Be 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.