When did television executives decide we, the viewing public, are morons? When did they look down their half-moon glasses (perched jauntily on their nose) and turn to one another, nodding in agreement that we did indeed have a mean IQ of 60? Our television screens are being polluted with television shows that are at best characterised by soporific writing and ''dick'' jokes, and at worst, downright insulting to our communal intelligence.
It's a crying shame that we don't give Australian writers, who have so much talent, the free rein and encouragement to come out with something that is befitting our ability to comprehend a joke more complex than ''HA! He got caught with his pants off!'' Even more complex shows from overseas, comedies such as 30 Rock and dramas such as The Wire, are relegated to late-night spots, or the non-commercial networks. This implies that intelligent people sleep less, or that our television programmers think there isn't a market for more than a handful of intelligent shows (Modern Family and The Office to name a couple) to grace our commercial networks at prime time.
But there is. Look at the cult following that shows such as Black Books or CNNN have (I concede that CNNN is now on 7mate, to the network's credit). Look at 30 Rock, or Arrested Development or Peep Show. Notably, all but one of these are made outside of Australia. And only a couple of these are still being made.
Now don't get me wrong — television pitched at those that don't want to think has a huge market and remains a guilty pleasure for many smart, rational people who come home and want to turn their minds off while watching Charlie Sheen perform essentially the same storyline night after night (Sheen being a man who seems incapable of responding to any name than isn't ''Charlie'' on the small screen, even when he's being paid a couple of million an episode to ''act'' like he's into cocaine and models).
This is compounded by talk shows such as the new Ben Elton show, Live From Earth (aired on Nine on Tuesday), which was a horrible blend of so-called satire (thinly veiled stereotypes don't constitute satire, Mr Elton), mixed with jokes that were eerily reminiscent of a year seven classroom. We're inundated by lowest-common denominator television for the ''masses'' (a term that consistently underestimates us).
At some point, our shows such as The Panel and (early) Kath and Kim were replaced with Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men. It may sound like a ridiculous question, but why?
Many point to the commercial viability of these programs. Intelligent humour means intelligent viewers. Viewers who, in all likelihood, worked out that these things can be downloaded illegally from the internet at some point, and proceeded to do so with reckless abandon. Times have changed, though, and the people who were downloading shows such as Arrested Development are now turning to ABC's iView, which can be viewed on game consoles, iPhones and iPads (essentially anything with a screen and an internet connection) where, I imagine, these shows are making some cash. Commercial stations are coming up with their own, albeit less plugged in, versions of internet TV: Seven's Plus7, Nine's FixPlay and Ten and SBS's creatively named Full Episodes and Videos and Watch Full Episodes sections on their websites. Even making them available online only is a step in the right direction (and encourages taking risks on upcoming writers).
And perhaps the ABC, who take the most active role in pushing the boundaries of what our apparently puny TV-watching minds can handle, is the only one who can meet our desire to have something more than light entertainment. They run QI, The Wire, Generation Kill and Black Books – some of the best TV going around. They also encourage Australian participation with shows such as the long-running Spicks and Specks, and most recently Marieke Hardy's Laid (screened on Wednesday night and which has attracted good reviews). They, free from the burden of advertising, take a risk now and again. The ABC (and this might sound crazy to the risk-averse commercial networks) encourages Australian innovation and well-written television. Though the question remains, should filling the void left by the commercial networks really be the ABC's responsibility?
I'm not saying that I can do better than the commercial networks. Writing for television is a tough gig. Nor am I saying that I have (or will ever have) a career in programming commercial network television. My point is that we deserve better. We deserve to have an intelligent, witty talk show host. We deserve to have a TV show that doesn't line up cheap laugh after cheap laugh, night after night.
There is an abundance of comedy geniuses in Australia. Anyone who's been to Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Adelaide Fringe or Sydney Comedy Festival will tell you that the Australian talent is fantastic, so give them a chance. I'm sick of being sold television that assumes I'll chortle at any genital/gay/fart joke that is served up.
Mike Doman is a Melbourne writer. He blogs at Sporadically Pensive.