The downturn in Australian Drama

2018 looks set to deliver the lowest amount of Australian TV drama hours in over 45 years.

2018 looks set to deliver the lowest amount of Australian TV drama hours in over 45 years.

400.5 hrs of Australian drama are estimated to screen by year’s end, which will make it the lowest on record since 1972 when 362 hours screened.

Twenty years ago locally made drama was at an all-time high , with 1998 screening 756 hours of Australian drama.

1998 included 115 hrs of Home and Away, 112.5 hrs of Neighbours and 107.5 hrs of Breakers. There were also 43 hours of Pacific Drive, 41 hours of both Blue Heelers & All Saints, 35 hours of Wildside and 31 hours of Water Rats. Other dramas included State Coroner, Heartbreak High, Snowy River, Stingers, Medivac, Raw FM, Seachange, Good Guys Bad Guys, Boys from the Bush, Day of the Roses, Halifax FP and A Difficult Woman.

1975 was another big year for local drama at 691 hours.

That year included 130 hours of The Box, 120 hours of Number 96 (both on the 0-TEN network), 90 hours of Until Tomorrow, 51 hours of Certain Women, 50 hours of Class of ’75, 45 hours each of Bellbird & Homicide, 43 hours of Matlock Police and 36 hours of Division 4.

But in 2018 TV has changed dramatically with an estimated 400.5 hrs of broadcast Australian drama*

Outside of our 2 ongoing soaps there have been 12 hours of Wentworth & 10 hours each of A Place to Call Home, Doctor Doctor, Harrow and 10 due for the upcoming Tidelands on Netflix, as highest output.

The last big swell in local drama came in 2009 when shows like All Saints produced 37 hours a year, Packed to the Rafters hit 30 hours and City Homicide was 26 hours. Other prominent shows included Out of the Blue and Rush.

TV historian Andrew Mercado told TV Tonight, “We could probably blame the cost and the rise of reality TV as to why Aussie drama productions have gone down but there is another reason as well. Until networks start taking some real risks, and create jaw-dropping dramas that can match the rest of the world, we will continue to lag behind.”

Matthew Deaner CEO of Screen Producers Australia said, “That a halving of drama on our tv screens has occurred in the 20 years from 1998 to 2018 is on any measure a great concern.  Given the explosion of digital channels and the government removing various costs for broadcasters during that time we should have seen growth of output and availability for audiences and instead we have the opposite. The increased substitution of New Zealand drama content has had a big role to play here and we continue to call on the Government to act.

“This is bad for Australians who expect more from the public asset of broadcasting and it’s terrible for our industry both in terms of employment and training.”

* does not include 800 Words.

23 Responses

  1. And for all those that “love” Australian drama, not one mention here of “Pine Gap” or “Mystery Road”. IMO the best Aussie drama for eons… why does it seem that when you talk to the average Aussie (whatever that is) about TV all you get is commercial TV commentary?

  2. It doesn’t help when a popular drama, with decent ratings, suddenly announces that the current season is the last. 800 Words did that to us this year, after just three seasons. Networks seem to think that we can’t maintain a loyalty to a show beyond about 20 episodes. And yet, hours and hours of Australian content time is wasted on Home and Away – confusing.

  3. Thanks David – really enjoy this stuff. Lowest output in hours of TV drama is one measure in such a complex web. Commercial broadcasters are spending more and more as a percentage of program expenditure on reality and sports rights because that’s what grabs the highest viewers. But they are also broadcasting more ‘short-form’ drama (eg mini-series and feature films) which have fewer hours but gets more ‘points’ towards their drama quota. The ABC – who has also broadcast a lot of mini-series drama – had several years of large output due to triennial funding boost. But as this has now come to an end, all 4 broadcasters are looking to Screen Australia for more money. Where tax-payer money is funding more content on our screens I think we should expect better return for our money, which means decisions need to be made around quality v quantity. I for one, would prefer 100 hours of…

  4. “1998 included … Home and Away, Neighbours, Breakers, Pacific Drive, Blue Heelers & All Saints, Wildside, Water Rats, State Coroner, Heartbreak High, Snowy River, Stingers, Medivac, Raw FM, Seachange, Good Guys Bad Guys, Boys from the Bush, Day of the Roses, Halifax FP and A Difficult Woman.”

