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The Chaser's War on Everything

The Chaser's War on Everything is an AFI Award winning Australian television comedy series broadcast on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) television station ABC1. The series is produced by the Australian satirical group, The Chaser, consisting of Chris Taylor, Julian Morrow, Craig Reucassel, Andrew Hansen, and Chas Licciardello. Fellow Chaser members Dominic Knight and Charles Firth are not part of the regular on-screen cast. However, Knight is a writer, and Firth compiled roving reports for the show from the United States, until he left the group to start a satirical newspaper in mid-2007.

The show premiered on 17 February 2006 and has since produced 50 episodes, broadcast over two seasons between 2006 and 2007. The 2006 season was broadcast at an unstable late timeslot on Friday nights. The 2007 season was broadcast in a more favourable timeslot of Wednesdays at for all 24 episodes. The show was not seen in 2008, but is due to return in 2009.

The stunts displayed on the show have often attracted controversy for The Chaser. On 14 July 2006, Licciardello was charged after a stunt concerning rugby league team the Bulldogs. Licciardello was again arrested, alongside Morrow and nine crew members, on 6 September 2007 after breaching security at the 2007 APEC summit.

Origins

The Chaser was formed by Dominic Knight, Charles Firth, Craig Reucassel, and Julian Morrow, and in 1999 ran a fortnightly newspaper entitled The Chaser. The group later added Chas Licciardello, Andrew Hansen, and Chris Taylor, to assist with its publication. Through the help of Andrew Denton, the Chaser team produced various shows for the ABC: most notably CNNNN. In 2005, The Chaser began filming a pilot for a new television series for the ABC, with the working title The Age of Terror Variety Hour. The Chaser team signed a contract with the ABC to produce 27 half hour episodes for 2006, which would be based on news reviews, studio monologues and confrontations with politicians, celebrities, and business leaders. The show was to be presented by Morrow, Hansen, Reucassel, Taylor and Licciardello.

The ABC rejected the name The Age of Terror Variety Hour and other names including Thank Allah It's Friday. ABC did accept The Chaser is Right, although it was later rejected by Morrow, while the title Hey Hey, it's the Chaser was rejected after a pilot under that name was filmed in 2005. They eventually selected The Chaser's War on Everything as the title. The show was to be performed in front of a live audience, in a more relaxed format than CNNNN and other Chaser television productions.

Release and popularity

Broadcast

The first season of The Chaser's War on Everything premiered on ABC1 on 17 February 2006 at . The series aired late on Friday evenings where it developed a cult following, getting an average national audience of between 591,000 and 821,000 viewers each episode. The show broadcast two 'best of' shows in the mid year. The last episode of the 2006 season was broadcast on 8 September 2006.

Due to its popularity, The Chaser's War on Everything's timeslot changed to Wednesday for the 2007 season. In the lead up to the second season, The Chaser team produced a live webcast of people counting down to the first episode of the season. New segments had been developed and the opening sequence was reworked. The move to prime time resulted in a ratings increase, reaching almost 1.5 million viewers each week. This was despite direct competition against well rated programs on commercial networks. The Chaser finished their 24th and final episode of the show for the 2007 season on 14 November 2007. They then produced The Chaser Decides for the remaining two episodes of the 26 episode production, based on the Australian federal election.

After the controversial APEC motorcade stunt, the show's profile was greatly increased and international broadcasts expanded. Countries which broadcast the show include Finland, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, Belgium, South Korea and Poland. Twenty other countries are already in negotiations with ABC1 to air the series including Canada, Denmark, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Thailand and the United States. Re-edited versions of the show may be broadcast without reference to Australian politics which might be considered irrelevant or confusing to overseas audiences.

After the last episode of The Chaser Decides, The Chaser ruled out doing any television productions in the first half of 2008. This included The Chaser's War on Everything, with the group opting to do a stage production of their antics around Australia, called The Chaser's Age of Terror Variety Hour. The Chaser's War on Everything will return between late 2008 and early 2009.

