Programmer’s Wrap 2016: SBS

Exclusive: Heston in Melbourne, provocative docos & arthouse drama -SBS talks up 2016.


EXCLUSIVE: Interview with SBS Head of Network Programming Peter Andrews.

  • Deep Water drama on gay hate crimes
  • Innovative programming moves
  • Heston Blumenthal in Melbourne
  • Australia back in Eurovision
  • DNA Nation and Hanson documentaries
  • Discussions continue on RocKwiz and Struggle Street.

Peter Andrews is keen to emphasise 2016 is a year of Innovation in Programming for SBS.

Hot on the heels of launching SBS Food Network, SBS is pursuing innovative ideas -in both commissions and technology- for its content.

“Our audience can watch a programme on SBS but also go deeper online, watch additional episodes through SBS On Demand and there might be additional storytelling in terms of VR immersive experiences for our audience, accompanied with our programming.”

Andrews says SBS is in early stages or rolling out Virtual Reality since Google cardboard and Samsung offer the ability to use mobile phones for VR. But there are also other approaches to innovation including playout.

“We might offer a binge of something before we play it in a linear way on SBS.

“It’s a show by show scenario, and it has to match the editorial. It’s not one-size-fits-all.”

“We were so thrilled with how The Family Law resonated and was able to get a bit of clear air”

Focussing on more traditional areas, Andrews says SBS is hoping to build on the momentum of January where it premiered a number of seasons including The Family Law, The Bridge, The Missing, The Returned and Food Safari Fire, while other networks held back premium content.

“We were so thrilled with how The Family Law resonated and was able to get a bit of clear air with everything that’s going on at the moment,” he says.

“It’s a very distinctive piece of comedy and we’re so proud of it.

“Thursdays nights are quite definitive of SBS. Food Safari Fire, which we launched in mid-January continues and off the back of that The Bridge continues as part of the foreign drama we offer our audience.

“We also just launched Tony Robinson’s Wild West on Wednesdays which has really popped for us.”


Demonstrating further his notion of Innovation in Programming is Deep Water -where one topic becomes a multiplatform event in October.

“It’s a 4 part drama series, a feature documentary and there will be unique web content to accompany the series. It’s an incredible story of gay hate murders in Sydney in the late 80s and early 90s. We are in casting discussions right now so we’re looking forward to some pretty exciting announcements soon. We’re now on the map in terms of Australian Drama. If you look at The Principal last year, it was very SBS in terms of the stories we want to tell and we were so proud of it.”

While Deep Water is inspired by events of the 1980s/90s, the drama series will have a contemporary setting.

“We want to broaden it out and a contemporary setting may allow less barriers for the audience. It’s a really important story to tell, so you want to tell it to as many people as possible.”


In March is Inside Heston’s World as the renowned chef relocates his famed Fat Duck restaurant -including 50 staff, all cutlery, crockery- to Melbourne.

“To have that access and be able to look at a ‘military’ operation of moving a restaurant –including the staff and logistics- but also a real sense of what makes Heston tick, is a unique experience.

“For an Australian broadcaster to have that amount of access to Heston and film the emotion and drama and challenges of this feat is great fly on the wall television.”

Foodie favourites return to SBS including a new series of Gourmet Farmer with Matthew Evans.

“Our viewers say they want to see more Poh, more Maeve, more Adam (Liaw) and Matthew so we are delivering on that,” he continues.

Destination Flavour Scandinavia is gorgeous on screen. I’ve seen most of the episodes now and Adam in Scandinavia is completely immersed in a region that is famous for its food and so celebratory.

“The launch of the Food Network in November has worked well for us in terms of bringing a new audience to our portfolio.”


SBS is renowned for its local Documentaries and Factuals. Who Do You Think You Are? is back for its 8th season (no names are revealed as yet), while DNA Nation sees Julia Zemiro, Ian Thorpe and Ernie Dingo trace their origins through genetics. So how do the two shows differ?

