While attention in the first week of ratings turns to a brawl between Seven, Nine and TEN, the ABC is focussed on the 52 weeks that make up our television year. Over summer it delivered several feature series that upstaged the commercials -at least in terms of quality.
It will soon launch its latest locally-produced drama, The Cut, starring John Wood, Matt Passmore and Julieanne Newbould.
Set to premiere at 9:30pm Monday February 23, the timeslot is another break away from the network’s traditional Sunday programming for local drama.
ABC’s Director of Television, Kim Dalton, told TV Tonight, “We’ve lost Enough Rope, which was a very strong performer for us on Monday night, but we’re going to be running with drama in that Monday night slot. Years ago that’s what the ABC used to do and we think it will run well that slot.
“Sunday night for some Australian dramas worked really well. Valentine’s Day last year worked extremely well in that slot. A couple of years ago Bastard Boys on Sunday and Monday night worked really well for us.”
Last year Bed of Roses also performed strongly in a Saturday night slot. It is currently shooting a second season. ABC is also producing mining mini-series Dirt Game.
Over summer the ABC replayed more local product than ever before including Rainshadow, Bastard Boys, Stepfather of the Bride – a strategic move as it faces its next round of triennial funding. It hopes to significantly increase its drama output.
“Depending on the drama, I think in the next period of time, particularly if we get more money from the government in drama, you’ll see us being quite focussed on aiming our drama at particular audiences and then positioning it quite strategically throughout the schedule,” he said.
While Denton may have disappeared from view he is maintaining his ABC ties producing the curious Project NEXT, which aims to find the next generation of reporters, producers and television storytellers. Dalton was coy about the content of the series but has faith it’s coming from a man who knows his audience.
“It’s the sort of thing that keeps me awake at night,” conceded Dalton, “but I just remind myself that Andrew Denton is producing it. I think Andrew has got to have one of the best records in Australian television for doing bold, innovative shows.
“It will no doubt come to air with a certain degree of rawness, which I think a lot of Andrew’s shows do, certainly some of his earlier ones. I think it will be a show that will evolve and develop.”
Dalton says the organic nature of the show will be part of its mix. Denton’s production Zapruder’s Other Films is again to deliver a second season of its hit series The Gruen Transfer while his discovery act The Chaser boys are back with ten episodes “towards the middle of the year.” There are also about 30 episodes of Q&A, while the documentary Rogue Nation, a two parter about Australia’s early settlement, is coming soon.
Also returning to ABC this year is renegade comedian John Safran, who first started out on the ABC’s Race Around the World. He will be back with John Safran’s Race Relations.
“That’s another show that keeps me awake at night but John will be fantastic. It will be great to have him back in the fold where, again, he can speak to a much larger audience.”
Recently, ABC has also given Free to Air screenings of two comedy series produced by pay TV.
“It’s filled a few holes, but that hasn’t been why we’ve been doing it,” he acknowledged. “I think with both Stupid Stupid Man and Chandon Pictures they were interesting in different sort of ways. Stupid Stupid Man was much more traditional in a way but I think really great writing, great performances and at the end of the day when it goes on air on subscription television gets quite a small audience. But it got quite a good critical response and I think it’s great to put out a show like that and deliver it to 600 -700,000 people.
“Chandon Pictures is superbly written, great performances. It’s quirky, sitting on the edge there but I think it’s been great to start out the year with it, and once again bring it to a much broader audience,” he said.
“I think it’s only the ABC that’s able to give those people an opportunity to speak to a much broader audience.”
ABC also has a legion of devoted sci-fi fans who cherish Doctor Who, and who believed Torchwood‘s rightful home was on the public broadcaster. It has rerun rights on the first and second series and has put in a bid for the third series.
“The last series of Doctor Who was a great success in a new timeslot, and it really held. It’s one of those enduring brands.”
With specials of Who to arrive this year, Dalton was optimistic it could enjoy quicker turn arounds such as it gave to the 2008 Christmas special. He is also as curious as the rest of us to see how the franchise holds up with the next Time Lord, actor Matt Smith.
“How many Doctor Who‘s have there been over the years, how many James Bonds? It’s an odd thing isn’t it? You mourn over the one that you’ve lost and you grow to love the one that you’ve got.”