Success all at sea

The fifth and final season for Sea Patrol is a reminder that television production doesn’t enjoy the same level of government investment as that of feature film.

Television is often seen as the lesser sibling of film, despite the fact it is a much bigger employer and far more widely viewed by Australian audiences.

This week it was confirmed that the Nine drama will come to an end in 2011 as the tax rebate expires at 65 episodes.

Producers Hal and Di McElroy told TV Tonight, networks don’t have a bottomless pit of money.

“The Tax Offset for TV at 20% is modest compared to feature films at 40% so its a pity that it cuts out at 65 episodes because it becomes a penalty for success,” they said.

With its huge location costs, the Nine drama will wrap at 68 episodes, with 3 less this season than the last.

This year has again been a strong one for Australian TV drama, but as some dramas are pitted against one another in competing timeslots there is a risk that they can corrode one another.

“There’s always been competition for viewer loyalty,” said the McElroys. “Research suggests the audience run a ‘must watch’ list in their head – and there’s only room for 5 or so shows! So you’ve got to be good to get there which is a healthy goal. We’re not scared of competition – it energises us.”

And while there are suggestions that the new multichannel environment impacts on the likelihood of drama renewals, the McElroys agreed that there is now a new benchmark in measuring the success of a local drama.

“Yes, its psychological really – north of one million in 5 capital cities on Free TV,” they said.

“Pay TV is looking to come up to that number over their rotation. Competition splits the audience up into smaller and smaller pieces. But that’s true of all media, indeed all manufacturing. Cost of production becomes the decider in terms of audience reach.

“Of course we’re sad that Series 5 will be the last, but we’re proud of what we have achieved and all of us are determined to make our last our best.”

Sea Patrol will continue filming its fifth series until February.


  1. Secret Squïrrel

    I liked Water Rats but didn’t like Sea Patrol. However, I think we need shows like that on Australian TV so it’s shame that this season will be the last. Hopefully they will come up with a suitable, quality replacement.

    Step One: Observe how Cops L.A.C. is made.
    Step Two: Don’t do that.

  2. Yeah there’s no denying these guys have a good track record. Will be interesting to see what they come up with next. With Nine losing Sea Patrol and most likely Cops and Rescue ratings badly, they will need to have another drama in development.

    Wish Hal and Di luck with their final Sea Patrol – looking forward to it!

  3. I really admire these two producers, they’ve brought us some top quality drama over the years, not just Sea Patrol, but Blue Heelers, Water Rats and Murder Call. They continue to do Sea Patrol despite a lot of critics telling them to give it up.

    The truth is that Sea Patrol is so different to anything attempted before. To write the entire series (13 or 16 episodes) in one block, film it as one block and see it air many months later, without the ability to change things in the next couple of episodes is a great feat. It has suffered some bad continuity, but as a whole is a great product.

    I speak to them on the phone from time to time (plus e-mail), and the love they have for producing (and also Sea Patrol) is always evident, they know the game and they’re confident in what they’re doing. I think a lot of young writers and producers can take a leaf from their book.

    I look forward to series 5 and also anything they do in the future.

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