Programmer’s Wrap 2017: ABC

Rebecca Heap talks Bullied, The Easybeats, Stargazing Live and why she doesn't care where you watch.

Rebecca Heap doesn’t really mind how you watch ABC, as long as you are watching.

Soon approaching a year as Head of Programming and Digital at ABC, the woman formerly overseeing iview, takes an “agnostic” approach to ABC platforms.

Whether you watch 7:30 as it airs live on your TV, on your phone on the bus, or later through iview or Facebook, it’s less important to ABC than it is to any other broadcaster.

“We look at the complete audience,” she explains, “which is the overnights, consolidated, metro, regional and iview.

“I genuinely do not care where the audience watches as long as they are engaging. I realise the ABC is in a privileged position that we are able to do what is right by the content and the audience and we don’t need to worry about the impact on advertising revenue.

“We don’t ignore overnights altogether, but we know they are a small piece of the puzzle now.

“ABC is about one audience experience.”

It means ABC is commissioning shows for broadcast, or sometimes just for iview, and will pick and choose where some shows, such as dramas, may premiere.

“As in the past we are looking at the best way to serve our dramas. We have Thursday 8:30 primetime for broadcast but there will be a number of dramas this year we will binge in full on iview after the first episode goes to air,” she continues.

“Clearly our audience are absolutely loving it when we do that, and for the right drama it is the best way to consume.

“We will binge Glitch again this year.

7 Types of Ambiguity we are also planning to binge, which is an exceptional show and just draws you in to the next episode immediately.”

Starring Hugo Weaving, Andrea Demetriades and Xavier Samuel (pictured, below), it’s based on Elliot Perlman’s renowned novel and due in April.

“It’s a thrilling drama about a young boy going missing and seven different perspectives on it, done beautifully by Matchbox Pictures.”

The Easybeats, a 2 part miniseries from Playmaker Media is tipped for November.

“It’s a great story, obviously fabulous soundtrack, looking at life in the 60s but with a contemporary relevance asking ‘What does it mean to be Australian?’ They were our first international rock group made up of recent immigrants to our country,” she says.

“We haven’t had one of those for a little while.”

“It’s wonderful to have a true Australian story captured in a miniseries back on the ABC. We haven’t had one of those for a little while.”

Also new in 2017 is Pulse, in which a high-flying financial analyst whose transplant offers her a second chance alters course to become a doctor herself. The Warriors revolves around an Indigenous AFL team and weaves both comedy and drama elements.

“It’s a dramedy so it has a mix of the two. We’ll be playing it out on a Wednesday night but it will absolutely work for a younger audience too,” Heap explains.

“It’s got a great cast with John Howard, Lisa McCune, Vince Colosimo, and a whole range of new talent.”

In addition to Newton’s Law, which premiered to promising numbers last week, ABC returns Janet King, Glitch, The Doctor Blake Mysteries and Cleverman.

Ronny Chieng: International Student is currently filming in Melbourne as part of ABC’s buoyant comedy slate.

“The ABC is really only network that sustains comedy year in, year out,” she continues.

“Ronny is such a great talent and thrilled to be working in Australia. He’s a great example of how we will continue to extend our slate.

The Ex-PM returns in the second half of the year with Andrew Dugdale (Shaun Micallef) returning to politics.

“It’s never too late to make a political comeback, no matter who you are. The scripts are fantastic and we’re so excited where it is going. Shaun is so loved as an ABC face.”

Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell, The Checkout & Utopia are all returning along with new series Hannah Gadsby’s Nude.

The Katering Show‘s Kate McLennan and McCartney take on breakfast TV in Get Krack!n -but it won’t be delving behind the scenes.

“The girls are out of the kitchen, hosting their own breakfast TV show. It’s a complete disaster, as only those girls can do, with no camera techniques, a terrible unsafe roster of demonstrations, interviews that go horribly wrong. The audience will love it,” she promises.

