Celebrity improv show Thank God You’re Here reinvents itself after more than a decade

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Seventeen years ago, improvisation comedy show Thank God You’re Here was the most successful new show on Australian television, attracting an average viewing audience of 1.7 million viewers for the first few episodes in 2006.

Every episode featured up-and-coming (mostly Australian, except for a handful of Brits like Ross Noble, and some clever New Zealanders) stand-up comedians, writers and actors, and audiences loved it.

As Working Dog Productions, which also produces Have You Been Paying Attention? and Utopia, prepares to launch the show’s fifth series on the Ten network, they have been dribbling out the best of the best episodes on YouTube from that bygone era over the past few weeks.

Hollywood actor Rebel Wilson (Senior Year) featured in the fourth series with Rebel Wilson Meets Some Italian Stallions!

We’re reminded about actor Angus Sampson Terrorises the Titanic in 2007, and dry comedian Carl Barron is the Worst Formula 1 Driver from the fourth and last series in 2009.

Simple format needs a great ensemble cast

Before the upcoming season, the Ten network also dropped a new promotional trailer for the show on July 11, with comedian, actor and writer Celia Pacquola (Utopia, Rosehaven) taking over hosting duties from Shane Bourne.

If you don’t remember the show, the format was clever, simple and required perfect timing.

A guest comedian was invited by Bourne to walk through a blue door onto a set filled with props and an ensemble cast.

It was then up to the comedian to improvise the remainder of the scene in character for five minutes.

So why did it end?

One of the Working Dog founders, Tom Gleisner, spoke to Melbourne radio station 3AW Breakfast on July 3 and was asked why the original series “got canned”.

“Canned is a strong word,” HYBPA host Gleisner said. “We like to say ‘rested’ in television.”

“At the time, we felt we had run out of the talent, as in people who are capable of stepping through that blue door because it requires a certain degree of ability and we felt we couldn’t ring Hamish Blake one more time.”

In an earlier interview with original ensemble cast member Ed Kavalee, who also hosts his own EKP podcast, Gleisner fleshed out there were others they also couldn’t keep calling.

“We didn’t want to overuse the people we loved; the Shaun’s (Micallef), the Angus’s (Sampson), Julia Zemiro, Cal Wilson,” he said.

“They were fantastic performers.

“We got to the point where we didn’t know if there were too many other people out there who could do it and we didn’t want to get to the point where we went, ‘oh God, not Angus Sampson again!’

“So that was probably the main reason we thought – you know what? I think we’re done.”

So what’s new?

Gleisner told 3AW that after the team gave the show a rest, “a few years back we thought, it’s been 14 years since we last did Thank God You’re Here and the incredible talent which has emerged since we turned off the lights last time … inspired us again”.

“We are in rehearsals this week [July 3] and ready to start taping.”

Any changes?

“No. Pretty much as it was.”

Except no Bourne, who was the host with the most and made the stars feel slightly more relaxed before he opened the blue door to the stage.

Gleisner was also a judge, but it’s expected new judges will take up the job to declare a winner at the end of each episode.

“We’ve got quite a few of our original ensemble members back and some great new comic talent, plus we will make sure some of our … performers from previous series will step through the door as well,” he said.

With filming under way at Ten’s studios and at Melbourne Showgrounds, it’s understandable the promo includes a Hereford cow behind the door, which may, or may not be used as a prop this time.

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