DVD release

The first 13 episodes of the first season were released on DVD on 17 August 2006. The release included commentary by The Chaser and the show's crew. Bonus features and unaired scenes were also included.

The second DVD for the first season contained the latter thirteen episodes. It was in the same format of the first DVD, containing commentary and unaired scenes, and was released on 1 November 2006. The first thirteen episodes of the second season were released on DVD on 14 August 2007, with similar features to the two prior releases.

The second DVD set for the later half of the second season was released on 7 August 2008. It contains similar features to the previous DVD releases.

Vodcast

On 27 July 2006 the ABC announced that entire episodes of The Chaser's War on Everything, along with jtv, would be made available for download via a vodcasting system. Just days after appearing on the Australian iTunes podcasting directory, the show took the number one position. The last four episodes of the first season averaged approximately 175,000 viewers of the vodcast, and 25,000 downloads, which ABC stated was a success.

The episodes of the second series of The Chaser's War on Everything were the most popular downloaded vodcasts in 2007. Almost nine million vodcasts were downloaded, more than half of the ABC's online vodcasts served in the year.

Show format

  • Credits - The opening credits show the five starring members of the show, but through that there are images of notable politicians and celebrities which are targeted in the titles. The titles are always the same except for two changeable titles, which targets persons in recent events. The closing credits simply read all the cast and crew of the show, though commonly a video is played over half the credits, which is explained in the Conclusion. The closing credits are a frequent (if bizarre) source of humour. For example Andrew Hansen once sang a song during the credits about how the credits are always played over his song. Another time the credits were shown in Ukrainian. On one episode the credits of the show were replaced with the credits of The New Inventors.
  • Introduction – Each episode begins with Reucassel and Taylor opening the show. The pair discuss the major recent events, present their opinions, and often show a pre-produced stunt or sketch.
  • Name changes - From the beginning of season 2 onwards, the credits of names as displayed during the program have been replaced in various manners. Normally they are changed to peoples in recent events or a simple addition to the name such as Julian bin Morrow.
  • Dialogues – In almost every episode, the Chaser members discuss a various recent event or generalised stunt. Most of these dialogues lead to a pre-produced stunt, ad or trailer. Most of this material doesn't fall into one of the various Segments, where most of there recurring material is shown. In the first season, Monologues were also common.
  • Conclusion – To end each episode the whole team gathers together, with one of the group members saying the closing joke.

Primary segments

The primary segments form the backbone of the show. These segments normally focus on key issues in a range of topics. They are generally presented by the cast members, live in front of the audience, and may be accompanied with pre-produced stunts and sketches relating to the topics.

  • "What Have We Learnt from Current Affairs This Week?" – Presented by Hansen and Licciardello, the segment pokes fun at the sensationalism used in competing weeknight current affairs programs Today Tonight and A Current Affair. All segments feature a lesson on their reporting techniques, such as how to spot "dodgy" guys and how to identify the different types of "experts". Both shows are regularly criticised for their tendency to come to fast and inaccurate conclusions.
  • "Firth in the USA" – Firth, now living in the United States, performs a stunt or conducts an interview, with obvious references to USA culture. Stunt examples include meeting Hillary Clinton to offer his services as her presidential intern; a satire of the Lewinsky scandal.
  • "The Ad Road-Test" – The team recreate situations shown in television advertisements to see if they would work in real life. Examples include whether male cheerleaders can convince a random person to stop smoking.
  • "In Other News ..." – A former segment, presented by Morrow and Reucassel, which focused on current news stories and events, and sometimes showed a pre-produced stunt related to the news item. This was the only segment to appear in every episode of Season One.

The following segments were introduced in Season Two.

  • "The Fixers" – Seeming to replace "In Other News ...", Morrow and Reucassel examine problems in the community, and present their idea for a fix. This is usually accompanied by a pre-produced item.

Supporting segments

The supporting segments are usually pre-produced stunts and sketches, supplementing the primary segments of the show. They are generally much shorter in length.

