Melanie Bracewell and Tim McDonald think they know the secret to their show’s success

‘We’re very different.'

Melanie Bracewell can’t stop raving about her co-host on The Cheap Seats, Tim McDonald – until she starts thinking about what he might say about her.

“He’s genuinely the nicest person I’ve ever worked with,” she tells TV WEEK. “If he meets someone once, he’ll remember them. And it’s made me a better person as well – I’m like, ‘OK, just make the effort, Melanie.’

Melanie couldn’t attended the 2023 Logies.
(Image: Supplied)

“Tim is so thoughtful. I’m doing the [Melbourne International] Comedy Festival. I offered him free tickets and he said, ‘No, I’ll buy a ticket. I’m going to support you and the Comedy Festival.’

“And I’m worried you’re going to interview him and he’ll be like, ‘Melanie’s a piece of s**t.’”

TV WEEK is interviewing Melanie and Tim – separately – for the new season of their hit comedy panel show. When it’s Tim’s turn on the phone, he doesn’t call Melanie “a piece of s**t”, but he does start the interview with a caution. 

“Don’t believe anything she’s told you,” he jokes. “I dispute it all. It’s the subject of ongoing litigation.”

It only takes a minute before Tim is describing Melanie as “arguably, one of the funniest, brightest, smartest and most generous performers in the world”.

“So often I’ll just look at Mel and say, ‘Can you get us out of this hole I’ve dug us?’ and she’ll come up with something brilliant I would never have thought of.”

Even though they’re not together for this interview, it’s obvious they have chemistry. It’s a big reason their show – a comedic look back at the week through TV clips – is now into its fourth season and in 2023 won the TV WEEK Logie Award for Most Outstanding Entertainment Program.

When she re-watches the show’s first few episodes, Melanie can see just how their rapport has grown. 

“I thought we nailed it, like we had this electric chemistry from day one. But then you look back and we’re like stunned little children who’ve been placed in a studio, reading an autocue.

“You always need time with someone for that chemistry to make sense. I think as the show’s gone on, we’ve got more permission to be a bit more loose and rip into each other more, which I love.”

Melanie believes the reason they work so well together is that they’re “very different, but in the right kind of ways”. 

(Image: Supplied)

“Tim is a perfectionist and I’m more vibes,” she says. “A lot of our show is spontaneous, which adds to the fun. If someone reads an autocue wrong or makes a mistake, those are the parts that people remember and enjoy.”

Tim agrees.

“We’ll spend five days, hundreds of hours, scouring the news for the funniest and the best moment,” he says. “But at the end of the day, people just want to see Mel swear at the prime minister or me struggle to open a bag of cheese.”

Melanie, 28, and Tim, 30, took very different paths to comedy. The 188cm Melanie was sporty growing up – her uncles and cousins have represented New Zealand at cricket – and she played netball at club level, against professional players. At 19, she got her start in comedy and had to choose between early morning training and late-night gigs.

“I realised very quickly I could probably make more money as a comedian than as a professional athlete,” she laughs.

Not-so-sporty Tim (“Mel plays netball, I play Wordle”) directed the Law Revue sketch show while at Melbourne University.

“You didn’t have to study law to get in,” he explains. “I was doing an arts degree and had one contact hour a day.”

One of the people he directed in the revue was Mel Tracina, who would go on to become The Cheap Seats’ cultural correspondent.

“The fact that we can now reconnect doing this, that’s the best part,” Tim says. “Me and the two Mels: it’s literally three mates catching up.”

Both Tim and Melanie are happily partnered. Tim is married, while Melanie is in a relationship with Shaun McCullough, who she met during a high school production of The Jungle Book but didn’t start dating until 2020.

“I guess it was post-pandemic and you look within your 5km radius and go, ‘Yep – you’ll do,’” she says with a laugh. “He’s incredible and the most supportive person always. Like, I’ve got gigs on, he’s making my HelloFresh – it’s a match made in heaven.”

As for the future, Melanie would love to fulfil a childhood dream of acting, “if someone wrote a character for me that suited my personality and I didn’t have to dig very deep”. Tim just wants to guest-star in Bluey. 

“We have a schnoodle with separation anxiety, so if there was a character in Bluey who refuses to leave the house, I could play that,” he suggests.

So the question is, outside of work, how close are Tim and Melanie? 

“We all live very busy lives and spend a lot of time together at work,” Melanie says. “So the social events do spring up very, very occasionally. I would say we’re friends – but only put that in if Tim also says we’re friends. If he doesn’t, then I never said that!”

Hearing that Melanie said they were friends, Tim says he’s “honoured”.

“I think for the first three seasons it was firmly ‘colleagues’. So I’m glad that we’ve made that jump.”

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