Programmer’s Wrap 2013: ABC1

The jewel in ABC1's crown for 2013 is a string of local Drama projects, as Channel Controller Brendan Dahill explains.

4mwarBrendan Dahill is rightly proud of ABC’s Drama slate. After years of neglect and lack of funding it is now arguably the jewel in the broadcaster’s crown.

As Channel Controller, Dahill has kicked off a mammoth Drama slate with the first locally-produced drama for 2013, The Doctor Blake Mysteries. On Friday last week the audience responded by making it the #1 show on the box.

Doctor Blake will deliver in spades for the people who loved Miss Fisher this time last year. It’s 1950s with Craig McLachlan playing Lucien Blake, who is a slightly damaged, intriguing, complex character who’s in the mould of a 1950s Quincy. He’s inquisitive, curious, always asking questions and never letting things lie. It’s CSI 1950s style,” he explains.

“It has a complicated layer that Bones has, between Craig McLachlan and Nadine Garner. There’s a bit of an attraction there and they like and hate each other in equal spades and can’t quite make their minds up.

“I was always pretty convinced in having Friday night murder mysteries but that one of the things that was missing in our armoury was having our own.”

Also coming this year is The Time of Our Lives starring Claudia Karvan, Justine Clarke, Shane Jacobson, William McInnes and Stephen Curry.

Time of our Lives is us getting back into contemporary relationship drama. We haven’t had one of those on the ABC for a long time and we knew it was one of those things missing from our slate of drama. We had The Slap and before that Bed of Roses but we didn’t really have a lot of other experience in that area,” says Dahill.

“(Writer / Producers) Amanda Higgs and Judi McCrossin have done a great job. The cast is to die for and the family relationships are complex and dynamic. They’re sweet and sour and they tick all the boxes for audiences who loved Tangle, Love My Way and Offspring.

“The pivotal point of the first episode is Chai Li, who is the Vietnamese-adopted daughter, who has a wedding which is the catalyst for the series. Australia are going to love Shane Jacobson and his wife, played by Justine Clarke. They have that enduring appeal, I think, that the Rafters have.

“Some of the other relationships have slightly darker elements.”

Dahill admits he is still deciding on when to launch the series, conscious of giving the series a premium timeslot.

“I don’t want Time of our Lives and House Husbands having oxygen at the same time because I think it makes both shows weaker. I’m hoping that House Husbands is going early on Nine so that we’ll be kind of middle of the year.

“Once Seven, Nine and TEN declare their hand I’ll have a better idea. I know where I want to play it but I don’t want to send it out to die somewhere or get battered.”

He hints at more Dramas on Sunday nights, which worked well for the broadcaster late last year.

“One of the things people have said is ‘Why don’t ABC play more of their Drama series on a Sunday night?’ So that’s one of the options we’re musing on.

Time of our Lives feels like a relevant, contemporary, resonant Australian series and I’d like to put it front and centre in the schedule and be proud of it.”

Paper Giants: Magazine Wars follows on from the huge success of Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo. It looks at the print war between magazine editors Dulcie Boling (Rachel Griffiths) and Nene King (Mandy McElhinney) and sees Rob Carlton reprise his role as Kerry Packer.

“In terms of the rushes that I’ve seen and the script that I’ve read Magazine Wars delivers. The audience who loved Paper Giants are going to love it,” he insists.

“Mandy is such a superstar right now. Who’d have thought an AAMI ad could make you this popular?

“Out of last year I think her and Patrick Brammall are two of the people who really popped. Patrick Brammall’s performance in A Moody Christmas was just sensational. It was the best Australian sitcom since Kath and Kim.”

Serangoon Road, a joint production with HBO, with Don Hany and Joan Chen is described as a fast-paced detective drama series set against the exotic, tumultuous backdrop of 1960s Singapore.

“Serangoon Road takes us into brand new territory. It’s great to be working with HBO and MDA in Singapore. It brings a completely fresh look onto Australian screens.  Don Hany in the lead role is amazing and then you add Peter Andrikidis as set-up director, with the exotic background in Singapore…. it brings it to life and the rushes look absolutely sensational.”

It is expected after mid-year.

Other Dramas include the Cliffy telemovie, Crownies spin-off Janet King, indigenous drama The Gods of Wheat Street, the Carlotta telemovie, The Broken Shore telemovie, and a second series of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. ABC has also approved another series of Redfern Now tipped for 2014.

“I think when you look across our slate, nobody is doing the breadth of Drama, the diversity of Drama that we’re doing in terms of the ethnic representation or the regional representation on screen.  We really are trying to get to everywhere in Australia and show all of Australia, and now into the Asia-Pacific region with Serangoon Road,” Dahill says.

“People are going to love or hate shows on an individual basis but I honestly think when you look across the piece with Gods of Wheat Street, Doctor Blake, Time of our Lives, it would be impossible to pigeon-hole our Drama.