  • "Surprise Spruiker" – Hansen plays a shop "spruiker" attempts to help various institutions having trouble selling a particular item or idea. The stunt usually concludes when he is ordered by security guards to switch off his speakers.
  • "Scenes from the Life of the Crazy Warehouse Guy" – Hansen plays a stereotypical announcer from a warehouse television advertisement uses his unique speaking style in everyday situations, such as ordering McDonald's. Hansen originally performed the character that would become the Crazy Warehouse Guy in parodies of frantic rug warehouse commercials.
  • "Pursuit Trivia" – Morrow tests the general knowledge of a politician or celebrity by asking a Trivial Pursuit question from a game card in his hand at an interview or press conference. Prominent in the first season though not in the second.
  • "Mr Ten Questions" – Hansen poses for a journalist at a press conference and, when prompted, proceeds to ask ten questions without letting the interviewee speak until he has read out all ten. Questions can relate to the subject or be completely obscure.
  • "A Message From Osama Bin Laden" / Subtitles – An existing video of the infamous terrorist Osama Bin Laden is subbed with incorrect and humorous subtitles, often declaring a Jihad on various people for arbitrary irritations. Videos of Saddam Hussein, Abu Bakar Bashir and Kevin Rudd (Chinese speech) have also been used in a similar manner, but not as common.
  • "Citizens' Infringement Officer" – Morrow pretends to be an officer and hands out fake fines to people for absurd reasons; such as "wanker" number plates, "low-strung pants", parking inspectors being annoying due to giving out fines themselves, and inappropriate babies' names.

The following segments were introduced in Season Two.

  • "If Life Were A Musical" – Members of the cast go to the public, targeting a specific person in an everyday life scenario, and behave as though they are in a Broadway-esque musical. The segment is referred to as a "Taylor Hansen Morrow" production, a spoof of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
  • "Clive The Slightly-Too-Loud Commuter" – Hansen plays Clive who goes onto public transport and begins to talk loudly on his mobile phone about very personal or taboo issues.

Occasional segments

These segments support the show, however do not feature prominently.

  • "What Have We Learnt From History?" – In this segment Hansen, Taylor and Reucassel test whether people today have learnt a lesson from events in the past; for example the Trojan Horse.
  • "Famous Face Off" – A former segment, presented by Hansen, in which two "masters" in a particular field competed to be the best in an endeavour such as tongue-twisting newsreading.
  • "The 2:30 Report" – A former segment, presented by Licciardello and Morrow, which reviewed the worst of late-night television, including late night game shows such as Quizmania and early morning Christian programmes.

The following segments were introduced in Season Two.

  • "The News According To Fox" – Licciardello and Hansen criticise the bias of the popular American Fox News Channel.
  • "What You Missed on Cable" – Presented by Licciardello and Morrow, this segment highlights the oddities on pay television programs, and occasionally compares them to the bland programming on ABC1. Licciardello and Morrow pointed out that it was intended to replace the 2:30 Report segment from Season One.
  • "Anna Coren's Segue/Meaningless Gibberish of the Week" – Integrated into "What Have We Learnt from Current Affairs This Week?", this segment looks at either Coren's extremely complicated transitions between unrelated stories, or the strange and meaningless introductions she says on Today Tonight.
  • "Nut Job of the Week" – Licciardello and Taylor take a look at the "special people in our society"; people who have "alternative views". For example, The Secret's theory on how to acquire your deepest desires by the Law of Attraction was examined.
  • "Open Mic" – A segment, derived from a stunt from the first half of the second series, where Morrow goes to various businesses and uses their Public Address Systems to make humorous community announcements.
  • "Election Watch" - Licciardello and Taylor observe a certain topic in relation to the federal election. This segment was only seen in the weeks leading up to the 2007 federal election and often made reference to subjects not related to the election.