    And yet I didn’t watch a single one of those. I did enjoy The Secret Life of Us, the first seasons of Packed to the Rafters and 800 Words… is it lower quality, or a change in viewing habits in a Netflix world? People want to watch what they want to watch. If Australia won’t produce it they will look at other options.

  5. I think most people would be supportive of Australian Television Industry, and many of our Australian drama. However, I say the latter with trepidation given the low quality of overall Aust tv in the last few years, albeit lack of Australian drama.

    I have resorted to Netflex and watching dvd’s as opposed to commercial tv. Across all stations, it’s either bawdy reality shows, and “boring and repetitive” talent shows, dancing shows, cooking shows, dating shows etc etc and etc …..

    If none of the commercial stations can come up with a good quality drama, please can we at least have some repeats of the past? and some good ole’ Aussie movies?

  6. @BellJay,,, ” the lack of good actors and storylines” ????

    Try the preference by (commercial FTA) TV networks to produce cheap & nasty “reality” programming at the expense of quality drama, comedy etc. to meet “Australian” content quotas (which counts endless repeats and also (no offence) New Zealand TV content). Together with the allowing of these programmes to run overtime past their scheduled time, overloaded with product placement and participants all seeking their 15 minutes of fame and you have the state of the landscape of what is now laughingly called Australian TV.

    I actually cheered and did victory laps of the house when Big Brother was finally cancelled 😉

    1. The good shows we did have are long gone, nothing like them since. Blue Heelers for one. A Country Practice was another. Shame about Miss Fisher Mysteries, do hope the new ones with the new actress are just as good. Dr Blake was excellent viewing too, and now its left up in the air. I still remember Division Four, Spy Force and kids show Skippy. Even the talk shows were good – Beauty and the Beast, then we had Blankety Blanks for fun & Bandstand for music, The Naked Vicar Show for a laugh, Matlock Police, Mike Walsh talk show. We had a great show in Specks and Specks with the original cast, the new ones not so much.

  7. If reality TV is attracting the bigger ratings, then that’s the audience telling the networks they are more willing to watch that than the drama being aired. Want more drama? Watch the stuff when it airs Producers want their stuff aired? Produce stuff the audience wants to watch.

    1. Whilst there is some truth to what you’re saying, there’s no denying that the networks prioritise their reality TV offerings over their dramas. This means that all their Reality shows get the primetime 7:30 slots and are allowed to run as long as they wish, pushing the dramas back to varying start times every single week. Then after they rate poorly once at a start time 15 mins later than what was advertised, the networks burn off the shows by doing double episodes that don’t end till past 11pm. Of course, the reality TV shows will rate higher when the drama shows are treated like this.

  8. Such a shame really. I love supporting Aussie drama and I have watched some of it this year – the ones I remember watching are Wanted, Doctor Doctor, Playing for Keeps, 800 Words, Dead Lucky, Safe Harbour (watched on SBS Demand, so can’t remember if it’s at 2018 release), Harrow and we have taped Rake and F***ing Adelaide to watch over summer. Also watching old episodes of Wentworth on the ABC. I have generally enjoyed these dramas and Wentworth despite old eps is the best in the bunch, but the others can’t compare to Handmaid’s Tail which we loved watching…I love supporting our local productions but we need to have more and not middle of the road stuff. Make dramas gripping like Love My Way and Tangle….we can do it.

  9. It’s sad to see Australian Drama on the decline. I miss the dramas that aired for most of the year (like All Saints, Blue Heelers and Rafters).

    Sadly, long gone are the days of airing 30+ episodes of dramas a year, but surely some networks can take the risk and air some for more than the current 10 episode run. Even if it is 20 eps a year.

    A shame drama cost a lot of money to make. And reality shows are the “it thing” of late.

    1. They were cheaply made, low quality procedural soaps. I don’t miss them I was watching Northern Exposure, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The X-Files and Buffy which had much better writing and quality. These days our networks make less hours of higher quality more expensive dramas to meet their local drama points. But this era is coming to an end as drama moves to streaming.

    1. It’s a shame the networks are not realising the value of scripted drama and comedy which lasts longer for repeat screenings and can be sold overseas and to streaming servicss whereas reality shows rarely get a second showing or as many sales.

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