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.