Nothing safe about SBS, says Marshall Heald.

“We’re all about pursuing bold and ambitious ideas and often ideas that scare us in their execution,” Marshall Heald explains.

“So clearly doing a big live version of Go Back is incredibly challenging. That’s part of the reason we’re excited about it.”

Last week the SBS Director of Television and Online Content surprised the market by confirming the return of one of the broadcaster’s biggest titles.

Go Back to Where You Came From spawned 3 seasons, bumper ratings, national headlines and awards including a prestigious Rose d’Or Award. In 2018 it is back on SBS  in a new form, a mix of 60% Live and 40% pre-recorded material.

“It will have 2 core narratives: firstly following refugees and secondly there will be some Australian participants going on a reverse journey,” he continues.

“The show will follow the refugees –some will be pre-recorded and some will be in real-time. Part of it will happen in multiple war-zones, part of it will happen behind a couple of big, refugee bottlenecks and a third part will happen on boats. I don’t want to say more than that.

“We’ll do it at a time when major people movements are happening. There is some predictability to those on a seasonality basis.”

But Heald is staying mum on whether the cast includes more well-known Australians or ‘ordinary’ Aussies.

“With big franchises we don’t necessarily rush into doing another one. It’s always about what’s happening with international and local news perspective to make it relevant again, and how you keep the format fresh and engaging. It’s taken a while to have both of those things in place.”

“There’s a lot of human emotion in Safe Harbour.”

Amongst the other titles for 2018 are upcoming dramas Dead Lucky and Safe Harbour. With its short seasons, the challenge for SBS is to ensure enough viewers turn up, so marketing and promotion is strategic.

“Awareness is always an issue because we are the smallest network,” he acknowledges.

“There’s a lot of human emotion in Safe Harbour. It has a great high concept and there’s a really interesting ensemble and character piece grounded in authentic, personal stories.

“At least 3 of our fiction slate are in Queensland: Safe Harbour, The Family Law and Homecoming Queens.”

The Ghan marks SBS’ first first foray into “Slow TV.” Described as an immersive three hour television on a real time journey from Adelaide to Darwin, Heald says the 56 hour trip will be available in two versions, 3 hours on broadcast and 17 hours at SBS On Demand.

“Watch this space….”

But if trains are one of the broadcaster’s biggest hits, are there any plans for Michael Portillo to present Great Australian Railway Journeys? Heald is coy, but doesn’t rule it out.

“If it was to happen it would certainly be an idea we’d be interested in,” he admits.

“If there was an opportunity to do it as a co-production then that would be a happy middle-ground. You need to get the stars to align with a few broadcasters. Watch this space….

“The railway shows have been very successful for us, obviously with a slightly-older demo. They are a fascinating insight into what was, in the 19th century, the new frontier. Railways were the way that that people discovered the world. So it’s interesting to go back and look at it through that prism.”

2018 also brings the FIFA World Cup in Russia, the 40th Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras & Eurovision in Portugal.

But SBS is yet to confirm Eurovision Asia -still in development- while languishing doco Once Upon a Time in Carlton is 3 years overdue.

“There was a legal issue, which is no longer an issue. It’s just a question of when we want to slot it into the schedule,” Heald explains.

“We have a 7 year window on shows…. so we have a long window to exploit it. I think it will come along fairly shortly.”

More confidently, SBS has confirmed Is Australia Sexist? Muslims Like Us, Filthy Rich & Homeless, Marry Me Marry My Family and Who Do You Think You Are? for 2018 plus plenty for foodies including Adam Liaw’s Destination Flavour China, Food Safari Water, My Restaurant in India, Luke Nguyen’s Food Trail and Shane Delia’s Recipe for Life.

There’s no mistaking that while other networks sign charters for diversity, SBS is still making multiculturalism visible to viewers.

“When more than 45% of people have at least one parent born overseas then that’s an enormous portion of the population. So multiculturalism is mainstream. It’s the story of Australia. It is not the story of a minority but a story of who we are as a nation,” Heald insists.

“But I still think there’s a long way to go in terms of that diversity being properly represented in the media.”

SBS Upfronts 2018

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