview app has had half a million downloads since it launched in March, and is the No. 1 destination for children’s television-on demand.

What all this means is that some shows that we wrote off as flops were actually hits, and some hits were even bigger than we thought. The benign-zombie series Glitch (which offered what must be a TV first by showing a man being unfaithful to his wife by screwing his dead ex-wife) averaged only 744,000 urban and regional viewers an episode, but racked up 1.2 million program plays on iview, an average of 200,000 plays per episode. It was the most watched non-kids program on iview this year, which explains why the ABC renewed it for a second season.

You probably thought The Weekly with Charlie Pickering was not as funny as Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell, which it replaced, but the online groovers clearly disagreed. SMMAH had 1.1 million traditional viewers and 549,000 total plays on iview; TWWCP had a broadcast audience of 942,000 and 834,000 plays.

The bureaucratic comedy Utopia increased its broadcast audience by 26 per cent (to 1.3 million) and totalled 767,000 iview plays. The Killing Season, starring those slapstick jesters Gillard and Rudd, achieved an audience of 1.5 million on ABC and 500,000 plays online. Gruen drew an audience of 1.4 million and a total of 700,000 iview plays.

The Doctor Blake Mysteries had an old-technology audience of 1.6 million and 512,000 total iview plays, while the apparent runner-up, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries pulled 1.4 million box-watchers and 600,000 iview plays.

We know all this because the ABC is open about its catch-up data. We await similar details from the commercial networks.

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