The Lowdown on tabloid inspiration

Local scribes, you can relax.

Adam Zwar finally opens up on the inspiration for his character as entertainment reporter Alex Burchill in ABC’s Lowdown.

Despite having worked as a journo at the Sunday Herald Sun and basing the first season on his own experiences, Zwar insists the tabloid character isn’t anybody local. It’s CNN presenter and former UK editor Piers Morgan.

“Whatever Alex does, karma repays him three times as much. But you don’t really get that with Piers Morgan. He’s kind of ‘This is what I’ve done and you can all live with it,’ Zwar explains.

With that in mind, so begins season two of the ABC comedy.

Since the first series in 2010, much has changed in the newspaper industry, not the least of which is the Murdoch scandal.

“We already had a hacking episode in there but we just needed to refine the language that was used and elevate it a bit more. The reality caught up with the comedy so we had to deal with a few more twists,” says Zwar.

“You can just read the paper every day and there’s another episode you can do. So we have a celebrity chef,  a recalcitrant director making a Ned Kelly film, a gay AFL footballer who contemplates coming out while he’s playing football, and a woman marrying a cat.

“Last season Amanda (Brotchie, director) and I, who were both journalists although I came from a tabloid world, concentrated on some of the real life things that had happened to me. But now we’re not worrying about that and it’s quite liberating.”

Despite the shameless plotlines, Zwar insists the show remains “an affectionate look at journalism.”

“The onus is on the media to be entertaining. Things like hacking don’t happen in a vacuum and people obviously want to read this stuff. Although with the hacking not happening in Australia I don’t think there’s a public thirst for salacious journalism. When I was working at the Sunday Herald Sun if you did write anything salacious you would get complaints. So it’s not all a one-way street and there are reasons why people go to dire, immoral lengths for a story.

“Alex still doesn’t have a girlfriend and things and he still has problems with Rita. He shouldn’t change too much in TV land.

“I reckon we had more fun writing this, because we knew the actors who would play the characters.”

When the series first aired in 2010 it had relentless competition: The Pacific, Hey Hey it’s Saturday and Masterchef. Zwar concedes it was hard to be heard.

“It was background noise,” he admits.

“It had a quiet response on ABC1 but then when it ran on ABC2, even though it’s a smaller audience, people just came out and said ‘We love it!’

“Then we sold it to Emirates and Qantas and you wouldn’t believe how many people have been ringing us up from watching it on planes.

“I also think the series got better as it went along. So the feedback I’ve been getting is that it’s grown.”

Zwar, who found much success with Wilfred, collaborates with real-life partner Amanda Brotchie and producer Nicole Minchin. Their company High Wire has also produced Twentysomething for ABC.

“It’s interesting when people say it’s ‘Adam Zwar’s Lowdown.’ Amanda is really the heart and soul of the show. She’s co-writer, director, co-creator and she’s also in it. I really think her personality comes through in the show and I feel I’m in safe hands,” he says.

“Jason (Gann) was a very funny guy and he always made me laugh and Amanda is a very funny girl with an encyclopedic knowledge of comedy and jokes.

“You have to choose the people you work with very carefully.”

The trick is in not letting creative differences spill over into their personal life.

“We sort it all out in rehearsal, but once we’re shooting it’s Amanda’s show because she’s the director,” he says.

“It’s important that the actors are only hearing one voice. If I have an idea I’ll take her aside, but actors hearing from more than one voice is a nightmare for them.”

Appearing in the second season are Clayton Jacobson, Mike McLeish, Damien Richardson, Brett Tucker, Toby Truslove, Matthew Dyktynski, Leah Vandenberg, Antony Starr, Matt Preston, Craig MacLachlan, Jess Harris, Josh Lawson, Matt Day, Colin Lane, Kimberley Davies, and Geoffrey Rush as the show’s deadpan narrator.

Matching the deadpan delivery of Rush is a subversive comic tone, consciously avoiding broad gags.

“Network comedy in the States is either mockumentary or multicam. It’s very rare that you have a 30 Rock on a network that doesn’t have a laugh track or doesn’t have someone speaking to camera. So if you don’t have a laugh track you have to be careful with your gags.

“It’s probably best to sit off the gag sometimes and concentrate on the truth of the story and the character. Audiences start to get used to it and it’s all ok,” Zwar insists.

“We’re a narrative-based show so the story and characters come first.”

Lowdown returns 9:30pm Thursdays on ABC1.

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