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Have You Been Paying Attention?: how the TV quiz show became appointment viewing | Television

I hate reading the news on any given day, but especially during Covid, and most of all during lockdown. The idea of keeping up to date with anything feels so deeply, deeply futile to me: at this particular point in time, headlines are likely to tell me that I can’t get vaccinated, that I can’t go outside, and that the reason I can’t go outside is because I’m not vaccinated.

At the press conference that took place the day I wrote this, Daniel Andrews said “Victory against this is absolutely within reach”; you could tell me it was a quote from anytime in the past 18 months and I’d believe you without question. It’s not that the news is particularly depressing – it’s that it’s totally the same every single day without fail, and I have no way of interpreting it outside this bizarre prism of sameness.

Social media isn’t much help: I recently deleted Twitter (brag) but when I was on it, people I followed seemed to spend a lot of time encouraging others to get tested and vaccinated, to check the list of exposure sites, and so on. It felt like a total earnestness epidemic — a deluge of the same information being shared over and over and over, everyone sharing the mandate to mask up and get tested despite the fact that everyone sharing this information probably meant that everyone already knew of their responsibility to do those things. This was not the content I wanted: I wanted the weird, the random, the stupid, the profane, anything to combat the mandated, the safe, and the already-known.

As it turns out, the weird, the random, and the stupid was hiding in plain sight: on terrestrial television. My complete disillusionment with day-to-day news and media has dovetailed with my belated discovery of Have You Been Paying Attention?, a Channel 10 news quiz show that deals with news and current affairs with the irreverence and stupidity that it deserves. Hosted by Tom Gleisner and featuring regular panelists Sam Pang and Ed Kavalee alongside a rotating cast of guests, the show is, honestly, the only news-adjacent piece of media that doesn’t make me want to rip my hair out.

Covering Australian and international news and current affairs as well as entertainment and sports news, the show’s format is simple: Gleisner asks questions, and the five panelists buzz in and attempt to answer, scoring points if they get a correct answer; regular guests panelists include Kitty Flanagan, Melanie Bracewell, Lloyd Langford, Marty Sheargold, Glenn Robbins, and Celia Pacquola. The quiz element of the show is more a conceit than anything – the fun of the show comes from the way the contestants use each question as an opportunity to riff on the topic at hand.

The reason I like Have You Been Paying Attention so much, and why it’s become appointment viewing for me over the past 18 months, is because the show’s blatantly cynical bent feels so much more truthful to the cultural mood than the “We’ll get through this!” optimism of social media. Common joke topics on HYBPA include AstraZeneca blood clots, speculation of Joe Biden’s dementia, 5G, and Prince Andrew, among other things; the show seems to view current affairs with a refreshing, and truthful-feeling, sense of fatalism, and isn’t particularly precious about which topics are up to being made fun of. Watching each week, running jokes and pet topics among certain panelists slowly appear; each of my friends who watch, of whom there are now many, have affinity towards certain panelists, favourite segments, and so on.

What I like most about HYBPA is that there’s a wonderful, overwhelming sense of meaninglessness to proceedings — an irreverence that precludes the show from ever feeling too weighed down by the fact that day-to-day news is awful and will likely proceed to get more awful until the rest of time. It’s not a comfort in these strange and uncertain times, as so many pieces of media are billed now – it’s a strange, frothy quiz show, that has no bearing on the world outside and doesn’t pretend as such. Right now, I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Have You Been Paying Attention? airs at 8.40pm each Monday on Network 10

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