Satirical comedy group The Chaser are known for their War on Everything, but now they have launched a war on the hand that has fed them for decades.
The group made a surprise announcement on Twitter on Monday, revealing the ABC, its home since 1999, had "declined to fund" an election year series for 2019.
"First time since 2001 that the ABC has declined to fund it. Perhaps Sky News provides enough satire nowadays?" the group's tweet read.
The comedy troupe have been an election-year fixture on the ABC dating back to the Howard-Beazley years. Their 2004 series The Chaser Decides won a Logie for Most Outstanding Comedy Program, and was followed by ratings toppers Yes We Canberra in 2010 and The Hamster Decides in 2013.
The latter infamously sparked a defamation case by News Corp columnist Chris Kenny against the ABC for a skit that depicted him having sex with a dog, resulting in a private settlement and a public apology from then ABC Managing Director Mark Scott.
It is understood not all of The Chaser's original members were onboard for an election series next year, but member and founder Charles Firth says the majority of the crew – which expanded to include comedians Zoe Norton Lodge, Ben Jenkins and others after 2016's The Chaser's Election Desk – was interested.
"It's one of those things if the ABC had wanted to go ahead with it, we would've jumped at the chance," he says.
For Firth, the ABC's decision – "They just said they didn't have the money," he says was the ABC's reason behind the rejection – is further proof the public broadcaster is conceding to government influence.
"The ABC is an institution in crisis, and it's a very deliberate thing that's happened," he says.
"This decision, along with lots of other decisions" – the recent axings of controversial comedy shows The Checkout and Tonightly, for example – "should leave everyone in no doubt that the Liberals have done their work on the ABC and it's not the institution it once was."
But a spokesperson for ABC has denied that the group made a pitch to the broadcaster to make a new election special and says that the group had already begun negotiating with commercial rivals.
On Monday, the public broadcaster revealed its slate for 2019, leaning heavily on dramas and documentaries. Firth says that while "many good people" in the ABC are trying to create compelling television, "if you relentlessly cut tens of millions of dollars out of an institution, it's going to suffer".
"The ABC is in a difficult position, so what some people inside the ABC have decided to do is be safe because safeness means there's no senate inquiries, there's no questions from the prevailing government... [But] the moment you start being safe is the moment you start losing audiences, and you enter a downward spiral where you become irrelevant," he says.
"It hasn't happened yet, but that's the problem – they're in a death spiral where they're getting safer and safer and they're going to lose more and more of their audience. There are very few decisions in the ABC at the moment where you go, 'Wow that's interesting, that's innovative, that's really going to push the boundaries,' which is exactly what you need from a public broadcaster."
Now, after nearly two decades of collaboration, it seems as though relations are cooling between The Chaser and ABC.
"We're surprised by Mr Firth's comments as The Chaser didn't pitch an election special to the ABC for next year and advised us it was already in discussions with a commercial network," a spokesman said, in what has become a 'he said, she said' situation.
"The 2019 slate announcement on Monday showcased the ABC's strength in homegrown content that celebrates the diversity of our nation, across areas including Indigenous, drama, arts, news, natural history and children’s.
"Our entertainment and comedy line-up is bold and brave, with great Australian content such as Mad as Hell, Gruen, Tomorrow Tonight, The Weekly with Charlie Pickering and Sammy J."
Firth confirmed the group had undertaken negotiations with commercial broadcasters.
"We talked to everyone, but the thing is..." Firth hesitates. "When we talked to Nine they said, 'Why don't the ABC fund it? It's what the ABC should've done!’ Advertisers don't want out-there, overtly political, slightly dangerous stuff to advertise their soap powder in. If we could turn it into a reality show about making cakes, then I think they'd love it."
With the style of comedy being on the nose for commercial broadcasters and the ABC out of the equation, the only way a Chaser election show might move forward is through an option mooted on social media by fans - a crowd-funded series online.
And Firth is open to the idea.
"The main thing we really want to do is get out there and cause mayhem and chaos... I don't know how much we'd raise, but could you raise enough that it would fund us to go around and do a few stunts? That would be ideal, 'cause that's the funnest part of doing an election special.
"And also we wouldn't have to answer to anyone at the ABC or anywhere else... We could be totally unleashed."