Air Farce Live: A gimmick won’t magically increase ratings

I just finished watching the premiere of Air Farce Live on CBC. The umpteen-year-old show, which has been sagging in the ratings these past few years because it’s a Friday-night show and it’s not funny, came up with the idea of doing it live as a gimmick. It worked for me, at least this first night.

The first episode had a bit too much “hey look at us we’re live now!” moments, which should hopefully disappear by next week. There were also three pre-packaged segments, which is a lot for a supposedly live half-hour show. And it became clear through the first few sketches that actors wouldn’t appear in consecutive segments, which will mean fewer actors in each.

I used to be a big fan of the Royal Canadian Air Farce as a kid. I had fond memories of the Chicken Cannon, which now seems to have been retired. But the jokes were too obvious, too immature, compared to the more nuanced ones of shows like This Hour Has 22 Minutes. By the time I got a high-school diploma, I stopped watching.

After a few years away, not much has changed. There’s new faces, and the old faces are a bit greyer (and in the case of Don Ferguson, balder), but the jokes are still the same. I laughed only a couple of times, mostly during a strange, Weekend-Updateish rapid-fire news segment with some guy in front of a laptop. (The joke, after one about Brian Mulroney’s massive book of memoirs: “Kim Campbell is planning to release her memoirs in a pamphlet later this year.”)

The Air Farce will always have its audience. And even if it doesn’t, the CBC’s commitment to Canadian content will probably keep it on life support for many years. But the idea of making it “live” seems like little more than a gimmick shark-jump to try and jump-start sagging ratings. Unless it’s matched by better writing (or some unpredictability that you can only get when live) it’s just not going to work.

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