ABC’s newest comedy series Outland very nearly didn’t happen at all, according to star and co-creator Adam Richard (pictured, far right).
The comedy about a gay science fiction club was originally rejected when Richard pitched it with co-writer John Richards. But the pair got resourceful and turned their luck around.
“We took the pitch to the ABC originally but they said ‘Oooh no.’ So then we made an extremely low-budget pilot which toured the gay and lesbian film festivals,” he says.
“And then they said ‘Oh, that’s good we like that!’”
The project was then developed into a series under producer Laura Waters of Princess Pictures (Angry Boys, Summer Heights High, We Can Be Heroes, John Safran’s Race Relations).
Playing the colourful characters who meet to discuss their favourite sci-fi episodes and their own love lives are Toby Truslove, Paul Ireland, Christine Anu, Ben Gerrard and Richard. Each episode takes place in the home of one of the characters, but there’s more relationship sagas than debates about the best sequel to Star Trek.
Richard met Richards (with the extra ‘S’) through the gay media and formed a friendship, both eventually deciding to create a joint project. The pair found they had different strengths for storytelling.
“We brainstormed some ideas, many of which were too convoluted and complicated to even think about and then after a while I said ‘I don’t know, what about a gay science fiction club?’” he says.
“John would write a draft and say ‘Adam can you pop something (funny) in here?’ But I’m a character nut. I love the internal and the history of characters, which you never see on a page. One of things I learned when I went to writing school was that characters are like an iceberg and you only see the tip, but there’s a lot of it underwater we don’t see, but it all needs to be there.”
Richard even attended one of the meetings of a Melbourne gay sci-fi club. He admits he didn’t last too long.
“I went to one of their meetings as you do when you’re single, to try and meet people. I’d met the 8 people who go to (gay pub) The Peel. It seems very full in there but there’s only ever 8 single people!” he jokes.
“I went back but they already had an overbearing, overweight person so they didn’t really need me.”
Other research included sporadic attendances at science-fiction conventions (he admits to being a fan of Doctor Who and Star Trek), but despite the fanatical devotees, it was always the gay fans he remembered.
“I don’t know what it is, but I think they’re always a little ‘extra-obsessive.’ They have to collect the full set of Doctor Who dollies. The gays, we get a little bit too excited about things sometimes, I think,” he says.
“So it was the old axiom of ‘write what you know.’ A lot of the research was ‘shit that had happened’. In episode two there’s a love triangle which was an actual thing that happened to me at my place of work. Someone I knew at work turned up with some guy that I’d been sleeping with and he had a boyfriend. So that turned into a hilarious episode of people walking around trying not to tell people that their boyfriend was a cheater.”
The characters in Outland may share their love of sci-fi and same-sex preferences, but they are also subsets of the gay community, from the boy-next-door Max (Truslove) to the more flamboyant (Richard, himself).
“There’s your twinky Gen-Y, your ballsy lesbian, your screaming poofter who tries to be the centre of attention the whole time, your leather daddy, but you don’t see those people on TV. They’re the people you see at the pub –or in porn,” he laughs.
“If you look at all the best sitcoms the main character is often the most normal person in the world and everyone else is crazy. In Seinfeld Jerry is dull in comparison to Elaine, George and Kramer. So to anchor down the extreme behaviour of everyone else, Max had to be the most normal person who ever lived. Apart from his collection of Doctor Who dollies.
“But they’re all closeted about being sci-fi fans. So they’re openly gay but closeted sci-fi fans.”
Now that the project is leaping beyond the gay festival circuit to a broader audience, is there a risk the show could be seen as controversial and even cause offence?
“Probably! We’re talking about 5 gay characters on television. We’re not allowed to get married in this country so I don’t see why we’re allowed to be on television, quite frankly!”
Outland premieres 9:30pm Wednesday on ABC1.