“The scientific approach to DNA Nation is what defines it from other shows. It’s great storytelling but it isn’t ‘hard science’ as a barrier to entry. It’s accessible with Julia, Ian and Ernie,” Andrews explains. “It’s a cross-genre mix.”

“It provoked debate which is what SBS is all about.”

First Contact is back in November with Ray Martin returning as host.

“We were so proud of how the first series resonated as content that defines SBS and our purpose. The second season will explore Aboriginal Australia through the eyes of well-known Australians.”

Discussions continue on any future for Go Back to Where You Came From, along with recent hit series Struggle Street.

Struggle Street we were obviously thrilled with how the audience engaged in the series. It gave a voice to many Australians living on the fringes. It provoked debate which is what SBS is all about. We need to provoke debate so that the conversation continues,” he suggests.

“We haven’t made a final decision regarding a second series.”


Also bound to attract comment is feature documentary Hanson: The Years that Shook Australia.

“Love her or hate her you can’t discount her influence on race relations in Australia. 20 years after entry into Australian politics I think it continues to be an important topic worth exploring,” says Andrews.

“It’s told with a fairly straight arrow, from a perspective of ‘Back in the 90s’ and her rise and fall. So it’s a documentary that will tell the story and reveal some interesting areas our audience may not be aware of.”

Other docos coming include more of Shaun Micallef Stairway to Heaven, Strictly Jewish: The Secret World Of Adass Israel, Indian Wedding Race, Vietnam: The War That Made Australia, Caged and Norfolk Island: The Lost Tribe.


“We also want to be seen as the home of the world’s best drama in the Free to Air landscape,” Andrews declares.

Vikings has 2 seasons (February and November), Bosch is back for S2, Tutankhamen with Sam Neill will air later this year plus more of Masters of Sex, Rectify and upcoming drama The Last Panthers with Samantha Morton and John Hurt.

“David Bowie who sadly passed recorded an original track for the opening credits”

The Last Panthers is a 6 part event that will play April / May commissioned from SKY and Canal Plus. It’s a well-researched, riveting international drama. It is English language and French, inspired by real events. David Bowie who sadly passed recorded an original track for the opening credits as one of his last recordings in conjunction with Black Star,” he says.

“It’s a strong, distinctive piece of TV for Q2.”

Eurovision - Julia Zemiro & Sam Pang

It wouldn’t be an SBS year without Eurovision in May. Excitingly, Australia is returning, this time to compete in Semi-Final 2.

“We are back on the world stage once again and we will be announcing some news soon. Thanks to an invitation fro the EBU again, Australia is represented in Eurovision. It’s another area that will be layered across platforms, so you will be able to watch the show, celebrate the performances, get into the finals and involve yourself in other areas on our portfolio.”

What news on Zemiro’s other vehicle, the long-running RocKwiz?

“We are having some positive discussions, but we can’t announce anything yet. We’ll be announcing soon one way or another. But we’re very positive.”

Insight and Dateline both resume this month.

“They will roll on for the whole year, bar a couple of pre-emptions. They are very important current affairs tentpoles for Tuesday nights.”

And with the US election due, SBS has international documentary Barack Obama: Inside his Presidency plus yet to be revealed plans for the Australian federal election.

“Not just from the traditional news and current affairs reporting, but from a documentary point of view,” he notes.

SBS2 highlights for the year include The Feed, UnREAL, Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, Tropfest, If You Are the One (Australian specials), Top Knot Detective while NITV will feature The Point with Stan Grant, Living Black, Awaken, The Marngrook Footy Show and League Nation Live.

7 Responses

    1. My wife and I used to play every night. We both went on the show as contestants. We have two Macquarie dictionaries in our household! Fortunately these episodes are old enough to play again although I do seem to get alot more conundrums now as I guess 9 letter words are more memorable.

  1. SBS is always a refreshing alternative to the other channels.
    They’re currently screening two of my very favourite shows, The Returned and The Bridge.
    A great start to their viewing year.

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