When The Chaser team raided the offices of Seven’s Today Tonight it was a metaphor for the march the national broadcaster has made on commercial ratings in 2007. In its 75th anniversary year the ABC had a stellar on-air performance led by media-darling comedies and light entertainment.
After ending 2006 with its audience aggrieved over the axing of The Glass House, elevating its Friday night comedy team, The Chaser, vindicated its programming department. Spearheading its new-look Wednesday nights, they attracted figures that sent commercial rivals reeling. But for every victory there were detractors as Chas Licciardello, Andrew Hansen and the boys continued to make news for the wrong reasons.
The APEC stunt in which the team breached a security zone in Sydney dressed as Osama bin Laden won 2.3m viewers (the highest ever ABC comedy audience) and triggered overseas sales at MIPCOM. So much for bad publicity? Andrew Hansen’s eulogy song hit a sour note and even David Leckie, who had reportedly been courting the boys to Seven, called them ‘f***ing wankers’ after they raided Seven offices. Fatigued by the output, and doubtless the legal dealings, the Chaser team have opted to decline TV for the first six months of 2008 in favour of a live stage tour.
The other superstar for the ABC was Summer Heights High. After Kath and Kim had walked to a cashed-up Seven, Chris Lilley’s incisive characters became much-needed pop culture heroes. Ja’mie, Jonah and Mr G. were emulated in schoolyards and offices the land over and Lilley was greeted with rock star adulation at in-store DVD signings. But his dark humour didn’t always sit well with some who attacked his caustic style. One storyline about an ecstasy overdose so closely mirrored a true-life tragedy that ABC Managing Director, Mark Scott was forced to apologise to a Sydney family.
Warmed by Lilley as a support act, The Librarians was also well read, but Paul McDermott’s Sideshow was axed after being hamstrung by the older Saturday viewing audience and a timeslot that denied it any risqué material. No big gig there.
Spicks and Specks and Enough Rope again led the ABC’s light entertainment brands. At this rate Adam Hills and Andrew Denton seem set for induction as National Living Treasures. But it was Jonathan Welch’s emotional Choir of Hard Knocks that was lauded for its uplifting stories. Audiences gave the show standing ovations from the small screen all the way to the Opera House.
Jeff McMullen’s Difference of Opinion was greeted with deafening indifference, the audience preferring documentaries Constructing Australia, The Sounds of Aus, Compass: The Abbey and Australian Story’s Belinda Emmett tribute. Despite her runs on the board, Head of Factual Denise Eriksen quit.
In drama, the ABC’s output was alarmingly modest, if discerning. At least Bastard Boys, Curtin and Rain Shadow were well received. New drama head Miranda Dear and exec Amanda Higgs gave the thumbs up to more output with Bed of Roses, Valentine’s Day, East of Everything, The Prime Minister is Missing and a third Blue Water High for 2008.
ABC News performed so well there were nights it overtook Nine’s. By year’s end it even managed one (out of ratings) weeknight as the #1 show nationally.
But Media Watch’s Monica Attard and Producer Tim Palmer departed following a year of stoushes with The Australian and questions from Mark Scott about not pursuing a controversial 2005 dinner party between Peter Costello and senior journos. Next year Four Corners’ Jonathan Holmes takes the seat. ACMA also ruled Foreign Correspondent as being inaccurate, yet it still managed to win a Walkley Award. It’s back with a new host next year too, and ten minutes excised.
In other news and current affairs highlights, Virginia Trioli joined Lateline, Kerry O’Brien made on on-air gaffe over his teleprompter (“I don’t know what’s happened, but I changed my bloody links”), Barrie Cassidy said he was snubbed by Kevin Rudd, and Aunty won the Election Night battle.
There were questions over The Global Warming Swindle forcing Kim Dalton to defend itself against rumours the ABC Board had applied pressure to air the controversial Brit doco.
Other UK dramas Midsomer Murders, New Tricks, Wire in the Blood, Doctor Who and Life on Mars went down better with audiences. And as June Ackland said goodbye to The Bill after 21 years, ABC seems set to say goodbye to its Tuesday timeslot in 2008.
Bindi Irwin joined the ABC. The West Wing finally closed down its last Aussie branch, the Vicar of Dibley said Amen. Parkinson retired after 25 years. His farewell will air in 2008. Mr Bean met the Collingwood football team. Peter Cundall will hang up his Gardening Australia shears in 2008. And R-r-r-r-r-age celebrated its twentieth year by allowing a viewer to programme for a night.
The ABC also boycotted the AFI Awards after discontent with its award structure. SBS gun Debbie Lee was pilfered as a new ABC Drama Exec, tackily announced by the broadcaster before SBS even had a chance to announce her departure.
And after drawn-out problems with its Brisbane home causing staff cancer cases, a new HQ is set for Newstead in 2010.
As the year drew to a close the ABC tried to persuade the ALP to match the Coalition’s promise of $82 for a kids’ channel. New Minister for Communications Stephen Conroy, who is coy on committing to ABC3, is promising change –he just won’t say what.
Thursday: Seven Network.