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Series / Frontline

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Mike, Brooke & Marty

"Mike has the network's one hundred percent support right up to the day we sack him."
Brian Thompson (Frontline Executive Producer)

Frontline (Better known as Breaking News in the USA) is a satirical Australian sitcom that looks at the unscrupulous manipulation that goes on in the high-pressure world of television journalism. It ran for three seasons from 1994 to 1997. (Coincidentally, Frontline is also the title of a long-running American documentary series on PBS.) It was created by the team that would later become known as Working Dog Productions.

Just like any other current affairs programme on Australian commercial television, Frontline has its share of sensationalism, controversy, and cynical manipulation of the truth. It combined actual current events such as the First Gulf War with a funny and thought-provoking analysis of topics such as how the media treats people and events and how minorities are stereotyped.

All in the pursuit of ratings.

Not to be confused with the aforementioned PBS news program - the show is called "Behind the Frontline" when broadcast in North America for this reason. Also not to be confused with a different series called Breaking News that aired in 2002 on Bravo, nor with a flea treatment for cats and dogs. Also also not to be confused with the American series Lateline or the Canadian series The Newsroom (1996), which share a very similar premise but are otherwise unrelated.

Characters include:

  • Mike Moore, Frontline's host. Mike considers himself a serious journalist. He is alone in this opinion, as everyone else thinks he's an egomaniacal half-wit with absolutely no grasp of current events at all.
  • Brooke Vandenberg, reporter. Brooke is rumoured to have had a string of affairs with celebrities (stories largely started by herself) and never lets the truth get in the way of a story.
  • Marty Di Stasio, reporter. Marty is the ultimate cynic - he knows what he does is immoral, he just doesn't care. He inevitably gets along with the EP brilliantly due to this clarity of vision. One of his favourite hobbies is making Mike look as idiotic as possible.
  • Emma Ward, line producer. Emma is ethical and caring, and is the character the audience sympathises with. She is frequently horrified at the lengths the rest of the crew will go to distort a story to make it considered newsworthy.
  • Elliot Rhodes, Frontline's resident "Friday Night Funnyman". He is neither funny nor musical, which is a bit of a problem given that he does a topical song every Friday night.
  • Brian (Thommo) Thompson is the manipulative Executive Producer during season one. Thommo is a likeable sort, and gets people to do what he wants by by jollying them along. Due to the tragic death of actor Bruno Lawrence, the character was replaced by:
  • Sam Murphy, season two's Executive Producer. Sam is a besuited and smooth-talking manipulator, who is outstanding at making Mike think he has come up with an idea that is useful to Sam's agenda.
  • Graeme (Prowsey) Prowse, season three's Executive Producer, is far more blunt and rough. He is also more openly sexist, at least at first. After a few episodes, though, he mellows, and actually gets on rather well with Emma.
  • Geoffrey Salter, weatherman. Geoff is Mike's best friend with whom he regularly chats with in his office. Geoff is often the reason Mike decides to question the producer's claims that the story of the moment is ethical.

Contains examples of:

