Not all television viewers are created equal

Cast come fly with me.
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On Monday evening it seemed that all television viewers were not created equal in the eyes of the Nine Network regional affiliate stations, WIN and NBN which deemed the first episode of British comedy, Come Fly With Me, too offensive for regional audiences.

Instead, regional audiences who wanted to catch the new mockumentary from Little Britain creators Matt Lucas and David Walliams had to wait to watch Come Fly With Me at the non-primetime hour of 10pm on GO, one of Nine’s free-to-air digital stations.

With the winning track record of Lucas and Walliams’ success with Little Britain, which aired on the ABC, it was something of a coup for Nine to have secured the rights to their new series.

Little Britain was not without its controversies. Lucas and Walliams took great delight in testing the mettle of their audience through the grotesque characters they portrayed. Projectile vomiting and other bodily functions were not uncommon as they exposed the dark and often cruel underbelly of life in modern Britain.

Sexuality, disability, class and race were all ridiculed without fear or favour. Yet, Little Britain aired on the ABC without any thought of the national broadcaster protecting the apparent delicate sensibilities of its regional viewers by offering them a bland substitute in the form of a repeat of a more traditional British situation comedy.

All this makes this act of censorship based on geographical location with its added layer of condescension all the more peculiar for regional television viewers.

Apparently they would not be “sophisticated” enough to grasp the humour of Come Fly With Me even though they coped admirably with Little Britain.

As Matt Lucas sarcastically tweeted on May 17: “Thanks to our Aussie viewers for your kind comments re #ComeFlyWithMe - those of you who were deemed sophisticated enough to watch it!”.

Grounded: BBC comedy Come Fly with Me

The decision to shift Come Fly With Me from the regional schedule smacks of the worst kind of stereotyping of regional audiences.

If regional audiences were not sophisticated enough to appreciate Come Fly With Me, then it could follow that they must be unsophisticated as well as perhaps uneducated, uninteresting, expendable, highly conservative or maybe just plain thick.

These are just some of the implications of the logic of the networks’ decisions and for these reasons it is particularly patronising.

On a broader scale, the decision points to an inability to understanding the changing social demographics of contemporary Australia.

It is baffling to think that in this day and age of increasing digital options and pay television that television network executives would still believe there is a clear division between a “metropolitan” and “regional” television audience.

The possibility of diverse, niche audiences all over our wide brown land does not seem to have entered into their understanding of the changing landscape of television in this instance.

While commercial networks are clearly driven by their commercial imperatives and the desire to do well in the ratings, by marginalising potential viewers surely this was a decision that worked against the Nine Network in these goals?

Sadly we will never know what the combined ratings of the “sophisticated” and “unsophisticated” audiences might have been.

Maybe if Come Fly With Me had been broadcast nationally at 8pm on Monday evening as planned then Nine may have won the night in that ratings timeslot instead of coming second.

Believe it or not, there are people who live in the regions who are capable of appreciating and enjoying so-called sophisticated television comedy.

Monday’s decision was a misstep for regional networks.

What we do know is that the decision not to air Come Fly With Me on WIN and NBN has been reversed and from Monday it will be aired in primetime, although regional viewers will be have to be content with being a week behind.

Perhaps there are some television executives who believe that is what it’s like living in regional Australia all the time. Luckily for those of us who live here we know that they are wrong.

The Nine Network has told The Conversation it is not responsible for regional programming. We have corrected this error which appeared in a previous version.

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