Jane Turner, Marg Downey, Glenn Robbins, Gina Riley, Magda Szubanski, Michael Veitch, Shane Jacobson and Stephen Curry are matching wits in a new weekly sketch comedy which the producers see as the beginning of a franchise.

Commissioned by The Comedy Channel, Open Slather also features a dozen rising stars on the comedy circuit: Ben Gerrard, Ben Lomas, Dave Eastgate, Demi Lardner, Emily Taheny, George H. Xanthis, Hannah Bath, Holly Austin, Ilai Swindells, Jay K Cagatay, Laura Hughes and Miles O’Neil.

Filmed in Melbourne with a live studio audience, the show takes aim at popular culture, politics, sport, music and media. Among the likely targets: Tony Abbott, reality shows such as The Voice and the soon-to-conclude Mad Men.

The 20-part series is being produced by McWaters Productions, marking the third collaboration between Kath & Kim’s Rick McKenna and Chris Lilley’s producing partner Laura Waters.

McKenna first got the idea for a topical sketch comedy seven years ago when Saturday Night alumni Tina Fey started lampooning Sarah Palin.

A year ago the concept coalesced after he had coffee with Waters, whom he hired as a producer on Fox Footy’s talkback show White Line Fever in 2001. That was a left-field choice because at that time Laura had only seen one AFL game. Subsequently she produced the third series of Kath & Kim and the K&K telemovie.

Figuring Foxtel would be the right home for a show that can screen in prime time and be nurtured without the constraints of free-to-air TV, they pitched Foxtel executive director of TV Brian Walsh.

“It was the quickest yes we’d ever had although the deal took longer to finesse,” McKenna tells IF. “It’s probably the biggest investment in Australian comedy in decades.”

There are 22 writers ranging from full-timers to those who may submit only a few gags. Turner and Riley, Szubanski, Robbins and Veitch are writing material, some with new writers.

The senior director is Natalie Bailey, who returned recently from the UK after directing episodes of comedies The Thick of It, Pramface and Heading Out. The plan is to use a mix of experienced and new directors.

The producers and Foxtel see Open Slather as a long-runner. “We want to grow a franchise like Saturday Night Live that lasts and lasts, “ says McKenna.  Waters says, “Long-term we want to create a breeding ground for directors, writers and cast.”

Open Slather will premiere on The Comedy Channel on Sunday May 24 at 7.30pm AEST.

Walsh says: “Foxtel is delighted to reunite this legendary group of comedic performers in this exciting new series, and thrilled to have the creative genius of Rick McKenna and Laura Waters on board to guide the new, up and coming performers.

“Sunday night is the biggest night of the week for TV viewing, and the timeslot has great heritage in our TV history for popular and loved comedy programs. We are proud that Open Slather marks the return of sketch comedy to Australian audiences.

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