Programmer’s Wrap: ABC1

Amongst a plethora of new local content for 2014 is the show that left Brendan Dahill 'crying like a baby.'

2014-01-30_2345Let’s face it, ABC1 has so much content announced for 2014, that it’s too vast to encapsulate in one interview -and that’s without even venturing near ABC2, ABC3 and ABC News 24.

For Channel Controller Brendan Dahill, he views his slate as returning favourites, exciting new titles and international gems.

As the national broadcaster, Australian content drives his schedule.

This Sunday night Don Hany stars in the Peter Temple telemovie The Broken Shore and it signals a big week of premieres.

“Don Hany’s done an amazing job, Claudia Karvan’s brilliant, Dan Wyllie is amazing. It’s broody, atmospheric and starry. It’s a great way to kick off our year, it just announces that we’re back,” he says.

“It’s relatively uncompromising in the way it tackles its subject, but I think it does it so carefully that whilst it goes to really dark places, you go with it.”

Wednesday night launches the revived Spicks and Specks. After 7 years it’s a big ask to refresh the brand.

“I never wanted Spicks and Specks to go away, I was always going to bring it back. It was just a question of when and with who. We spent a long time casting this. A long time,” he insists.

“But I think they do a bloody amazing job on reinventing those roles. Within the panel format it’s almost impossible to be brand new. Every variation of those three has been tried, so we’ve just gone with the 3 best people.”


The new team comprises Josh Earl, Adam Richard and Ella Hooper, and most significantly, key creatives from the former series behind the scenes.

“Josh Earl is a star, an absolute superstar waiting to happen,” Dahill declares.

“We ran through the list of where else we could go with this, other shows that have re-booted themselves, whether they worked, whether there was any conventional wisdom around a 2.0 version of a show and what works.

“But you roll the dice. There’s always a chance the greater public may not like them.

“Ella as a team captain was probably one of the world’s easiest casting decisions. She was the first one spotted and we’ve been sitting on her for nearly a year waiting to announce her in that role. Josh and Adam, there were a number of contenders for those roles but as we got further into the Piloting process they just shone brighter and brighter.”

Dahill’s expectations “aren’t that this will pick up where Spicks left off” but he hopes it will leverage other ABC1 content, such as a return by The Moodys immediately afterwards. The show is also in development for a US adaptation.

“Season two of The Moodys is brilliant, it comes out with all guns blazing. (Head of Comedy) Rick Kalowski, who has been at it for a while now, is quite apt when he says ‘This is world class comedy,'” he says.

“The difference between Australian and American comedy is we don’t have a gag counter that we try and hit every single episode. We want the comedy to emerge from the situations, not the situations from the comedy. We try and make sure our characters are really well-rounded and have a degree of sophistication, which means you immerse yourself in them more and find more humour in it. So when you get the laughs, they’re bigger.”

Next Friday, The Doctor Blake Mysteries returns for more period crimes in Ballarat, with Craig McLachlan and Nadine Garner.

“S1 was great, our #1 drama in 2013 and Doctor Blake does exactly what it says on the tin. He comes back and in the last episode of S1 we allude to him being able to trace his wife and daughter who went missing in Singapore. In S2 we pick him up after he’s come back. He’s always been a kind of wounded, complex character but you understand more (of it) because of the journey that he’s been on. It unfolds over a few episodes,” Dahill explains.

“Craig McLachlan has done such a good job in bringing that character to life.

“At the time he probably was a left field candidate, thinking he might be too young. But he’s done an amazing job at making the role his own.”

Continuing 8 days of premiere  Drama, is the anticipated, third season of Rake on February 9th.

Rake is the perfect ABC drama. It’s back for its third series and I think it gets better every year. Cleaver got his come-uppance at the end of S2 and it picks up at S3 exactly where we left off. It’s Cleaver trying to manufacture his way out of another predicament he’s gotten himself into,” he notes.

“Richard’s performance, I think, gets better every single time. And I think there will be a degree of hype in the world generally about Rake with the American series.”

Get ready for more stars in supporting and cameo roles.

“Cate Blanchett in it is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.”

