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Hey Hey skit sees Australia called backward and racist

By Katherine Field, National Entertainment Writer
Thu Oct 8 21:10:14 EST 2009
Thu Oct 8 10:10:14 UTC 2009

SYDNEY, Oct 8 AAP - Hey Hey It's Saturday made a splash within a week of its return to Australian television - creating a wave of outrage around the world with a skit featuring men in blackface.

The revival of the iconic variety show after 10 years had been praised for bringing back wholesome family entertainment, with its debut reunion show winning over local audiences.

But many are now questioning whether the program isn't well and truly past its use-by date after Wednesday night's skit by a group calling themselves the Jackson Jive.

The clumsy performance, aired during the Red Faces "talent" segment, consisted of a frontman in whiteface impersonating Michael Jackson, backed by dancers in blackface and wigs.

American singer and guest judge Harry Connick Jr took offence, giving them zero.

He said if the act had appeared on US television, the broadcast would have been terminated.

Host Daryl Somers was forced to apologise, and the performers followed suit on Thursday.

International media and commentators, especially in the United States, were quick to condemn the skit, with many labelling Australia backward and racist.

"Shame on the host and the other judges for trying to act like this performance was acceptable in any part of the world. I'm too disgusted to write any more," a Chicago Now blogger wrote.

Blackface shows were common in the US from the 19th century, with white performers playing black characters with exaggerated, demeaning characteristics.

The Guardian newspaper in the UK described the skit as "mind-boggling".

In Australia, TV expert Vincent O'Donnell, from RMIT, said it was thoughtless, given audiences had changed.

"For me, it is just tasteless TV, perhaps sensation seeking, and not well thought through," Dr O'Donnell told AAP.

He added that Jackson was beyond satire in the US, while he wasn't in Australia.

Thousands of viewers and commentators took to online social networking site Twitter to give their opinions.

"Thank you Hey Hey It's Saturday for making the world think we are even more rascist (sic)... eh take note dont try and revamp an out of date show," one wrote.

Sydney-based anti-discrimination campaigner Gary Burns said he has lodged a complaint against Nine under the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act because of the skit's "racist connotations".

But others stood up for the segment, accusing critics of being too politically correct.

"Poor old Hey Hey It's Saturday - no harm was meant!" another twitterer posted.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland weighed in, saying Connick had every right to feel offended but commending the way the issue was handled.

"It's one of those events we've seen in the presentation of humour where the wrong note is struck, but all those involved seemed to have acted appropriately to address it," he told reporters in Melbourne.

It didn't take long before Connick was accused of hypocrisy after footage of him impersonating a black preacher 13 years ago resurfaced.

Nine released a statement on Thursday apologising, while Somers went on the defensive, describing it as a "storm in a teacup".

"I think it's blown up a bit out of proportion over here," he told Sky News.

"I think it was just a cultural diversity of America and Australia."

While he again apologised to anyone offended, Somers said he preferred to focus on the ratings, which showed the program was watched by an impressive 2.3 million viewers across the five major cities.

Nine is yet to make a decision on whether the program will be brought back permanently, but a Nine spokesman said the incident will have "nil bearing on what happens next".

Nine is set to repeat both reunion specials on Saturday night on digital station GO!

A Nine spokesman said it was likely the controversial skit would be edited out for the repeats.