On Monday 2 July, during the ABC’s live show Q&A, National Director of GetUp, Simon Sheikh passed out whilst on the panel. According to the Herald Sun, Sheikh had been battling the flu for a number of weeks and made a statement that he had been ‘burning the candle at both ends’. Having been given the ‘all clear by doctors’ at Liverpool hospital he posted the following message after the show had finished: “For those watching Q&A sorry I couldn’t stay - I’m in hospital, thanks for all your support.”
The medical incident that occurred on Q&A is not the first live television mishap that has taken place in Australia. Indeed it draws attention to the risks inherent in live broadcasting. Programs that are aired in real-time have few opportunities to cover slow motion mishaps, ‘beep out’ profanities or censor bloopers. Consequently, embarrassing moments are, on occasion, broadcasted as they unfold, on national television.
In the 2010 live finale of Australia’s Next Top Model, for example, host Sarah Murdoch announced the wrong finalist as the winner. As a result, Murdoch not only had to retract the announcement and make a public apology on the spot, but Foxtel awarded the runner up AUS$25,000 and a trip to New York to compensate her for the embarrassment. In the midst of the confusion, Murdoch said, “this is what happens when you have live TV folks.”
Another incident occurred on the Midday show in 1991, when, during a heated discussion about whether or not Australia should become a republic, musician Normie Rowe and radio host Ron Casey physically attacked one another. Still to this day it goes down as one of Australian television’s best on-screen ‘biffs’.
The appeal of live television is the immediacy of the entertainment. The real time element is attractive to the viewer because people feel connected to what is happening ‘right now’. While live television mishaps make for some of the most unforgettable moments in TV history, it is not without risk; not only from the unexpected behaviour of the people but the limited opportunities to respond. Either way, people feel compelled to watch.