It’s unprecedented for ABC to unleash so many premium local titles at once. Is ABC overloading us with too much sugar too soon?

“We had a long debate about ‘What is the right way to start the year?’ and we’ve just gone for shock and awe. We’ve decided, actually, we’ve got a ton of good stuff and we could stagger it or we could go ‘You know what? We’re back!’” he declares.

“You’d be hard pushed to pick your favourite children amongst that lot. There really is something for everyone there across every genre.”


New 2014 dramas don’t end there. Get ready for Parer’s War with Matthew LeNevez, Indigenous drama Gods of Wheat Street, Old School with Bryan Brown and Sam Neill in the back half of the year along with Jack Irish. Jessica Marais stars as Carlotta, around the middle of the year.

“Jessica Marais is sensational. It’s a great Australian story and it looks beautiful. It’s just a different take on a famous Australian that probably no other broadcaster would do,” says Dahill.

“I hope people go along for the ride. It’s kind of An Englishman in New York, Australian-style.”

Crownies spin-off Janet King, described as “much more suspenseful,” is due in the middle of the year.

“The universe is still split on whether I am mental or not in doing Janet King,” he concedes.

“There were lots of things that worked and a few things we got wrong. Very often in TV you get to learn the lessons and never the opportunity to put them to the test.”

With Marta Dusseldorp’s broad success in A Place to Call Home, ABC is hopeful Janet King can benefit. But can we avoid the show clashing with Seven’s?

“We don’t want those two shows in the same space at the same time and I’m trying my hardest to make sure that happens,” Dahill agrees.

“We always declare our hand first, so it will be up to somebody else whether they end up playing against each other.

“We kind of publish into a vacuum because you’re never quite sure what you’re going to come up against.”

Also returning is The Time of Our Lives, with AACTA Award winner Claudia Karvan.

“In my time here, everyone has talked about ‘Where is the ABC’s Love My Way?’ well there it is. It’s about 30 and 40-something dilemmas that middle Australia are talking about incessantly and I think it did a really good job at holding a mirror up and talking about the issues that you hear at every sporting event, school gate and café in Australia,” he says.

“In a heightened way I think it reflects what modern Australia is like. The way some of the characters grew and emerged across S1 gives them a really good trajectory into S2.

“It’s a slightly shorter run than last year which means they can focus a bit more and it will probably be a little less soapie than S1. I know there was some criticism S1 felt a little bit soapie. This year it will be very much issues and character driven.”


ABC will screen ANZAC Girls this year, earlier than the official 100th anniversary commemorations in 2015.

ANZAC Girls is an important show that leads of the commemorations of the centenary of World War 1.  We are also mindful of giving it it’s own oxygen rather than fighting for attention with both Nine and Foxtel’s Gallipoli shows,” he suggests.

“It has an element of Call the Midwife about it because you’re looking at it knowing these are real stories.

“There’s a poignancy about ANZAC Girls that is quite resonant. I’ve worked in TV a long time so you tend to get a bit cynical, but I actually bawled my eyes out at these episodes. I cried like a baby. It’s really emotional and moving.”

But it is a contemporary drama series with Dan Spielman and Ashley Zuckerman that has Dahill most excited.

“My sleeper for the year is The Code. I think it will be brilliant,” he contends.

“I watched the first episode yesterday and it’s a political thriller in the State of Play mould. An Australian, suspenseful political thriller and it’s visually amazing. I think a couple of actors will become massive stars as a result of it.

“The guys who play the brothers are just brilliant. Ashley plays the autistic brother who is an internet hacker and the performance between the two of them is just amazing. There is a build about the suspense through the episodes.

“I loved the original House of Cards and the original Edge of Darkness. I wanted something that could join that pantheon of great political thrillers and I think we’ve got a hit on our hands with this one.”

The Code is also the first TV drama allowed to film at Parliament House, which adds to its political authenticity.

“It trawls from Canberra to metro and the outback. There are some beautiful, quintessentially –but not archetypal- back scenes with the red and the blue. Because a lot of it is about computer hacking they’ve brought that to life in a really amazingly rich and visual way, rather than just staring at a computer screen. It’s almost filmic in the way they’ve pulled it together.”

