ABC1 on track for Entertainment

Paper Giants, Adam Hills, Laid, The Slap, Angry Boys, fast-tracked Doctor Who & more. ABC1 programmer Brendan Dahill chats about 2011 highlights.

Today TV Tonight begins a series of major interviews with Network Programmers, ahead of the start of the 2011 Ratings year.

First up is the newest member of the pack, ABC1’s Brendan Dahill, who talks about some of the highlights of the upcoming year.

Since his appointment last August, Dahill oversees a slate of titles including many which he inherited. But he is excited about his first full year in the role and puts particular emphasis on elevating ABC1’s Entertainment brand.

Period drama Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo is coming in April.

“I think it’s got an element of the Mad Men about it, it’s kind a world that feels like it should be familiar but it’s just that little bit disjointed,” he says.

“It’s also Kerry Packer emerging from his dad’s shadow and the birth of an Australian icon. So when you see the picture of Rob Carlton (pictured), he’s really embodied that role. It’s a really brave role for someone to take on, and in the rushes that have come through so far, Asher (Keddie) and Rob have done an amazing job.

“I think it’s going to be one of those stories where everyone feels they know Kerry and how the legend grew. So it’s a good chance to test yourself to see whether you were right about how he emerged from his father’s shadow. He wasn’t quite the favored son at the time so it’s quite an interesting time in the Packer family history.”

Later this year ABC premieres its new 22 part drama Crownies and there is already much buzz about The Slap featuring Melissa George, Alex Dimitriades,  Sophie Okonedo, Essie Davis and Jonathan LaPaglia and based on Christos Tsolkias’ novel.

The Slap is obviously second half of the year. It’s flying off the shelves in America at the moment, you can’t buy it for love nor money at the moment. So it’s a really popular universal story and the cast is just unbelievable,” Dahill enthuses.

“I have to pinch myself everytime they tell me me who they’ve got. We’re setting the bar quite high with The Slap so it’s a good benchmark for us to aspire to all the time in terms of casting and the talent that’s gathered around the production.”

In production for 2012 are Top of the Lake from Jane Campion, The Straits, Phryne Fisher, Eye of the Storm (Fred Schepsi’s film has a theatrical release first) and Indigenous drama Redfern Now which is currently workshopping scripts with Jimmy McGovern and first time writers.

“2011 is already looking like a rich year so they can afford to take a little time to get it right,” he says of the latter.

“This is an enormously exciting opportunity for these filmmakers and I don’t want them under pressure to deliver quickly. I’d rather they were under pressure to deliver well.”

A second season of Rake will go before the cameras later this year, when the show’s key creatives become available to resume production.

“I’m trying to get it in as early in 2012 as I can. I want it back on ABC1 as fast as we can,” he says.

“I was delighted with Season One. If they come back with something that’s as good in Season Two as it was in Season One that’d be great. Obviously they’ve used all of the best ‘shock trials’ in Season One so Season Two will be a slightly different iteration, it has to be.

“It’ll be more about the characters and their stories. There will be a crime of the week but I doubt they’ll manage to find another eight really shocking cases like that to do again.”


The first week of ratings sees one of ABC1’s biggest bets for the year with Adam Hills’ new chat show. It will air for 12 weeks before Spicks and Specks returns.

“Our Wednesday Night line-up is just unbelievable for the whole of 2011, but particularly Adam Hills In Gordon Street Tonight and Laid,” he beams.

“Adam Hills had his first rehearsal and it went brilliantly. I am so excited about that show. It was something I had on my radar and I really wanted to do before I got here, but it was already in train. (Head of Arts and Entertainment) Amanda Duthie’s thinking and mine were in line about where we wanted Adam Hills to go and the kind of thing we really wanted him to do.

“I think that show is going to be a real standout for him. Adam’s always been sharing the limelight and this is his moment.”

Although not airing live to air, Hills’ show will be recorded before a studio audience close to its telecast.

“If Adam decides that he wants a much rawer experience, he wants to take on live, then I’m happy to back him on that. But this time round we figured that it was better to take our time around it, put the prep in, make it a really polished show.”

Six part comedy series Laid from writer Marieke Hardy follows the premiere of Hills’ new show.

“Adam’s show is going to rate off the scope and I really want a lot of people to watch it,” he says.

“Not everyone is going to like it, but Laid is really great. Essentially it’s a love story, it’s just a love story that has a bit of a twisted premise.

“It’s pretty mainstream in the set up and it really is about the characters and the situations this character manages to get herself into. ‘Roo’ is a bit of an ‘every woman’ in the sense that she’s pretty but she’s not amazingly beautiful, so it’s  conceivable she would sleep with all manner of men, from really good looking blokes all the way down the spectrum. And she can’t help herself at times. But at the heart of it it’s a character show that essentially is a love story, and how that love story is going to resolve itself. It’s beautifully written.

“I think a few people will cringe at some of the scenes but although it’s in a 9:30 slot it’s certainly not MA in tone at all.”

When Laid‘s season wraps, Hungry Beast takes its place for 12 weeks. In its third season there will be some subtle editorial shifts.

“It was trying to be all things the last season, so it’s going to lose some of the skit element and kind of focus right in on the peripheral comedy and topical news. It’s a much more focused show than it was before,” he says.

“It’s going to be a much more topical review type show with humour.”

But Dahill is coy about plans for Chris Lilley’s Angry Boys, for fear of counter-programming from rivals. So far he is thrilled by early glimpses.

“What we’ve seen of Angry Boys is amazing. This is Chris at his best, it’s going to blow people away.”

The joint comedy project with HBO and BBC has been a long time coming, but will be worth the wait.

“I haven’t seen all of it by any means, and having to keep HBO and the BBC happy obviously is a difficult relationship to keep.