Two iview comedies are Anne Edmonds: The Edge of the Bush and John Luc’s The Chinaboy Show -the first ABC sketch comedy written from the perspective of a Vietnamese–Chinese Australian.

“The Australian sky has a hundred times more stars than the northern hemisphere.”

Heap is particularly excited about ambitious events including Stargazing Live, with Brian Cox broadcasting over 3 nights in April from Sliding Springs Observatory on the edge of the Warrumbungle ranges near Coonabarabran, NSW. To be joined by an Australian co-host, the show will have it’s own UK production.

“He will spend 3 consecutive nights across the ABC, talking to Australian scientists and really encouraging Australians to look up an understand the world above us,” she continues.

“One thing I learned was that the Australian sky has a hundred times more stars than the northern hemisphere. So it should be a beautiful sharing of an Australian moment.”

Two Brian Cox stand-alone docos Life of the Universe will also air in early March.

Todd Sampson’s Life on the Line is an exciting, engaging program that I know will appeal to a traditional ABC audience but also a younger and family audience as well,” Heap remarks.

“It’s a different take to Body Hack. It’s about science with Todd exploring the laws of physics.”

Craig Reucassel will also present 3 part special War on Waste, from Keo Films, turning the spotlight on the staggering amount of waste we produce as a nation.

“Waste in terms of food waste, household waste –are we aware of how much we are throwing away?” she asks.

“Craig is a passionate advocate for change and consumer awareness.

“What’s most exciting to watch is you see him learning on the journey, as fascinated as the audience should be in understanding our nation from a very different perspective.

“He throws down the challenge about ‘How can we change?’ and the plan is to come back and do a report cart at the end of the year.”

Reworked science series Catalyst will return in the back half of the year.

“The show is never about targeting individual bullies.”

Another big event centres around bullying with Cyberhate with Tara Moss and Bullied presented by Ian Thorpe, in March. This sees victims of bullying carrying cameras to capture and reveal their real-life experience firsthand.

“Full credit to Ian who has managed to get these Australian families to open up about a private and painful issue.

“It’s a very immersive documentary, quite confronting but it sheds new light on bullying and how it impacts schools and communities. Ian is so passionate about it and has been such a great advocate,” Heap explains.

“It’s given a very personal view of what these kids are going through. The families have been very brave and felt it had a very positive outcome.”

Does it adopt a thorough duty of care for those involved?

“Quite rightly we were very aware going into this production to make sure that everything was done the right way. Nothing has been released without permission,” she insists.

“The show is never about targeting individual bullies. It’s really about when bullying becomes the ‘norm’ and how making their peers aware of what’s going on can change the dynamic and build a support network.”

Movie-lovers can look forward to 3 part series, David Stratton’s Stories of Australian Cinema in the second quarter -which will have a cinema release first in a cut-down version.

“He’s a national icon and it’s wonderful to have him back on the ABC talking about a subject he loves so much. He talks about his life and how it had evolved around Australian cinema. It’s a beautiful, personal story showcasing some of our great Australian films of all time.

A new factual Pop-Ability explores the Sisters of Invention, an all girl pop group with disabilities.

“It’s about challenging society’s ideas about who can be a pop star.”

You Can’t Ask That also returns with news topics.

You Can’t Ask That is something I feel very connected to personally, and very proud of. We commissioned that originally for an iview digital first series. It delivered and it was so special. I think I scared a few of the programmers here when I said ‘Let’s put it on in primetime’ when it was short-form content. But it attracted a good audience and more importantly, got people talking.”

“As a mother of 3 children, family is a very important part of every Australian’s life,”

New series Dream Gardens premiered last week with new TV talent Michael McCoy and this year Gardening Australia will be partnered Compass on Saturday nights, now hosted by Kumi Taguchi.

“There’s a great cross-over of audience,” she assures. “It also frees up Sunday to start to showcase our amazing children’s and family content.

“As a mother of 3 children, family is a very important part of every Australian’s life, whether we have children or not.