‘It’s also in our Charter we have to make niche and popular programmes and Miss Fisher is at the popular end of what we do. I don’t think it was a risk at all. I think it was an absolute slam dunk, but that’s how we balance it out with Redfern Now and Gods of Wheat Street.

“To carry on doing new things I’m facing the decision of not renewing successful shows. Because I can’t just carry on recommissioning shows that work. I’ve got to be doing new things.”

With so many new Dramas, can we be assured of seeing all the content in this year, or is there a chance some will be held-over for 2014?

“They are all currently slated to deliver this year. Some if they have any delays in production won’t make it into this year, because it’s quite tight. There are a couple and you’re never quite sure which ones may encounter delays. Some of them may not make it to air in 2013,” he concedes.

Broken Shore and Carlotta may struggle to make it to air this year.”

Indeed there are no guarantees in television. Last year Randling did not live up to expectations. New comedy and entertainment shows begin on Wednesday nights this week with Shock Horror Aunty.

Shock Horror Aunty is designed to remind people how many risks we take. I think people forget how provocative and innovative the ABC has been at times,” he explains.

“I don’t think it hurts to remind people we flirt and court with controversy quite a lot.”

Adam Zwar’s Agony series returns in a new format, The Agony of Life.

“The juxtaposition of the men and the women makes it richer and more complicated, when you have Venus and Mars together rather than separated. Agony of Life is obviously our next iteration of what I hope is a long-running ABC franchise exploring modern relationships and modern Australian life through the prism of our funniest people.”

Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell will switch to Wednesdays latr this month with 12 new episodes.

“It was a massive surprise when I put it on Fridays last year but moving to Wednesdays instead of staying on Fridays is more conventional,” he says.

“I was delighted with the first series. It evolved quite a lot over its run last time, in terms of them finding their feet with what worked as a production team and cast and crew.

“Episode one versus episode twelve of the first series showed quite a lot of growth and it will continue to evolve. But Shaun Micallef’s slightly eclectic view of the world is still the essence of the show. It’s still the show that Shaun and I talked about back in the day when I wanted him to come back to the ABC.”


New panel show Tractor Monkeys hosted by Merrick Watts will open up the ABC video vaults, with Dave O’Neill and Monty Diamond as team captains.

“It’s retro TV, trawling back through the history of Australian TV and Australia’s history and finding the wonderful and bizarre to talk about. Merrick Watts is the host and we hope has that charisma that Adam (Hills) had and audiences will flock to it.”

Despite initial plans to be produced in Melbourne, the show is now filmed in Sydney.

“It came down to studio and talent availability. It was more pragmatic to make it in Sydney,” he says.

Adam Hills: The Last Leg from Channel 4 in the UK begins this Wednesday.

“When he has finished in the UK he’ll be back for another run of Adam Hills Tonight.

The show undergoes a title change from Adam Hills in Gordon Street Tonight.

Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton are moving nights to Tuesdays.

At the Movies is one show I was keen to grow the franchise rather than just manage it. Margaret and David, as we saw with their 25th Anniversary when they went up to 750,000, potentially have a massive audience,” Dahill explains.

“Tuesday night at 9:30 creates an Arts destination. So we’re pairing At the Movies and Artscape. Sometimes I don’t think we get enough credit for the Arts that we do and maybe that’s been my fault because it feels like it’s been protected or in certain spots and that’s it. So we’ve gone for an Arts hour at Tuesday nights at 9:30 – 10:30.

Jennifer Byrne’s The Book Club series (also retitled) will also share the Artscape timeslot each month.

Poh Ling Yeow is off-screen for the time being, concentrating on her Art instead of TV shows.

“We continue to talk to her and when she’s ready, we’re ready,” he insists.

Thus far there are no key changes to News and Current Affairs with ABC’s successful Monday line-up back as of tonight.

“Monday nights will stay with our established line-up. The only change to our News and Current Affairs offering is our 5:30 News,” he says.

The Early Edition news begins today, produced from WA.

Next week ABC1 premieres a follow-up to the documentary series Making Australia Happy

Making Couples Happy is a 4 part series that Dahill described as compelling viewing.

“It’s relationship therapy. Australia is on the cusp of a relationship crisis. More couples than ever are getting divorced than ever before. We’ve found a bunch of couples whose relationships are at a pivotal point who are happy to be filmed,” he says.

“I learned a lot out of it. Apparently if you’re not saying 5 nice things about your partner then your relationship is in trouble.

“It’s addictive viewing once you start watching it. The couples are compelling and it’s real with real jeopardy involved for these people in terms of how many of them are trying to save their relationships and how many are looking for ‘exit counselling.’”

ABC1 still has too many titles and genres on its 2013 schedule to discuss here. But two of the most anticipated entertainment shows are the return of Spicks and Specks and a new offering from Chris Lilley.

