ABC is shaking up its Drama slots for 2018.
After several years of pursuing Thursday nights, the broadcaster will now mix things up on its schedule, depending on the title.
Head of Programming, Rebecca Heap, “I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone that Australian drama had a really tough year last year.
“7 Types of Ambiguity was our #1 show on iview last year, which is a great success story for us that it can resonate so well on iview. But it’s tough -very tough- on broadcast.
“It was absolutely the right strategy for us over the last few years to be pursuing Thursday nights as a drama proposition. But the reality is our Drama slate is so diverse that we felt for 2018 we needed to change things up a little bit.
“So they will not consistently be on Thursday nights this year. We will be mixing it up for our audiences, including more acquired titles on Thursday nights as well.”
Heap is thrilled with the diversity of locations used for Dramas in 2018 with Harrow filmed in Brisbane, Riot in Sydney, Mystery Road in WA’s Kimberleys, Pine Gap predominantly in South Australia, Jack Irish in Victoria and Rake in Canberra.
The first new offering, Riot, screens on Sunday February 25 ahead of the 40th Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, starring Damon Herriman, Xavier Samuel & Kate Box.
“It obviously shines a spotlight on the 1970s gay rights movement and how Mardi Gras was established. It’s a great cast, Damon does an extraordinary job. Kate Box is a well-known face for the ABC audience and she’s brilliant as the lead female,” she says.
“We’re really excited to be celebrating something so important in Australia’s history.”
“It’s the drama I am most excited about this year”
10 part drama Harrow, starring Ioan Gruffudd (pictured, top) as a forensic pathologist will be the next to roll out.
“Mystery Road has an extraordinary cast with Aaron Pedersen, Judy Davis, Deborah Mailman. It’s beautifully filmed throughout the Kimberleys and it’s such an extraordinary story. It’s the drama I am most excited about this year.
Season 5 of Rake plants the reckless Cleaver Greene, again personified through Richard Roxburgh, in Parliament House,
“He’s an independent senator in Parliament House so it will be fun to watch it all play out on screen -as it often is in real life,” she continues.
“It feels like a natural progression from where the series has gone to.”
Guy Pearce also returns as Jack Irish with guest stars including Danielle Cormack and Tom Gleeson.
Newton’s Law is not returning but other announcements are still pending.
“Glitch, Cleverman and Pulse are still under discussion but we won’t see Janet King on air this year.”
“We’re thrilled with the performance of ABC Comedy so far”
On the Comedy front this year, Heap is encouraged by the early reception for rebranded channel ABC Comedy, which has lifted its 7:30 – midnight from 1.7% as ABC2 to 2% under the new programming.
“We’re thrilled with the performance of ABC Comedy so far,” she continues.
“The Tonightly with Tom Ballard team have found their legs really quickly and they are getting some great guests and putting pieces out that are doing a great job in social.
“Tom is an extraordinary talent. As a few reviewers have picked up it feels like he’s found his home.
“There are not many people that can start a show with a monologue and hold it up every night.”
6 part comedy Squinters from Jungle debuted last night on the primary channel with Tim Minchin, Jacki Weaver and Sam Simmons as commuters in cars.
“For a long time we’ve been looking for a model of simple setting with a great line-up of cast. It’s all set in cars, either to or from work with a wonderful set of characters.
Back in Very Small Business revives a Gristmill comedy with Wayne Hope & Kim Gyngell while Sando, starring Sacha Horler, is a family comedy about Australia’s queen of the discount furniture package deal.
“What happens when you have an estranged mother trying to bring her family back together? We all have chaos at home, so this is one perspective on it.
“And it’s wonderful to have Wayne Hope back on air with us. You don’t require knowledge of the first series to enjoy Back in Very Small Business, it sets it all up. We will also be playing Very Small Business on ABC Comedy.”
Black Comedy returns, along with newcomer Corey White’s Road Map to Paradise tackling social issues, but while more comedy titles are to be announced there is no confirmation yet on Utopia, Rosehaven, Ronny Chieng: International Student or The Letdown.