  • Almighty Janitor: Geoff the weatherman works in a secluded office and is actually banned from the Frontline set, and only Mike considers him a friend. Mike goes to Geoff for moral guidance which he then ignores.
  • Almost Kiss: Mike and Domenica in Smaller Fish to Fry.
  • Because I'm Good At It: Marty, and arguably Emma.
  • Black Comedy: Season 1 episode The Siege ends with a hostage-taker calling Frontline and executing his hostages live on air.
  • Bookshelf of Authority: During a hostage situation, the only "expert" the news station can get to discuss the situation is a psychology student. The producer tells the camera crew to interview the student in front of a bookshelf to make him look more authoritative.
  • Brainless Beauty: Mike.
  • Break the Motivational Speaker
  • Briar Patching: When Mike interviews then-Opposition Leader John Hewson, he's told that he doesn't want any questions regarding the Leadership. When Mike predictably ignores this out of a desire to look like less of a lightweight and asks the question, suggesting than Bronwyn Bishop may have a better approval rating, Hewson turns the tables and asks Mike about his press profile as compared to Brooke's, and whether he should step aside from hosting the show.
  • B-Roll Rebus: Mike explains the concept to his niece Rebecca when she's doing her work experience, and her response presents her as more Genre Savvy about the show he works on than he is: she asks if that's why every time they do a story involving gay people they splice in footage from the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Later in the episode, the show does exactly that, preceding a story about a gay teacher allegedly sacked based on discrimination.
  • The Bus Came Back: 19 years after the last episode of Frontline, Geoffrey Salter reappears in a fourth season episode of Rake.
  • Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality: After Mike's editorial against the Greek community in the first episode, Jan's approach to damage control is to have him interview Con the Fruiterer. Brian has to explain to her that Con isn't Greek, he's a sketch comedy character played by Mark Mitchell. "Oh, so that's the joke!"
  • Convenient Replacement Character: Probably justified in that no TV show would get rid of its executive producer without having someone ready to step in and take over.
  • Creator Cameo: A Running Gag is writer/producer/director Tom Gleisner appearing in one episode per season as photocopier repairman Colin Konika, who gets no lines.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Marty.
  • Dreadful Musician: Elliot.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Mike's occasional foray into ethics. He usually does have a point, but he's so easily manipulated that most of the time he's either talked out of his concerns or completely distracted.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Marty is as unethical as anyone else on the team, but "Judge and Jury" he shows reluctance to cover an unsubstantiated story about a priest accused of rape. When Emma asks him, he admits that he, like her, is Catholic.
  • Faux Documentary
  • Flanderization: Mike. In the first season he is vain and naive, but "a half-decent reporter", in Brian's own words, who was often seen trying to push genuinely newsworthy stories (such as a sweatshop expose in "We Ain't Got Dames", and a major embezzlement case that had been covered up by half the media in the country in "Smaller Fish to Fry"), getting furious when Brian screwed him over. In the second, he manages to break his leg on a motorcycle that isn't even moving, he can't even write a letter without basic spelling errors, and it becomes a Running Gag that he doesn't pay attention to the show's stories even while presenting them.
  • I Can't Believe I'm Saying This: On one occasion, several stories have fallen through, and Emma is horrified to find herself suggest Elliot be allowed to perform a particularly horrible ten minute composition he has been begging to do for ages.
  • Genius Ditz: Mike is given the answers to a gameshow's questions prior to going on. He wins the gameshow by over 100 points. At the end of the episode, he returns the envelope containing the questions, un-opened.
  • Glad You Thought of It: Sam regularly uses this technique on Mike.
  • Hypocritical Humour: The episode where the reporters target a statistician whose new book has been misinterpreted as racist. The episode is filled with Sam, Mike and Marty making racist comments, most notably Mike's complaint about his holiday in Greece.
  • Idiot Hero: Mike, though Idiot Protagonist would be more accurate.
  • Intoxication Ensues: In "My Generation", Mike has a headache, and when Shelley the receptionist looks for some Panadol for him, she finds the ecstasy tablets Marty confiscated from one of the camera dudes. The ending is hilarious.
  • Is This Thing Still On?: Mike starts insulting one of Elliot's songs after his microphone has been cut off at the end of the show. Unfortunately, he forgets that the camera is still on him during the end credits and that there's a sign language interpreter next to him who doesn't know that the show is completely over. His comments are translated accurately and reported in the following day's newspaper.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: Marty and Thommo.
  • Kick the Dog: Mike is rarely as directly involved in the unethical behaviour around him as Brooke, Marty and the producers, so the scene where he torpedoes Geoffrey's new weather-based comedy show out of jealousy is a standout.
