Brendan Dahill has been Channel Controller of ABC1 for around 18 months, but two weeks ago he was able to present his first full slate under his own steerage.
In the first of a two-part interview with TV Tonight, he shares his thoughts on some of the highlights for 2012.
Ironically, the launch took place on the night that Spicks and Specks departed, a show which has underscored the channel’s mid-week programming.
“It’s sad it’s going. I wouldn’t have chosen to end it just yet, but I completely understand and respect their decision to end it when they did, and hopefully we gave it the best possible send-off. I had a little tear in my eye when I was watching it on iView when they said ‘Goodbye Australia’ rather than ‘Goodnight Australia,'” he says.
“But I think we’ve put a lot of effort into what we think is going to keep the audience coming back to ABC1.”
Those two shows will be Adam Hills returning with In Gordon Street Tonight, followed by the return of Andrew Denton in a new word-based game show called Randling.
“I’m just thrilled that we’ve got him back. It’s a big moment for ABC1,” he says.
“Denton’s been in demand forever and nobody can talk him into anything he doesn’t want to do. I didn’t talk him into coming back on screen he talked himself into coming back on screen, because he was so passionate about that show.
“I’ll be completely honest, we did try to replace Spicks and Specks with a parlour game and we talked to a lot of talented producers.
“But we realised people were just going to compare them constantly and they would suffer because people love Spicks and Specks so much.
“So we needed to go for something a bit different.”
While the format and teams are still being kept under wraps, Dahill says the championship title will become an aspirational prize, representing intellect and wit.
“At the end of 2012 there will be a Randling champion. There are semi-finals and finals. It matters. The teams that are in it will want to win it,” he insists.
“With Qi you get to the end and you’re not quite sure who’s won and lost but at the end of Randling you’ll know who’s won.
“People are going to want to win it.”
Another coup was enticing Shaun Micallef to return in a news comedy format, a plan he hatched with Head of Arts and Entertainment, Amanda Duthie.
“It’s not very often you write down a plan and it happens,” he admits.
“We took him out to dinner and said ‘I’d love you to come and work for the ABC and this is what I want you to do’ and he said ‘Bugger me I was going to talk to you about more or less the same thing.’ It was a beautiful moment of serendipity. I couldn’t have planned it better if I tried.
“I went after Shaun. But he gets to pick and choose what he wants to do. He’s only working with the ABC because our interests and his interests coincide. I’m not going to pretend I talked him into anything he didn’t want to do.”
Also coming are Myf Warhurst’s Nice, Photo Finish, Agony Aunts, Agony Uncles and Next Stop Hollywood.
Dramas include The Straits, Mabo, Jack Irish, Redfern Now, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and the return of Rake.
As previously reported Crownies is under consideration for a spin-off with more legal and less soap potentially for 2013, but there is another project in development.
“It has 30-somethings and 40-somethings, as a slice of modern life.”
This week Screen Australia revealed funding for Devil’s Dust, a drama about Bernie Banton’s fight for justice against James Hardie Industries.
In Comedy there is Outland, Woodley, Laid, Lowdown, Josh Thomas in Please Like Me plus This Christmas written and directed by Trent O’Donnell and Phil Lloyd (Review with Myles Barlow).
“It’s about an expat Aussie who comes home from London to spend Christmas with his family, but they’re effectively strangers. You follow the character over 6 successive Christmasses so you see how a family changes and evolves,” Dahill explains.
“There’s always a family row somewhere. One of your uncles always gets inappropriately drunk. It’s all the joy and horror of Christmas rolled out in front of you and we’re obviously going to play it at the end of the year.”
Dahill is keeping his options open for a return of one of ABC1’s most talked-about shows of 2011, At Home with Julia. He discussed the comedy’s performance with Quail TV, including whether it had any future.
“We all believe really strongly that there are legs left in there. But what was actually quite a gently comedy people got quite obsessed about other elements like the Australian flag and the scene in the office.
“What we want with our shows is impact, and At Home with Julia had impact. I was at MIPCOM in France and it was one of the picks of the market. Everyone was talking about it non-stop as At Home With Barack, At Home with David Cameron touted as spin-offs. So it had impact not just here but internationally. That’s what you want with ABC shows, you want shows that get people talking.
“In 2010 Gruen Nation, Yes We Canberra! and Q & A really saved a dull election and once there was a hung parliament they helped explain the consequences and decisions that were being made. Our satire shows are still doing that, explaining some of those issues to you in a digestible way.
“So I’m open-minded about At Home with Julia coming back in 2012 but obviously she needs to be in power first. If she’s not, it loses the engine and the relevance.”
Conversations will commence if there is no change to the PM when Parliament resumes in February.
“Would we do At Home with Tony….?” he grins cheekily.
ABC1 is also exploring a new series featuring Judith Lucy whose Spiritual Journey series was very well received. So far nothing is confirmed. But what of Chris Lilley after mixed reviews and disappointing ratings for Angry Boys?
“We’ve got on-going discussions with Chris and Laura (Waters, producer) about what we do next. I’m really proud of Angry Boys and I want to work with Chris again. The gestation period for a ‘Chris series’ is quite long,” Dahill explains.
“When he is ready to talk we’re ready to work with him.”
In Part 2 tomorrow, Dahill talks about ABC1’s Factual Slate, reflects on ABC’s demos and responds to criticism about shows wrapping too early in the calendar year.
“And there are a couple of other things that weren’t finalised in time for the launch, so there will be another couple of big announcements in the new year,” he adds.