The eccentric and brutal machine of network television revealed
By Josephine Burford
The realm of daytime TV might seem shiny, smiley and choreographed, but the business of network television can be brutal. In order to win the battle for ratings, the producer must be ruthless. She must court controversy and know which buttons to press and which to leave untouched. She must be, well, a bitch.
Returning to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival with Massive Bitch, Chelsea Zeller’s one-woman theatrical production flips the focus, revealing the backstage drama of live television and the eccentric cast of characters that create it.
Massive Bitch is built around Victoria Bidder, the fierce producer brought in to resurrect the once great, “Do You Want The Good News?” Having pulled ratings back to respectable numbers, Victoria only needs to survive her sixtieth show and she will be rewarded with an executive role on the production of her choice. But with an inexperienced crew, unpredictable hosts and guests who don’t play by the rules, Victoria’s success is far from guaranteed.
Zeller gives an impressive performance, transitioning smoothly between wildly divergent characters; from the uptight and ambitious host Angie, to the sporting hero now appearing on the latest season of The Bachelor. From the no-nonsense cameraman to the all-nonsense psychic Beverly. Moments of audience interaction are negotiated with care, and the performance feels present – specific to this audience and this night.
This production is filled with familiar and well-worn cultural-political references such as the dual-citizenship scandal, the Me Too movement and Lee-Lin Chin’s exclusive clique of journalistic stars. While Massive Bitch doesn’t add anything new to these issues, the show’s satirical style is refreshingly kind. Together, Zeller and the show’s director Samuel Russo are ridiculing daytime television and its strange inhabitants yet not disrespecting them. It is at once a send up and an affectionate ode to Australia’s attempt at show business.
Given the unavoidable limitations of a shared performance venue, the duo has made the smart decision to keep technical elements to a minimum. Simple shifts in lighting combined with a recurring theme song mark the transitions between on-air and back stage. These are effective, but unobtrusive, ensuring the focus remains where it should: on Zeller’s multitude of characters and the strange people they become under pressure and on camera.
Massive Bitch plays at The Butterfly Club until 8 April. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9245 3788.