“But that team are perfectionists and they’re not going to release anything until they’re 100% happy with it. And what I have seen I’m more than 100% happy with.”

ABC1 retains the World Premiere.

There will also be due recognition for Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton, celebrating a silver anniversary with the silver screen.

“In their 25th year they deserve their moment in the sun,” he smiles.


Australian Story, Media Watch, Q & A, Foreign Correspondent, and Four Corners with Kerry O’Brien all return in the week of February 6th.

The new-look 7:30 (Report) is coming in early March with Leigh Sales and Chris Uhlmann.


“On the factual front, we’re much stronger in the second half of the year than the first,” explains Dahill.

“We have Outback Kids which is late March/early April, which is an Aussie Brat Camp. So it’s a bunch of dysfunctional kids who are taken to an outback centre to bring them back into line and it’s at a 9:30 slot for a reason: these kids have got quite a lot of problems and dealing with them is quite hard core. It is compelling, it really is compelling.”

ABC1 also has On Trial, filmed in New South Wales courts and going behind the scenes with the lawyers, judges and clients. The series is made by Essential Media and promises not to mimic storytelling trends of others in the genre.

“Each one is a story of its own, we don’t intercut between stories and we’re not coming back to someone’s fate later in this episode. We stick with one story, we tell one story,” he says.

“There’s rigor and a storytelling to it -it’s not just 30 minutes and nothing happens. These are well researched and there’s a meter about them and a purpose.

“There are a couple of great trials in there that people will love watching, but it really does get you up close and personal within the Crown Prosecution Service.”


Following on from the fast-tracking of Doctor Who at Christmas, Dahill confirms he will be aiming to keep fans happy in the second quarter.

“I can’t tell you the date yet because the BBC haven’t told me what date they’re transmitting yet but we’re going close to UK TX again,” he says.

“Australians are great downloaders and they don’t want to wait until Easter to see a Christmas episode, so if we can get it out straight away we will.”

It’s a refreshing change for a Programmer to be so frank, so publicly. As he explains, ABC1’s Christmas broadcast was not bound by commercial ratings.

“It’s an indication that when I say the ratings season isn’t important to me, it really isn’t important to me -otherwise I wouldn’t have wasted a show like Dr. Who there. It’s important that it goes out at the right time, not during somebody else’s ratings season.”

Thus far ABC1 will also be sticking with the now-controversial miniseries, The Kennedys, at the end of first quarter.

“I’ve seen rough cuts, an offline edit and the final versions are in the post to me so I haven’t seen a final finished episode. But what I have seen so far looks great, it really does look great,” says Dahill.

“I’ve read about the History Channel’s issues and until I’ve seen an episode it would be unfair of me to comment.”

Media headlines for the series should actually play into the broadcaster’s hands.

“It’s certainly put it above the parapet hasn’t it? It was always slotted to be earlier in the year than later, and as long as the show lives up to the promise then obviously the debate surrounding it at the moment is great for us. It’s certainly getting everyone interested in it, so part of our part of our promotional has been done for us.”

Agatha Christie is back in the first quarter, Midsomer Murders is back second quarter. Sci Fi series Outcasts from UK producer Kudos will air in the second quarter. New Tricks is back Friday 4th of February.

Spooks will remain on Saturdays, but the wait for new episodes won’t be as drawn out.

“We showed Season Eight of Spooks at the end of 2010 and Season Nine will come quite early in 2011. So we’re a way behind the UK but we’ve kind of accelerated it. I was really happy with how it worked on a Saturday night. It was a tough slot replacing The Bill on Saturday night but Spooks‘ done an amazing job and was a really good indication of how Saturday nights can have a bit more adrenaline in there.”

TOMORROW: SBS Programmer Jane Roscoe.

40 Responses

  1. Will you be doing interviews for the digital channels too David (or at least ABC2)?
    Interesting about Outcasts, it premieres early Feb on BBC1, this is practically fasttracking, unless it doesn’t start till late May or June here.
    Peter, I think the answer to all of those things is no, the ABC probably doesn’t have the money!

  2. Richard: Phryne Fisher will be a 13 part series from Every Cloud Productions by Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger. Writers: Shelly Birse, Liz Doran, Michael Miller, Kelly Lefever, Jo Martino. A “fast paced, fascinating series of mysteries.” Subj to finance.

  3. Great news about Doctor Who- thanks David. Any chance you could tell us more about the Phryne Fisher series please? I’ve read quite a few of Kerry Greenwood books in the series about the dapper flapper private detective, but I had no idea a series was being made!

  4. Thank goodness we’re getting Spooks series 9. I’m very pleasantly surprised. There’s always been an agonisingly long wait to have it screened here in the past (up to 3 years for one of the series) so it’s good to know the ABC is making an attempt at letting us catch up.

    There are a lot of Spooks fans here in Australia, so I hope the wait for series 10 (which will screen in the UK later this year) isn’t too long either.

  5. David, a bit OT but in reply..

    Yes. DVD and Blu-ray (from the UK or US) and iTunes US for HD TV shows which are unavailable here.
    I don’t mind the short delay as there is always a backlog of things to watch.

    And I do think our Public, tax-payer funded, broadcasters should concern themselves more with quality shows and presentations instead of ‘dumbing down’ as they have.

  6. Bakshi43,

    Are you kidding? You’re not watching ABC1 programs because of a little blue watermark? I think you’re the one with the problems, not them. Yet, I’m sure you’ll still find a sympathetic ear at The Green Guide.

  7. Jack says:

    “You are right, if we get the show a day or behing the UK, we don’t bother to download it … problem solved …”

    My comment is….unless you want it in HD as it’s meant to be viewed.

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