ABC can’t get enough of local comedy

Funding cuts are no laughing matter but Head of Comedy Rick Kalowski says ABC is still the home of TV comedy.

2014-12-15_0003Take a look at the recent AACTA Award nominations and it’s abundantly obvious…. if it wasn’t for the ABC viewers would be starved of almost all Television Comedy.

All 5 nominees for Best Comedy aired on the ABC. Local scripted comedy is negligible at SBS and Seven (on 7mate only) while other broadcasters have a shameful recent track record.

But ABC’s Rick Kalowski is relishing his move as an independent producer to the broadcaster’s Head of Comedy, which he assumed in mid 2013, even in the face of funding cuts.

“The last few weeks have been quite distracting with all the things that have been going on. But most of the time it’s all of the good bits of being an independent producer and none of the bad bits,” he tells TV Tonight.

“The challenge before was being sucked into the vortex of one project at a time and it was very hard to juggle multiple projects. Now I get to be creatively involved with a bunch of projects.

“It’s a privilege to do Comedy at a place where the only limits are our budgets. We can’t get enough Comedy.”

ABC recently announced 4 key comedies for 2015 including Sammy J and Randy in Ricketts Lane and The Ex PM.

Also returning are Please Like Me and Utopia while Kalowski says more is on the way.

“There are things in development that we’re not quite in a position to announce yet,” he says.

“My feeling is there will probably be about 6-8 new things on next year.”

The Ex-PM with Shaun Micallef is tipped for early in the second half of 2015.

“It’s a great concept and the quality of the idea has really come along in the development process. The scripts are so funny. I think you’ll see a more humanistic side to Shaun’s comedy. It’s not just about a person struggling with relevance deprivation syndrome –which in and of itself is funny at a very high stakes level,” he explains.

“But there’s something about what happens to men when they get to the end of their careers, running around like whirling dervishes, convincing themselves they are doing it for their families or countries. They get to the end of their careers and they are faced with the question: Was it all worth it? Or to put it even more painfully: Have I Led a Worthwhile Life?

‘I think the show has the potential to open up the way people see Shaun as a comedian.”

Comedy initiative Fresh Blood is also leading to new Sketch shows.

“A couple of things we have selected for the second stage of that are Sketch and the idea is we will give 5 projects from the first stage a Pilot and 2 of those will be Sketch. I have at least one other Sketch project in development and the moment and of course the Indigenous dept has Black Comedy which has done pretty well.

“It’s certainly something we want to do more of. I think there will be a renaissance of Sketch at the ABC in the next 2-3 years.”

Word on ABC comedies has been spreading, with shows such as A Moody Christmas attracting US format rights and Please Like Me airing on US cable Pivot.

“I get emails all the time from agents about the format. It’s amazing how fast foreign territories are aware of our shows. There are managers and agents in the US who have worked out what time it is in Australia on a Friday morning when our ratings come out,” Kalowski continues.

“It’s so important to them to know these shows are performing in their home territory. They are right across everything we do.

“One of the challenges at the ABC is that we have an audience that skews relatively old compared to other networks. But (Upper Middle Bogan and It’s A Date) are doing 2 things for us: playing broadly and playing really well in younger demos –which at the ABC means under the age of 49.”

GristMill Productions, producers of Upper Middle Bogan are now focussed on a new kid’s series Little Lunch meaning UMB is on hold, at least temporarily.

“It’s physically impossible for them to turn around and do any more of UMB for us until at least early next year. Similarly with It’s a Date we need to look at how the series as a whole performs,” he explains.

“But there is also a conversation about the possibility about something coming out of It’s a Date as a possible spin-off. But it’s a conversation at a pretty embryonic stage and we haven’t agreed on anything yet.”

Meanwhile Princess Production’s other big name collaborator Chris Lilley is yet to announce his next move.

“I think Chris is laying low for a while and thinking about what he wants to do next. I don’t think he knows,” he says.

“But we’re in development with something else with Princess Pictures which has a female antagonist comedy, almost within a sort of ‘Julia Davis’ (Human Remains, Nighty Night) sphere.

“I love it, it’s from an all-female creative team.”

Kalowski, who previously produced At Home with Julia and Wednesday Night Fever, is also yet to determine the next partnership with Bondi Hipsters whose recent comedy Soul Mates screened on ABC2.

Developing new comedy-makers is central to his department, especially when there are so few opportunities for scripted comedy elsewhere.

“For me it’s not so much about what the project is but what is the voice of the person we want to work with,” he says.

“That’s really exciting, giving new people a go.”

9 Responses

  1. It’s also a euphamism for “I’m only going to work with who I want to work with.” Based on the shows RK has commissioned that have aired – and not the previous ones that actually rated well – he’ll kill ABC comedy.

    1. “New artist grant” is a slight rewording. Fresh Blood indicated it was seeking “the next generation of comedy producers and performers” so both would fall under that terminology. It was never about “must be virgin artists.” Also I’m not aware of Milsom having produced a TV production before, so the question is whether it is worth investing $10k to see what someone can come up with. If that leads to the birth of a new series, it would be money well spent. Overall Fresh Blood had a mix of new and some familiar faces, so it has to be a balancing act and one they need to justify, not me.

  2. I don’t agree @davidknox a majority of the Fresh Blood winners are well known through their popularity on Youtube. They took very popular Australian YT “celebs” and stole their views for stuff they could have done on their channel. look them up.

  3. It would be good if Rick concentrated on quality rather than quantity. With a few exceptions the problem with local comedy is that it is often conceptually flawed, very poorly crafted and not very clever. It’s A Date is a good example, not a bad idea but it really verges on the amateur despite some good actors. Utopia, a great team but not one of their best ideas and certainly should not be renewed. Shaun Micallef and the team at Upper Middle Bogan were a step above the rest this year with all three ingredients, great ideas, good craft and clever writing.

  4. ““For me it’s not so much about what the project is but what is the voice of the person we want to work with,” he says.”

    thats TV language for you better be known and well connected

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