Recurring material

  • Stunts - A staple of the show, stunts can vary from confronting celebrities or politicians to testing staff reactions in shops and department stores. The stunts must be approved by the ABC Legal Department, to prevent breach of the law. In the 2007 DVD of the first half of the season, it is stated that the basic formula for the stunts is "go in, get our footage and get kicked out".
  • Sketches - There are a few stunts performed on the show that are shot in controlled conditions, with either hired actors or by setting up people. The Chaser team refer to these controlled stunts as 'sketches'.
  • Songs – Hansen, or sometimes other members, perform songs with a humorous theme. Although all the music and most of the vocals are by Hansen, the lyrics are usually written by Taylor, and other members who often appear to be singing or playing are sometimes just miming or pretending to play.
  • Television Advertisements – Throughout the series the team create satirical television advertisements, which either advertise a false item or mock existing ads.
  • Movie Trailers – The team creates parody trailers for existing movies or new movie ideas.
  • Vox Pop – One of the team members conduct vox pops with people on the street asking for their opinions.

Controversies and well-known stunts

Julian Morrow's novelty cheque On 8 February 2006, before the first episode of the show had screened, Morrow approached Australian Wheat Board executive Charles Stott with a fake novelty cheque, made out to Saddam Hussein, and asked Stott to sign it. Stott's lawyer said his client felt intimidated by the stunt, and the footage of the stunt was not shown in the first episode as scheduled due to "legal reasons". In the first episode to go to air, Morrow responded by raising the point that Charles Stott has done business with Saddam Hussein, a brutal dictator, yet he is intimidated by a large novelty cheque. The footage of this stunt does appear as a bonus on the show's first DVD.Chris Taylor on Sunrise

On the ninth episode of the show, Taylor announced that he planned to break-up with his partner of seven years, but he didn't want to ask her "the usual boring way", but do "something special, something she'll remember". The segment shows several of Taylor's attempts to "pop the question", including hanging a sign over a freeway, and "proposing" on a big screen at an outdoor festival. For the finale, Taylor introduces the interview of him on the morning television program, Sunrise. In the interview, Taylor asks the host if he can send a quick message to his partner, he then proceeds and says "Jo, get the fuck out of my life. And if you don't get this fucking message right now, you never will". This finale from the segment was leaked onto the internet and has been widely distributed by email. Many viewers believed the segment was actually real but Taylor admitted on national radio station Triple J that it was set up. It was actually filmed after Sunrise went to air, with Channel Seven editing on screen graphics for realism. The hosts of Sunrise admitted it was a set up. However, they did not know what Taylor was going to say because he only asked if he could do a bit for the show.Chas Licciardello's Bulldogs incident On 14 July 2006, Licciardello was charged with offensive conduct after attempting to sell fake Canterbury Bulldogs merchandise outside an NRL game. The merchandise included plastic knuckledusters and balaclavas in the Bulldogs' colours, and was supposed to satirise the anti-social and hooligan behaviour of some Bulldogs fans. Several Bulldogs fans took offence and as a result he was charged for offensive behaviour. On the broadcast following his arrest, Licciardello appeared onstage in handcuffs and within an iron cage. On that same episode, he apologised for his actions, claiming to understand why the Bulldogs fans were offended: because Canterbury Bulldogs fans much prefer to use their fists. This statement was accompanied by footage of Bulldog's supporters assaulting opposing team supporters during a match. After appearing in court with Morrow, Licciardello pleaded not guilty and the matter was adjourned. On 23 January 2007, Licciardello was found not guilty of the offensive behaviour charge. He was interviewed after the case draped in an Australian flag, and said he would appeal "to the Supreme Court, to the High Court, to the UN, to the Jedi Council and the Snickometer." After being reminded he had won, he said "I didn't actually prepare any material for the off-chance that we won."Craig Reucassel's axe stunt On 2 August 2006, Reucassel responded to a news story about a private school student who had hugged Prime Minister John Howard while holding a screwdriver during one of the PM's morning walks. To test the Prime Minister's security arrangements, he approached John Howard during a morning walk and asked for a hug while holding a large plastic battle axe. Reucassel did receive the hug, but a later approach while holding a running chainsaw was not so successful. Cut out from this segment was an unsuccessful attempt that took place between the axe and the chainsaw, in which Reucassel was holding a four-point-star mace.Julian Morrow's ticket prank On 16 August 2006, Morrow purchased two airline tickets on the Virgin Blue airline under the names "Al Kyder" and "Terry Wrist", checked in using the automated check-in at Sydney Airport, and then did not show up for boarding, so that the names would be read out in a final boarding call over the public address system. The prank was acknowledged by Virgin Blue who criticised the use of taxpayer dollars in the "childish humour".Craig Reucassel's speedos On 19 March 2007, during a campaign appearance for the New South Wales State Election, the then opposition leader Peter Debnam was confronted by Reucassel wearing nothing but Speedos and a baseball cap, making fun of Debnam's campaign appearances in the swimwear. When TV cameras remained focused on Reucassel rather than Mr Debnam, he said, "Sorry, I'm not Peter Debnam, he's over there. Just because I'm wearing this doesn't mean I'm Peter Debnam". Reucassel stuck around for the press conference but failed to draw a response from the opposition leader, and was again ignored when he went to shake Mr Debnam's hand.APEC prank and arrest

