Hungry Beast is back for its third season, shrugging off an ABC budget cut while maintaining the fire in the belly for uncovering stories that are ignored by the wider media.
When it recruited a team of 19 from over 1300 applicants the show was still to find its focus. Executive Producer Andrew Denton acknowledged the show would need time to find its own voice, reflected by a two-season order from the ABC.
With their learning curve behind them, Supervising Producer Andy Nehl says there have been subtle changes, tieing stories together with a theme.
“The show was very topical last year in terms of what was going on each week. This year we are still dealing with relevant issues but doing it around themes. So rather than it being issues that are completely unrelated they will be based around a specific theme,” he says.
“There will still be a diversity and a lateral take but they will have a thematic focus.”
The first episode looks at ‘Secrets.’
“It’s about privacy, the things we keep secret and issues related to that,” he says.
“One of the stories in the show asks what does privacy mean today? What do we keep secret? What do we make public? The whole social networking explosion has brought a lot of that into question. A lot of people are far more public about things that were previously secret.
“We’ve commissioned a nationwide survey on people’s attitudes to privacy online specifically with reference to social networking sites.
“Monique Schafter has also spoken to three people about a secret they all have, a pretty amazing secret, and it will be revealed on the show. As you’re watching it you might speculate as to what it is and when it’s revealed you might think, ‘Wow I can’t believe that.'”
While still remaining a show with attitude, it will also trim back some of its comedic elements this year.
“There will still be comedy throughout the series but we don’t have the same amount of money to spend on comedy. The ABC has a limited resources it can apply to TV shows,” Nehl explains.
“We won’t be doing big production numbers like we did with the Avatar 2 piece last year which had lots of different shoots and people in full-bodied make-up and costumes. It was a really big production number shot over several days and we were incredibly proud of it.”
The Avatar parody has collectively chalked up around 8 million views on YouTube but a diplomatic Nehl acknowledges the show has less money spread across more episodes, boosted from 10 to 12 episodes.
“Our budget is less than it was last time but we’re not complaining at all. We’re very happy the ABC has continued to support the show and managed to find the budget despite its own financial restrictions.”
The mix of stories on Hungry Beast includes stories that are investigative, humorous, surprising and deeply personal. The show’s agenda to produce stories sees it adding to the news landscape rather than merely commentating. In this sense it differs from another which launched around the same time, The 7PM Project.
“I applaud the 7PM Project, I think it’s a really good TV show, filling its brief and discussing important issues and bringing them to audiences who otherwise wouldn’t see them,” Nehl says.
“But Hungry Beast is a completely different area because it has a whole range of people going out and making original stories that they’re trying to bring to light, which the rest of the media isn’t telling.”
In its first season a “fake survey” fooled media outlets and became news itself. Last season’s highlights included a story illustrating that sexual abuse in the Catholic Church had reached back to the year 60AD and had been a continual problem since the church began.
“We did another on Australian submarines and their problem, and the extent to which Google is infiltrating people’s lives,” he says.
“So we’re very much about breaking stories, but they won’t be the stories of the regular news cycle, they’re the other stories that aren’t being told.”
The show resumes with its 4 presenters Dan Ilic, Kirsten Drysdale, Nicholas Hayden and Monique Schafter. They are joined by other presenters and producers all of whom play an active role in the content of the show. With the initial two season order now expired, the show isn’t subjected to directives from the ABC about its direction.
“This season the evolutionary process of moving towards themes came out of meetings with the team last year about developing the show,” he says.
“The impetus for doing that has come from within the team and not from above.”
In addition to Hungry Beast Zapruder’s Other Films has a major output this year including The Gruen Transfer, A Can of Worms, The Joy of Sets, Country Town Rescue plus the promised AFP.
“There’s a hum and a buzz around the place,” Nehl says.
“We’ve got cameras shooting in the office, there are shoots going on in Perth and Canberra. So we’re pretty flat out.”
Hungry Beast airs 9:30pm Wednesday on ABC1.