“How do we develop content that attracts a family unit to watch and engage together in a very ABC way? We’re not doing reality TV, we don’t have a huge sports slate. So what is our ABC family moment?

“So let’s make a place for shows like My Year 12 Life on the main channel and let it be more than a children’s show.”

My Year 12 Life gave cameras to a diverse group of 14 teenagers to film the most dramatic twelve months of their lives –Year 12.

“It was originally commissioned as a children’s program. But when it delivered it was such an extraordinary program, it’s not only entertaining for primary school children…. but it’s an important family program to understand what are our children going for, what does this all mean for their lives?

“You’re learning to drive, be independent, have relationships.

My Year 12 Life is entirely different to anything we’ve seen on the ABC before. It puts the control of the series in the hands of the cast. There were no film crew, no producers on the ground, just 14 teenagers telling their own story to the camera in their own way. It is absolutely extraordinary how it has all come together as an emotional, hilarious in parts, series.”

Also coming for kids is Mustangs FC, a scripted comedy about setting up an all-girls soccer club and Get Grubby TV which builds on the animation of dirtgirlworld into a ‘real life’ story -with ABC’s Costa as a gardening gnome.

“We’re still very supportive of Steph and Nic”

But what of the axed Good Game and claims it had a limited future at ABC?

“It’s had an absolutely outstanding 10 year run on the ABC but all of our programs need to keep evolving. That’s quite normal and we want to say fresh and relevant for our audience,” Heap continues.

“We’re still very supportive of Steph and Nich, it’s a great credit to the team that there is value in gaming and the talent we’ve developed over the last 10 years. But what’s wonderful is the team are all now working on new projects within ABC. They’ve all been redeployed and some of those we will announce in the next couple of weeks.

“They will speak to the younger audience that Good Game spoke to so well and tap into other aspects of fandom people will find interesting.”

“Q&A will run to the end of November this year”

High on ABC’s priority is Gruen, but the show’s return always comes down to availability of talent and schedules.

“Stay tuned,” tips Heap.

“It is a favourite ABC show. Our audience love it. We clearly are working towards bringing it back, but it’s not something we can announce yet.”

Q&A will also run slightly longer in 2017, in conjunction with Parliament sitting.

“We stopped in mid November last year, but Q&A will run to the end of November this year, to the end of Parliament.

“The Q&A team are also working on travelling more. It’s clearly a big production to move, but absolutely it’s part of the goal to travel it more around the country.”

As she approaches her first year in the new role, I ask about how much of this year’s slate is inherited, and how much has her own stamp on the channels. But Heap adopts a collaborative approach.

“It’s definitely a slow ship to turn and make your own. Clearly it’s a shared slate here. All our content heads are extraordinary and have fantastic visions for their individual genres,” she insists.

“Rightly so, my role is about how we curate that as a best experience for our audience.”

Tomorrow: Stan’s Nick Forward

3 Responses

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  1. Considering how most of Australia is a long way of getting the NBN (or anything approaching it), I’d say 4K shouldn’t be a high priority, unless services like Stan or iView offer HD downloads so people like me can leave our HD shows downloading at a poxy 2.8 – 7.1Mbps to enjoy the next day.

  2. Something that occurred to me is that the inevitable demise of FTA could speed up a lot quicker than anticipated. The commercial FTA channels only reason to exist is to make money so using pay to view HD/4K streaming television will be a where most overseas made content will go, leaving reality TV, games shows and news programs to rule the FTA roost. This could mean it will be a lot tougher for the ABC to purchase Dr Who, for example, as pay TV partnerships would outbid them.

  3. There is a lot of good in this. I appreciate being recognised as one of those viewers who will often watch ABC shows live, yet will often catch-up or discover / binge iView delights (I’ve only recently gone through Ja’mie – Private School Girl). The Warriors, The Ex-PM, The Checkout, Pop-Ability and You Can’t Ask That all are or sound like good commissions. Though it is gonna take me a while to get over their treatment of Good Game which could have evolved (again) with a new co-host in the prime show, and a replacement for Nich on the daily.

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