During the APEC Leaders Summit in Sydney, on 6 September 2007, Morrow and Licciardello along with nine other production crew members were arrested after they drove a fake Canadian motorcade down Macquarie Street and successfully breached the APEC restricted zone. Police only realised that the motorcade was a hoax when Licciardello, dressed as Osama bin Laden, stepped out of the car replete with bonnet-mounted Canadian flag and complained in-character about not being invited.

Licciardello, Morrow and the nine crew members were immediately detained by NSW Police, questioned and charged with entering a restricted area without special justification under the APEC Meeting (Police Powers) Act 2007.. All were released on bail to appear in court on 4 October 2007; and subsequently ABC lawyers requested for all matters to be adjourned until 5 December 2007.If they were found guilty they could have faced a maximum penalty of 6 months imprisonment, or up to 2 years if they were in possession of a "prohibited item". NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione stated that the Chaser stars risked being targeted by snipers during the prank.

The stunt was planned and approved by ABC lawyers under the assumption that the motorcade would be stopped and discovered at the first security checkpoint. However, they managed to pass through two police security checkpoints, using a fake convoy of hired limousines. According to Licciardello, he "never intended to get that far" but played along with it to make their stunt better. The footage of the prank, which was seized by the police, was returned to the ABC and featured in their next episode the following week.

Despite condemnations by various public officials, the Sydney correspondent to the BBC reported that the Chaser team had become 'folk heroes' following the stunt. Indeed, Alexander Downer, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, appeared amused when asked to comment.

Later on 7 September 2007, three members of the Chaser and their film crew were questioned and released over a follow-up stunt involving running near the protected APEC zone dressed in cardboard cars topped with Canadian flags. The following Chaser episode ended up giving The Chaser's War on Everything their highest ever ratings for an episode with 2.245 million viewers tuning in across Australia.

On 28 April 2008 the charges against all eleven members were dropped by the New South Wales Director of Public Prosecutions (DOPP) as it was considered that the police gave "tacit" permission for the group to enter the restricted zone by failing to identify the fake security badges. The ABC welcomed the dropping of the charges, with Morrow saying "I think it's just great that justice hasn't been done". The police were unapologetic for their actions."The Eulogy Song" On the 17 October 2007 episode, Hansen sang a song that he wrote which satirised the lives of several deceased celebrities, including Peter Brock, Princess Diana, Donald Bradman, Steve Irwin, Stan Zemanek, Jeff Buckley, John Lennon and Kerry Packer, expressing the view that people with flaws during life are often disproportionately hailed as "top blokes" after death. He also said that Martin Bryant would look a saint after death. The song became the target of significant media attention, with several radio and television personalities saying the song was in "bad taste", and both then Prime Minister John Howard and then opposition leader Kevin Rudd expressing negative views. A few days later, the team approached John Howard on his morning walk, dressed as rabbits, and sparked a reaction from the Prime Minister, with him saying: "You blokes are a lot funnier when you pick on someone who's alive".