Dahill remains tight-lipped on both. Spicks and Specks, a format owned by the ABC, will  feature a completely new cast. With such big shows to fill, Dahill is giving nothing away.

Of Chris Lilley, he defends the performance of Angry Boys without hinting at its successor.

“When you look at the post-analysis on Angry Boys half the audience wasn’t on ABC1 but on iview or the Angry Boys website. It broke the mould in terms of how people engage with the show.  I’ve heard people say that Angry Boys was disappointing mainly because of the ratings. But from our perspective the overnights are no longer relevant for some shows,” he maintains.

“I’m really keen to keep working with Chris because I think he is an outstanding Australian talent. Any idea he has gets a really good hearing from me.

“Whatever Chris wants to make we will help him cultivate and to make.”

16 Responses

  1. @ Victor I always enjoy your assessment of the ABC and I agree – the drama slate is old-fashioned and risk-averse as Brendan actually states. The Friday night slot occupied by “comfy as old slippers” series where 75% of the audience is 55+ is not building an ABC drama audience for the future. No wonder he cannot programme it on Sunday night – it’s way too bland. I really hope the new Director of Television is capable of inspiring the genre heads to become trailblazers in their fields, and not so safe in their choices.

  2. I’ll admit I’m interested in many of the shows mentioned. The other thing I appreciate is they often repeat things to give people a chance to watch them that couldn’t the first showing. The only major problem I have is the pointless random pop-ups and mutilating the end credits during prime time as it makes me want to avoid the ABC. Especially the next show.

    As for the criticism of the white people in the shows and the lack of diversity. There was this little thing called the White Australia Policy. It was the first Act of the Federal Parliament. So in the past unless you showed up before Federation it was a largely white population in the past. Including the 1920s and 1950s. Even though they let some Europeans in after WWII. So it is accurate to the times. So the criticism should be of the past. Because it is representing it as it was. Especially country towns. Sometimes the mining towns had the non-whites chased out of town. Including by riots and/or burning down houses. The SBS documentary about the history of mining mentioned this. As well as the documentary about the White Australia Policy though I had heard of it elsewhere.

  3. I had to laugh at this puff piece from the ABC’s programmer. The fact is the ABC looks even more white bread than it did 20 years ago. Its dramas are almost exclusively dominated by Anglo/Irish leading men/women with “ethnic” Australian actors playing guest or support roles.Led by such dramas as Phyrnne Fisher, a poor imitation of a UK period drama there is nothing different being done here. Serangoon Road is welcome but I suspect we’re going to see another cliched detective drama just reset in Singapore. Frankly there is little here that really reflects modern, multicultural Australia nor in fact any rural drama. One area where inroads have been made is with indigenous drama and the ABC deserves some praise for this. Otherwise it is ABC Lite, neither good or adventurous enough.

  4. Congrats. to Mr. Dahill for thinking of the show and where it will shine best…and not as a weapon against another channel….shame the commercial channels do not have the same respect for their shows….they could learn a lesson here……
    I am looking forward to most things mentioned…although Tractor Monkey does not move me….

  5. Lot of things to look fwd to there. I agree that hopefully both Lilley and the ABC have learnt from the Angry Boys experience. If half of its audience is watching it on-line it’s because not many are watching it on TV, not the other way around.

    It makes sense not to schedule similar programs at the same time as all you do is reduce the audiences for both. That’s smart not defensive.

  6. @pertinax

    The ABC does not have more money then the commercial networks. It only has a budget of $1bn of which 27% has to be spent on radio.

    The big commercials like 7 and 9 have a few billion and no radion services, and foxtel has even more money.

  7. Apart from Artscape and The Book Club there is nothing I wouldn’t watch in this list.

    My one disappointment is that The Straits didn’t get enough audience for a second outing.

    Good to see the Crownies spin-off coming for 2013. I hope it works.

  8. “Whatever Chris [Lilley] wants to make we will help him cultivate and to make”
    The problem with angry boys’ ratings wasn’t where people was watching, it’s that it wasn’t insightful nor funny. He is a major talent, but you can’t just let him run around creating whatever he wants. Hopefully angry boys has given Chris a wake-up call.

    1. I agree AB was disappointing in its content. Hopefully ABC has learned that such shows should all be sending rushes through while in production and not afforded the benefit of keeping it all under wraps until delivery, no matter who you are.

  9. I think ABC has a good collection of shows this year. Slotting Aussie drama in the best time slot I think is imperative to launching a show successfully. Waiting to see the commercial networks allows this and comparing to commercial or Pay TV dramas gives the viewer less familiar with ABC or a new title an idea of what to expect!
    I am interested in much of what is on offer!

  10. Sounds rather defensive. They can’t refer to to their own shows except for how they are like other commercial shows. There programming also seems to be determined by when the commercial networks have their shows on.

    Strange given that the ABC has far more money than the commercial networks these days.

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