Girl power

Writer-performer Robyn Butler tells TV Tonight the comedy scene was so "wall to wall blokes" she wrote The Librarians -and is now setting pretty with her production company.

librarians 2Be very afraid. Frances O’Brien is back to terrorise Middleton Interactive Learning Centre with her fastidious work discipline, her condescending tones and severe lack of people skills. All delivered with a sickly, sweet smile of course.

As star, co-creator, writer and producer, The Librarians‘ Robyn Butler (pictured, right) told TV Tonight, the series is one of a handful of Australian comedies that celebrates female characters. It is a genre offering limited lead roles for women.

“I think one has to write one’s own part to ensure that,” she says. “There’s Jane and Gina and Rebel Wilson but otherwise it’s pretty tough. There’s wall to wall blokes out there. Which is not necessarily the case in other countries. It’s not the case in the States or the UK. So we do need to try and shift that.

“There’s a lot of men in comedy and men tend to write for men. That makes sense but you really do have to make a conscious decision to change that. It’s one of the reasons I’m extremely proud of The Librarians.

Back for its second series, the show is produced by Gristmill Productions, which Butler operates with her husband Wayne Hope. Last year he starred in their other comedy project, Very Small Business. So while it feels like a long time in between seasons, the two have been constantly working.

Librarians returns with almost all of its original cast intact.

“We have 4 women in the main cast and we have a whole bunch of fantastic women popping up as guests throughout. But we also have a lot of men, so it’s very broad, it’s not necessarily one or the other.”

This season Middleton has a new home following a fire at its ‘fictional’ library. Butler admits the shift was to accommodate the fact they no longer had access to the location they used in the first series. But it was a problem they saw coming.

“We knew that wouldn’t be available so we had the foresight to film matches and smoke being thrown in the return chute with smoke billowing out!”

Even the crew didn’t know what to put on the clapper board.

“Series Two!” declared Butler.

“It was good in a way because when we came to writing it we said ‘Ok the library burnt down: now how did that happen, what’s happened since?” It was quite good to write yourself into a corner and then have to solve the puzzle.”

Most of the filming shifted to the Melbourne Showgrounds, which Butler likens to a studio lot.

“Instead of having to lockdown streets and all that parlava that you have to do, you just go over there and start filming. We filmed so many of our locations in there and we had our production office. And it makes everybody happy.”

With two success stories now under Gristmill’s belt, Butler & Hope are now entrenching themselves on the comedy landscape as writer producers, following the path forged by other comedy teams including Working Dog, Andrew Denton, Jane Turner & Gina Riley and Chris Lilley.

It empowers them enormously in negotiations and with the luxury to generate their own work.

“It’s really great. Once you have some content it makes all the difference in the world,” says Butler. “Because you’ve proven you can make something, make it well, get an audience and get some critical success. Dare I say it, the world’s your oyster. Wayne and I have some opportunities overseas now, because we’ve got the package.

“It feels really great not to be at the mercy of the industry or someone else’s decisions –of course, we still are and always will be. But there’s always another idea to come and we’ve always got other people to go and talk to about that now.”

Butler notes that American television frequently celebrates writer producers, with showrunners taking responsibility for their own work.

“David Chase is the writer-producer of Sopranos. Matthew Weiner is the writer-producer of Mad Men. They oversee the whole kit and caboodle just as we do in comedy. This doesn’t happen in drama in the same way. You don’t have those writer-producers. But there’s something to be said for it: people making their own stuff so that the vision doesn’t get impaired. What you forsee in the script you actually see and make happen, from casting through to everything,” she says.

“I ran into a writer when I was rushing back to an edit, who said, ‘You’re so lucky. I have to wait until it comes on screen, and I think: I didn’t write that.'”

Not so for Butler & Hope, who are already starting work on scripts for a third series.

“It’s a fantastic position to be in.”

The Librarians returns 9pm Wednesday on ABC1.

14 Responses

  1. The concept of a sitcom set in a community library is good premise. But like any sitcoms (and we know it’s a difficult genre to suceed) the lead charactor needs to be likeable, almost larger than life. I’m not saying Frances is’nt likeable, but I feel she needs to broaden her charactor, allowing more in. If Frasier Crane were just pompous shrink who would care.

    The flashbacks that seemed to dominate the first ep, do tend to choke the pace of the show down. Using sight-gags in sitcom to adnauseam is risky, because in most cases it fails to push the drama forward. Cheers Sienfeld and Frasier rarely indolge in sight-gags.

    I wish this series well but tweeking along the way is essential, Cheers tweeked and has become arguably the best sit-com of all time.

  2. Personally, I don’t see anything witty, clever, funny or even offensive about this show. It is simply rubbish and a waste of money and electricity.

    Frankly, I would rather see taxpayers’ money go toward building an actual library in a deprived area, rather than on garbage like this.

    @Gil, the reason Australian “comedies” mainly fall flat is the writing. Average Australians are very funny people. Australian comedy writers for the main part are not. Also, performers don’t get the opportunities that are afforded to performers in Britain (i.e. more comedy theatre/university revues).

  3. They’re currently showing looped channel ID messages that become very annoying after about 5 seconds so I quickly switched off. The ONE HD countdown was much better as it actually had some decent music that would play.

  4. Just can’t get into this one. Quite stylishly done, but too many characters (well, I think, all of them) who are just there to hit one note (the pompous one, the gay one, the crim, the other crim, etc.).

    Bigger thing for me is the lead character – awful and clueless but rarely consequenced for her bad behaviour in the stories themselves (unlike say, David Brent in The Office, an obvious influence on the show, among others).

  5. Both The Librarians and Very Small Business are top shows. I agree with a lot of what Robyn Butler says and would like to see much more new Aussie talent given a chance both in front of and behind the local screens. At least the ABC and The Comedy Cha nnel give new talent a chance to shine in Australia. Unfortunately a lot of the time commercial TV steals the talent the ABC and The Comedy Channel nurtures and the product is diminished by interference from the powers that be in those organisations.

  6. Great article!

    I just wanted to ask though.. Have the ABC already greenlit a 3rd series? They wouldn’t be writing a 4th series if they hadn’t already had their 3rd series approved would they..

    It’s a really good show.. i like how the ABC tend to take a bit more of a risk, and go for “out there” ideas with their programming..

  7. Yeah I liked this article. I like the Librarians as a show – I don’t love it like how I love Chris Lilley or Rebel Wilson’s work but I respect Robyn Butler and co. for putting out competent narrative comedy consistently. More money needs to go to people like this i.e. writer/performers and not into cheap reality formats!

  8. Great story David. It’s good to see another Australian comedy production team having success. I hope they continue making more great shows and that it encourages others to do the same. Bring on more good Aussie product!

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