A number of news programs reported that the ABC's switchboard was jammed with calls from "disgusted viewers" immediately following the show. It was later revealed that only six calls had been made that night about the show, three of them in a positive light. Although a number of complaints were received the next day the ABC alleged that a large number were listeners of a Melbourne radio show, and that when asked many said they hadn't seen the show. In response some shows such as Today Tonight claimed many more complaints would follow.

In response to the attention, Taylor supported the message, stating that it was a legitimate skit and that although the song mentioned recently deceased breast cancer victim Belinda Emmett, the rest of the cast pretending to cut off Hansen before he completed his verse was "making a joke about the inappropriateness of making a joke about Belinda Emmett. He also revealed it was a "watered down" version of the song which was previously performed twice on stage in his musical Dead Caesar.Seven Network Injunction On 14 November 2007, The Chaser made an attempt to poke fun at Today Tonight and the way that they re-enact procedures and events which they base their stories on. As they had done several times before, they infiltrated the Seven Network's news headquarters at Martin Place and requested for the Today Tonight presenter Anna Coren, where they came dressed as pretend cameos for the re-enactment segments. However, within the headquarters, they were confronted by the staff of the building for alleged trespassing. Both Today Tonight and their rival A Current Affair broadcast reports of the stunt, the Today Tonight broadcast claiming that they had finally caught the Chaser red-handed. However A Current Affair did a relatively lighter report on the incident, seeming to take side with the Chaser. Channel Seven got an injunction to stop The Chaser showing the segment, however, The Chaser planned on challenging the injunction. In place of their planned stunt, they shot a "hasty and dubious" reenactment of it. Channel 7 boss David Leckie exclaimed in an outburst at waiting photographers outside Channel 7's offices that The Chaser were "...nothing but a bunch of tossers, they're fucking wankers, Morrow responded "I interpret those comments as David making overtures to us. Calling us wankers and tossers must mean he wants [to hire] us.

Reception and impact

Current affairs programs

Current affairs programs, notably Channel 7's Today Tonight and Channel 9's A Current Affair, have run pieces critical of The Chaser team. A Current Affair ran segments covering rumours of the program moving to a commercial network, and the use of Osama bin Laden for humour, highlighting dangerous stunts and overstepping the mark.

Today Tonight ran segments demonstrating contrivances in Chaser's stunts and criticising their breakthrough of APEC's security. However, when Today Tonight asked if they could follow The Chaser team on one of their stunts, The Chaser agreed. The Chaser chose a stunt that would embarrass the Channel 7 television program. They did so by having a "Meakin Booze Bus"; in reference to Channel 7 boss Peter Meakin, who was recently convicted of drink driving. In the shoot, The Chaser members kept bringing up the topic of Peter Meakin to reporter James Thomas. It was revealed later that The Chaser did eventually answer enough of Thomas’ questions so that Today Tonight received what they wanted, but Today Tonight did not end up running that footage. Channel 7 broadcast scenes that they judged made the Chaser crew look arrogant, although it was stated in The Chaser's season 2 DVD commentary that James Thomas later called The Chaser team and apologised for the way Today Tonight depicted them in the report.

Awards

In December 2006 The Chaser's War on Everything won an Australian Film Institute (AFI) Award for 'Best Television Comedy Series' and Hansen won an AFI Award for 'Best Performance in a Television Comedy.' Hansen also won the APRA / AGSC award for 'Best Television Theme' for his original theme on The Chaser's War on Everything.

In May 2007, the program was nominated for the TV Week Logie award "Most Outstanding Comedy Program" for the 2006 series. The show was nominated for the 2007 AFI award in the category of 'Best Television Comedy Series' for the 2007 series. In late February 2008, the show was nominated for the Rose D'Or international television award for Comedy.

In June 2008, The Chaser received the Atheist Foundation of Australia's Tom Paine Award for "Expemplary service to humanity", and "...outstanding promotion of ideals conducive to human contentment and survivability.

References

External links

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