“We will have updates on some of them. A lot of it is to do with cast availability and time frames. We were obviously over the moon with the performance of all.”
“Hard Quiz was the real delight of 2017 for us”
Other favourite returning series include Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery, Anh’s Brush With Fame, Gruen, The Weekly, Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell, and Hard Quiz.
“Hard Quiz was the real delight of 2017 for us. We commissioned a longer run last year knowing that it was a solid performer. We’re just delighted with how the audience fell in love with it. The pairing with Mad as Hell was a joy for our slate,” Heap observes.
“The Weekly will be coming in off the back of Mad as Hell.
“And it’s a joy always to have Gruen. It’s very much down to having the key talent available. It was #9 in terms of overall performance of broadcast (last year) but it does exceptionally well on digital.”
The Checkout has already moved to Tuesdays, refreshed with new branding in one of ABC’s most challenging timeslots.
“There’s a great new feel to the show, a lot of energy, with accessible, everyday issues. It’s a great fit for Tuesdays to lead into Catalyst.
“8:00 can be a real problem but I must say there are a lot of things such as Hard Quiz and The Checkout, that are bringing so much energy to our schedule.”
“They both show great commitment from us to get 6-7pm working”
6pm has also been given a makeover with new quiz series Think Tank hosted by Paul McDermott. It represents one of the few international formats ABC has snapped up, and will be followed later this year by another, Escape from the City.
“Think Tank is engaging, family gameplay and Paul McDermott is a wonderful talent and a face that is both appealing to ABC audiences… and who has a wonderful charisma and humour for new audiences.
“Escape from the City is the same format (as Escape to the Country), but is obviously focussed on families and individuals getting out of Australian cities.
“They both show great commitment from us to get 6-7pm working and hopefully appeal to a non-traditional ABC audience. It’s great to have a high volume of new Australian productions.”
Brian Cox will return to Australia for Stargazing Live, whilst Annabel Crabb fronts social history format, Back in Time for Dinner.
“Each episode follows a decade of Australian culture and society through the lens of cooking and mealtime with the family. We’ve cast a wonderful family into the show. It’s in production at the moment and I really think, particularly with Annabel at the helm, will be a great ABC title for the year,” Heap explains.
“What do Australians think about Art?”
Also new is music series, Don’t Stop the Music with Guy Sebastian acts as a mentor for an underprivileged school in Perth and arts series, Everyone’s A Critic -not just a Gogglebox of art.
“Each week we tackle a new Australian gallery. There’s an element of ‘What do Australians think about Art?’ but there’s also behind the scenes of the story of the artwork, what inspired it, who are the artists and a little bit of the running of the gallery.”
Gardening Australia has moved to Fridays in a new one hour format, but will have to take on Better Homes & Gardens and The Living Room.
“We’ve extended the show very much in response to feedback from our audience. They wanted more of it, so this is in recognition of the great job that Gardening Australia has been doing, bringing it a little bit more into the spotlight,” she suggests.
“It’s a Friday and audiences are getting into their weekend. They want something a little bit lighter and entertaining.”
“It continues to be an important ABC brand”
Must-see Mondays return with 7:30, Australian Story, Four Corners, Media Watch and Q&A but Foreign Correspondent, which screened over summer, is expecting some change.
“We are looking at when it will return,” Heap reveals. “It continues to be an important ABC brand. We’re just assessing a couple of different timeslots.”
Will it have the same output?
“No, it will be slightly less this year, but they are looking at doing some specials.”
Also yet to be determined is new review panel Screen Time.
“Whether it is Screen Time or something else we will continue to have a backbone of arts running through our schedule.”
Children’s highlights include The New Legends of Monkey, Grace Beside Me and My Year 7 Life while Nowhere Boys will return in 2019.
Also returning are Dream Gardens, Back Roads, Restoration Australia, Ask the Doctor, Catalyst and one of Heap’s personal favourites, the Rose D’Or winning You Can’t Ask That.
“There’s nothing else like it, so simple in its execution and all about amazing Australians. Every time I see a new episode I cry at my desk!” she admits.