  • Meta Fictional Title: Frontline is the name of the Show Within a Show that the actual Frontline is a Faux Documentary about.
  • Mood Whiplash: In the episode Keeping Up Appearances, jokes are made of Frontline trying to secure the rights to the story of a woman who was burned by an ex-boyfriend. Marty even comments how it was for the best because she is now $200,000 richer. Cut to the first time we are allowed to see her face in full... and it's not so funny anymore.
  • Newscaster Cameo: For a given definition of "newscaster", but Stuart Littlemore of Media Watch sometimes pops up to fact-check Frontline 's reporting.
  • Nice Guy: Mike's weatherman friend Geoffrey Salter, the only person who is both nice and stupid enough to genuinely like Mike.
  • Non-Promotion: When Mike demands more responsibility on the program, the executive producer grants him the meaningless title of 'International Story Coordinator': a position that involves faxing a list of the day's stories to their sister network in the UK so they can pick up any stories they want to run. Mike still manages to screw this up, thanks to Jan giving him the fax number for Channel 9's Glenn Ridge (Mike had been trying to get in touch with him about a Sale of the Century celebrity faceoff between himself and his rivals Stan Grant and Ray Martin).
  • Not So Above It All: Marty and Brooke make fun of Mike for his vanity and naivety, but they can act just as petty and be just as easily manipulated.
  • Old Media Are Evil
  • Pointless Civic Project: In "Let the Children Play". The Frontline team did a community service project for disadvantaged inner-city youth as a ratings grab. Despite all the kids wanting a basketball court, they decide to build a playground as it makes better television. And then the playground is found to be unsafe and cannot actually be used, as a result of Mike mistakenly hiring a dodgy contractor the team were planning to do an expose on.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Prowsey, the EP from season 3, who's very sexist and very blatant about it.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Mike, dear God.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: practically every episode, but especially The Siege (which was very much inspired by this incident), The Simple Life and The Shadow We Cast.
  • Running Gag: Dom's crazy hairstyles.
  • Rushed Inverted Reading: A variant where Mike is supposed to be reading a book by the statistician he's interviewing that night. Dom walks in on him doing a Magic Eye puzzle, and while he manages to replace the book, his eyes are still crossed.
  • Satire/Parody/Pastiche: Satire (It was an attack on all the vapid current affairs programs that were and still are showing in Australia).
    • In fact, you can now stop pretty much any Australian fan from taking the current affairs show they are currently watching seriously simply by saying "Hello, I'm Mike Moore: welcome to Frontline."
  • Show Within a Show: Frontline the current affairs show is the show within Frontline the satirical sitcom about current affair shows.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Clearly towards the Cynicial.
  • Sound-Only Death: In "The Siege" anchorman Mike Moore interviews a hostage taker while the eponymous siege is in progress, earning high ratings for his program. Two weeks later another hostage taker rings up Moore asking for a direct interview. Moore answers the phone on live television.
    Moore: You asked to speak to me. Well you've got the whole of Australia watching and listening. What do you want?
    Hostage Taker: I want you to hear this. (screams and gunshots. Cut to credits).
  • So Unfunny, It's Funny: Elliot's songs.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: a different EP for every season.
    • Justified as the actor who played Brian died after the first season.
    • And the three EPs have radically different personalities.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Mike.
  • Stylistic Suck: Elliot's dreadful songs, which are inept rhyming couplets to the same perky synthesiser tune. So much so that it is impossible to imagine something so awful actually being played on network television every week - chalk it up to the Rule of Funny.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Pauline Hanson had a surprisingly sympathetic guest spot in an episode which, instead of going after her, commented on current events shows condemning her while giving her exactly the platform she needed to further her cause, as well as being no better than her when it came to perpetuating cultural stereotypes. A man calls out Mike on the latter, saying that people think his Arab friend is a terrorist and his Filipino wife is a mail order bride because of Frontline. Later, ATSIC chairman Noel Pearson, as a guest on Frontline, makes the same accusation, claiming that cultural stereotypes are the show's stock in trade and that the show is one of those responsible for creating the very swamp from which Hanson emerged.
  • Took a Level in Dumbass: Mike as the show continued.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Practically everyone but poor Emma, and occasionally Mike, when he's actually willing to persistently stand up to Brian or Prowsey on an issue.
  • Wham Line: "That was Brooke. Her grandmother died." The excuse she had been told to use if she agreed to get the abortion the network wanted.