When you think of a genre best befitting The Chaser boys your first thought would surely be comedy. Well, Julian Morrow wants you to erase that connotation from your minds when his new show The Checkout launches on ABC1 on March 21.
"My involvement will hopefully naturally lead people to assume that this will be the least funny of anything The Chaser has done," he says from across a conference table in the ABC's vast Sydney headquarters.
"That, I hope, will water down expectations. Expect something a bit wordy, a bit right on, a bit laboured, a bit up itself. You've been warned."
The self-deprecating former industrial lawyer has been sitting on the idea for The Checkout since the end of The Chaser's War on Everything in 2009.
The 10-episode series will be headed by Morrow and fellow Chaser Craig Reucassel, with Hungry Beast's Kirsten Drysdale and Kate Browne from consumer watchdog Choice also appearing to present segments.
But why just Reucassel; where are the other Chaser lads?
"Craig is the least talented," Morrow gibes.
"No, it's very much dictated by personal interest in these areas. I think one of the things which has been an excruciatingly annoying strength of The Chaser is that all six of us have different senses of humour and different focuses, although at some level we all agree on stuff."
The Chaser team began when four guys - including Morrow and Reucassel - started up a satirical newspaper with the same name in 1999. Since then they have created a range of TV shows focused largely on politics and media, including CNNNN, The Chaser's War on Everything and The Hamster Wheel.
"If you looked at the division you would say that Chris (Taylor) and Andrew (Hansen) are far more focused on that sketch comedy, absurdist pure comedy in a way, rather than topical and political, whereas Craig and I would be more likely to do political satire," Morrow explains.
"Chas (Licciardello) is also working on The Checkout as a script editor and thank Christ because he is a powerhouse on a number of fronts. He's an excellent writer, he works insane hours and he worked as a script editor on Hungry Beast so he's used to working with different presenters and sharpening up their scripts.
"We're quite conscious of the fact that we come with baggage, and comedy baggage, and how that sets the expectations for a show like this. But we've been doing it for 10 years and you can't really object to people thinking of you as a group if the only things you've done in a decade have been as a group."
Morrow says to expect a Chaser election special later in the year in the lead-up to the Federal election, similar to 2010's Yes We Canberra.
But back to The Checkout.
"It was originally commissioned through the factual department but now it's through light entertainment so that probably reflects its slightly idiosyncratic nature," says Morrow.
"With The Chaser, it's comedy, it has to be. It only gets in if it's funny - well, allegedly - and we often have subjects we want to deal with but we just can't get them over the line because the script isn't funny enough.
"With this one, we flip around the presumption: the starting point is, is there a consumer affairs point or observation to be made here? And then we kind of feel like the task we have as writers is to try and take that worthwhile material and present that in an engaging way. The comedy comes second.
"Having said that, we're pretty deeply ingrained in making comedy and substance and facts don't come naturally so there's a few gags in there. It's just designed to have a different attitude to an important area."
The Checkout will identify ways consumers are being legally ripped off and hopefully help the viewer make smarter spending decisions.
Regular segments will include Beat the System, light-hearted tips for changing consumer behaviour, and As a Guilty Mum, as well as many opportunities for viewers to engage through social media.
"In principle it's structured around three main stories . . . around that we will have lots of segments which are almost like non-commercial breaks in the half-hour show. One of those is As a Guilty Mum, presented by Kate Browne from Choice. Kate is a mother and essentially the point is that marketers target parental guilt. It's almost like a Brand Power-type sketch.
"It doesn't have a studio audience or a home set, it's just story-by-story, magazine- style, with a few bells and whistles which show off our comedy side."The Checkout starts March 21 at 8pm on ABC1.
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