Dahill says with iView now at over 20 million views a month, overnight ratings are not the sole measure of a show’s success and has prompted a generous move this year.

“We will do a House of Cards and make one of our massive series available to binge on iView.”

However there is still no decision on the return of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

In addition to ABC1’s Dramas there’s plenty of Comedy coming too, including the latest from Chris Lilley, Jonah From Tonga, but he’s keeping silent on the finer details.

“I think everyone is aware of the character and he goes on a particular journey. I think I’d be giving too much away by talking about it in any more detail,” he suggests.

“Where Ja’mie had a kind of plotline that ran through the series, similarly there’s a plotline that runs through and there are highs and lows along the way. It’s kind of dark and hilarious at the same time.”

Yet he reveals nothing about The Chaser’s We’ll Have To Leave It There. Maybe they haven’t told him what’s in it yet.

“Breakout hit” Upper Middle Bogan is also returning.

“What a sensational debut. There are a couple of characters I think who are iconic and will go on to join the Australian comedy pantheon. And we all know with Comedy they only get better the longer they run,” says Dahill.

“I was absolutely thrilled the way UMB and It’s a Date worked. There were some stand-out performances  in It’s a Date too. All things being equal, both shows will be back.”

Dahill says It’s a Date was his biggest commissioning gamble in 2013.

“It didn’t conform to conventional wisdom. There were no recurring characters, there were two plays within each half-hour episode, so 16 performances overall. Trying to cast with that many cameos, Pete Helliar associated with that many writers, it was probably the biggest risk we took in Comedy, up there with Elegant Gentleman’s Guide.”


The Working Dog team have a satirical comedy about government-sponsored schemes.

Utopia will be sophisticated, witty and if you’re looking for reference points think about The Games and The Hollowmen. It will be an intelligent comedy, it’s not just going to hit you in the face. I’m really looking forward to it but all I’ve seen so far is scripts.”

It will be full of “stuff like Barangaroo or how infrastructure projects don’t get up in various states. It’s a comedy for our times about the growth of local government.”

There’s more comedy from Adam Zwar, Judith Lucy and Shaun Micallef.

“There will be a double dose of Mad as Hell in 2014,” he reveals. You heard it here first.

Gruen Planet resumes in the second half of the year.

Amongst the Factual content is Kids on Speed, which will air soon.

Kids on Speed is about kids with ADHD and how we deal, or fail to deal, with them. It’s a 3 part series which is part observational, part campaigning. I’ve watched all of it and I think it is amazing as an agenda-setting, campaigning, conversation-starter in the best tradition of factual television,” he tips.

“It’s significantly meaningful in that it could change the way people deal with kids with attention defecit.”

John Doyle and Tim Flannery return in Two Men in China.

“It’s important to our economic future and our political future that we understand China,” he explains.

“It’s a mission of discovery to learn what it’s like in modern China and hold a contemporary Australian mirror to ourselves and up to China, to see if we really understand our closest economic partner.”

The team behind Kakadu are making Life on the Reef set to air later in 2014, and there’s more natural history from David Attenborough.

“Towards the start of the year we have a stable of Attenborough shows that deliver as big scale, ambitious factuals. It’s Attenborough living where he’s meant to live, on the ABC,” he asserts.

“He’s only pretending to be on the other two channels. All of them should be on the ABC.  They’re just pretending they’ve got Attenborough.

“It’s only an Attenborough show where he’s in vision. The ones he’s just voicing are just a super-annuation slush fund.”

Amongst a raft of international titles are Silk, Doctor Who, Adam Hills: The Last Leg, Death in Paradise, Doc Martin, and Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond.

ABC1 also has a wealth of news, current affairs, arts and entertainment titles, but that’s for another time.

Really -where would we be without ABC?

15 Responses

  1. Crownies and Serangoon Road must have sounded awesome too in the publicity blurb. We know how that turned out.

    Beneath all the hype its the same old, same old folk. I am a die hard ABC watcher but in the long term the ABC’s problem is not Tony Abbott or the lack of a young demographic. It is the lack of diversity in programming. And I only had to google Brendan Dahill to predict this slate.

