Last year ABC frequently made headlines for its behind the scenes news but in 2019 Acting Director of Entertainment & Specialist Michael Carrington is confident the focus is back on Content.
“Even though I’m still acting in this role it’s wonderful to be a part of the whole process,” he tells TV Tonight.
“With Amazon, Netflix and potentially Apple bringing big stories, people are wanting to connect with Australian stories and characters. We’re investing as much as we can into new Australian productions in all genres.
“There is a great will and desire to do all that.”
UK-Australian miniseries The Cry (pictured below) is ABC’s first big play in 2019 Drama. The series starring Jenna Coleman, Ewen Leslie, Asher Keddie, Alex Dimitriades & Shareena Clanton was a big hit in the UK and with episodes filmed in Australia (from local writer Jacquelin Perske & director Glendyn Ivin) it is bound to garner attention locally. All episodes will be available on iview after the series premiere.
“We worked very closely with the producers. Sally Riley our Head of Scripted worked very closely with Claire Mundell from (UK producers) Synchronicity on pulling the script together and giving it a view from Australia. We didn’t have the ability to change scripts dramatically but we were able to influence them. We also helped with casting suggestions,” he observes.
Discussions will also take place soon with the BBC on prospects for a potential second season.
In February Perth-based serial drama The Heights (pictured top) will debut. It features a multi-generational cast including Marcus Graham, Shari Sebbens, Roz Hammond, Dan Paris and Kelton Pell.
“The Heights is a perfect example of where I think we are going at the ABC in terms of reflecting Australia, investing in Australian stories and really making a connection with audiences,” he continues.
“It’s a microcosm of an urban area and a slice of life.”
“It’s a microcosm of an urban area and a slice of life. It’s their everyday lives: love, sex and rock and roll. Although no sex!”
ABC has a hefty 30 x 30 minute series. With The Drum moving to 6pm Carrington’s plan is for double episodes of The Heights at 8:30 on Fridays from February 22. A second block of episodes will then screen in July. Surprisingly, ABC maintains that the output has been quite economical.
“It’s our attempt at long term thinking and planning,” Carrington explains.
“We’re all for high end, high quality drama, but with the cost and the length of time to pull them together with funding, it just takes longer and longer. Potentially some seasons have a year’s break between when they first launch and when the second season comes. So this is our attempt to commission a volume of content more smartly.”
Highly-anticipated drama Black B*tch (no longer a working title) is one of Carrington’s personal favourites. With Rachel Griffiths and Deborah Mailman, it will screen later in the year.
“It has extraordinary talent behind and in front of the camera, so we’re looking forward to them working together. We are literally in pre-production, finalising contracts.”
“I would love new audiences to come to it.”
Glitch will return for its third and final season.
“I’m so thrilled with Glitch but I feel it was underbaked the first time around, so I have a plan to launch S1 and S2 in front of the third season,” he reveals.
“I would love new audiences to come to it. The performances and the writing are excellent and the subject is contemporary, it fits into the mystery / sci-fi genre. I thought it was fantastic.”
Also coming is a second season of Harrow with Ioan Gruffudd and 30 minute drama Diary of an Uber Driver.
A second season of hit drama Mystery Road will also head into production, but Carrington is reluctant to commit to a broadcast date.
“Because it’s in a remote part of Australia it is contingent on getting crews who can travel at that time, so I can’t confirm when it will be in production and deliver. But in the next few months we will know more,” he notes.
“The scripts are only just being developed, so I haven’t seen anything in terms of where the characters go.”
Rosehaven returns tonight for its third season promising “beautiful performances, Tasmania is a great part of Australia and it looks stunning.”
Utopia is back later in the year, there is more Squinters, The Letdown, Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell, Get Krack!n, Hard Quiz and The Weekly. ABC is also excited by new comedy series Frayed starring Aussie Sarah Kendall as a fabulously wealthy London housewife who is forced to return to the town in Australia where she grew up.
“She’s been in the UK for a number of years and been very successful, so we’re thrilled to have her involved in this show.”
This week and next Catalyst is screening The Great Australian Bee Challenge, a concept developed within ABC.
“We’ve identified 4 families who have set up bee hives in their own environment. There are 2 families in the city and 2 in the country and the challenge is who can produce honey?” Carrington explains.
“It’s everyday Australians, it’s authentic”
This year ABC is endeavouring to do put more faces on screen such as the musical documentary The Recording Studio, in which Aussies record a song for a special occasion. It’s been described as Australian Story with music.
“It’s so emotional. What I love about it is it’s everyday Australians, it’s authentic, real people wanting to do something for their loved ones by creating a musical performance,” he continues.
“It’s a rollercoaster of highs and lows being trained to perform in front of your dearest ones.”
Also based on a UK format is Old People’s Homes for 4 Year Olds, bringing seniors and pre-schoolers together to enhance the lives of both.
“Not that we are trying to pull at people’s heart strings but the zeitgeist is that people are authentic, and they are interested in the social problems we have and this just brings all of that together in such a beautiful way. We kind of write off old people, as has been reflected in the news, but this is an extraordinary experiment that brings it into your living room and how they are still vibrant people if you give them a chance,” Carrington insists.
On Sunday ABC premieres Aftermath: Beyond Black Saturday followed a week later by 3 part blue-chip documentary Magical Land of Oz, narrated by Barry Humphries and produced by Northern Pictures.
“It looks beautiful. It is quintessentially Australian looking at our environment and our animals.”
Also coming this year is autism doco Love on the Spectrum, ad industry special How Australia Found Its Mojo with Russel Howcroft, music docos on Michael Hutchence & Midnight Oil plus Will Australia Ever Have a Black Prime Minister?
“It’s a very good question, especially in an election year. I don’t know that it will answer the question in full, but it will certainly show it’s not as easy as we think it is.”
“ABC is in all four corners of Australia”
Torres Straits & Indigenous Australian history will also be portrayed in the docudrama, Blue Water Empire, due later in the year.
“It’s another example of how ABC is in all four corners of Australia from the Torres Strait Islands to Perth with The Heights and Rosehaven in Tasmania, we’re looking at doing things in the Northern Territory.”
An election year is also big business for ABC News but there will be no Chaser in 2019. Gruen is back along with Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery, and ABC is yet to determine the future for newcomer Tomorrow Tonight.
“I’m happy with it’s performance. The show got better and better and I think there is a rich number of subjects they could tackle. So it’s something we’ll be talking about very soon,” he promises.
For the record there is also no decision yet on more Spicks & Specks specials, Think Tank, Everyone’s a Critic, Janet King, Pine Gap and the door is still open for more of Superwog, Back in Time for Dinner and Jack Irish.
Previously Head of Children’s and Education, Carrington is also very enthusiastic about the kids’ slate including The Inbestigators from Gristmill, Hardball from Northern Pictures set in the western suburbs of Sydney and more of Bluey from Ludo Studios.
“It’s very rare for Australian animation to punch through”
“It’s the biggest show outside of Mystery Road and Killing Eve, Bluey is #1. It’s very rare for Australian animation to punch through the international stuff. Bluey has proven when you nurture and invest you can create an extraordinary experience.”
In addition to news programmes such as 7:30, Four Corners, Foreign Correspondent, Media Watch, Australian Story, Insiders, News Breakfast, Play School and more, ABC is also celebrating 10 years of Giggle & Hoot, Good Game: Spawn Point and the 30th anniversary of Gardening Australia.