    Right now the ABC is dithering between its old style programming which has served its purpose and trying to do something new – with the same old folk. It can’t even register that young women are a significant demographic and yes they watch Miss Fisher. Which with its ratings and the fact that it is a show with international appeal – unlike Rake it did not need to be remade for a US audience!! And it has more fan sites than any ABC show – should have been a no-brainer for the channel…

  2. The ABC use of the HD channel is really misplaced take the excellent series Kakadu in HD that would have been spectacular and if Attenborough is going to be shown,again it needs the HD format to do it justice like his Blu-Ray dvd’s

  3. So much great content and that’s only the main channel. Yet JimboJones again manages to find something to nitpick about Aus comedy. We get it, you’re not impressed. Those shows didn’t do much for me either but I don’t bang on about it.

    “They’re just pretending they’ve got Attenborough.” That’s the quote right there.

  4. There was a time years ago when I never watched ABC, and thought it was boring with the shows my parents watched. If I was lucky, there would be 1 show I’d watch all year. But the last few years there has been heaps of great shows on there. A great line up of shows for this year, just hope they aren’t up against other shows on the other channels. I can only tape so many shows each night and something usually has to give.

  5. The ABC gets about $1b p.a. plus they got a lot of one off payments on top of that in the last few years. That is a lot of shoestring.

    Commercial TV makes plenty of drama (they are forced to but it is also what profitable now) well know) that rates well. In the past the ABC relied on BBC and ITV content and made less drama than commercial networks. It is good that that has changed.

    The thing the ABC does that commercial networks don’t is lcoal comedies.

    A Place To Call Home will be on Sunday nights in Winter after DA. If the ABC wants to avoid the clash they can, announcing you schedule in advance and then complaining that the commercial networks out maneuvered you is a lame excuse.

  6. Rick Kowalski – “We want the comedy to emerge from the situations, not the situations from the comedy. We try and make sure our characters are really well-rounded and have a degree of sophistication, which means you immerse yourself in them more and find more humour in it. So when you get the laughs, they’re bigger.”

    The problem is that we’re not particularly good at those things. Someone please remind me – where are the well-rounded comedic characters of which he speaks? And the big laughs?

  7. Well said, Ronnie. What an incredibly impressive line up of drama, comedy, variety, news and factual programming.

    The ABC is an amazing cultural asset the whole country should be proud of. Be ready to fight to protect it – Abbott has his instructions from Rupert and it’s game on.

  8. @shazz – I imagine that the ABC might need some more time for the next series of Miss Fisher as (I think) they’ve almost exhausted the books to base the episodes on.
    Any new series is probably going to need to be written from scratch. Fingers crossed that it does return though.

  9. Impressive line up, for sure.

    And that’s even before we look at ABC2 which, to my mind at least, is the best digi-channel. Their adult orientated content after 7pm is exemplary, and certainly better than 72.

    I mean, recently we have had Spicks and Specks (reruns, yes) stripped at 7, Doctor Who new series stripped at 7.30 along with Louis Theroux (what’s not to love there?)
    We get Good Game, which isn’t my thing, but interesting. Worst Prisons, Arrested Development, Bad Education…need I go on?

  10. Yay!
    What a fantastic Line up! – The Pollies need to take note that the ABC continue to produce loads of fantastic work on a Shoestring!

    I recon Missi Fish will be back, but not till the 2015 shows are announced.

  11. Given the coalition’s constant pressure on the ABC – from examining their “efficiencies” to overt pressure on editorial, backed up by the right wing, rabid self-interest of News Corp – never was there a better time for the ABC to be presenting such a strong slate of content – particularly drama. The deep, emotional connections the audience make to these quintessentially Australian stories are fundamental to the ABC’s role as the national broadcaster.

  12. Wow I am impressed. There is so much content coming from the ABC this year. When will I find the time to watch it all. Out of all the new shows The Code looks to be the most interesting to me.
    I love the fact that the people behind Kakadu are making another factual series, this is going to be really good.
    I can’t understand how the ABC manages to make this much TV when the commercial networks make so much less in comparison.

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