Diverse documentaries, challenging dramas, news, sport, food, trains -and even food on a train- are all on the slate for SBS in 2019.
On the back of a high-profile ‘Slow Summer,’ SBS Channel Manager Ben Nguyen looks to a busy year ahead, with cameras already rolling in Adelaide on the 4 part local drama The Hunting.
Starring Asher Keddie & Richard Roxburgh it delves into cyberbullying during the lead up, revelation and aftermath of a nude photo sharing scandal.
“One of the young cast members who has never acted before is playing a teenage girl who has shared an intimate photo with her boyfriend, and unknown to her it is spread wide amongst the kids at school,” he explains.
“They shot the scene where she discovers that for the first time and they were telling me she brought so much emotion. For someone who hasn’t acted before, to pull you into the experience of betrayal, is what the show’s all about.”
Also coming this year is Hungry Ghosts, from Matchbox Pictures, filmed in Melbourne’s Vietnamese community.
“On a personal note it’s exciting for me, as someone of Vietnamese descent,” Nguyen continues.
“It is telling a story through a genre lens with supernatural ideas & elements of horror, but at the same time telling a contemporary story about a local community in Australia. It’s quite ambitious.”
International dramas this year include The Name of the Rose, Zero Zero Zero, Knightfall, The Good Fight, Vikings and The Handmaid’s Tale.
“The Handmaid’s Tale has broken numerous records for us in term of viewing figures.
“Some audiences found the end of S2 a bit polarising,” he remarks.
“So I think it will be fascinating, pushing the resistance against the regime.
“The Good Fight is a personal favourite of mine.”
“The Good Fight is a personal favourite of mine. I really liked what they did with the second season with contemporary politics, the state of the US under Trump. Michael Sheen is joining the cast, he’s always fantastic.”
Also coming is 4 part UK drama Chimerica, an adaptation of Lucy Kirkwood’s critically acclaimed play, with Alessandro Nivola, Cherry Jones, Sophie Okonedo and F. Murray Abraham.
It is expected mid year, to mark the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
“It looks at a fictional character who is an American photo journalist in Beijing during the protests and who took the iconic photo of a Chinese student against a tank.”
SBS also has new series Project Blue Book featuring Aidan Gillen which has just launched in the US.
“It is kind of X-Files territory, a little bit of Indiana Jones set in the Cold War of the 1950s. They are UFO stories with Cold War politics and Russian spies.”
“We have 2 x 9:30 slots on the main channel”
Premium dramas will screen on Wednesdays & Thursdays for SBS, principally in the 9:30 slot. There is a secondary slot late on Mondays and Tuesdays, and some titles will debut at SBS on Demand.
“It depends on the drama, it’s a case by case decision. Das Boot was predominantly in German and French, although there are some English cast as well, we launched simultaneously. All episodes were at On Demand but it played out weekly on air. It’s had fantastic audiences across both platforms,” Nguyen continues.
“It’s a decision we take about ‘What’s the best opportunity?’ There’s a lot of premium English drama at SBS on Demand because it’s the right home for them. We have 2 x 9:30 slots on the main channel so it limits what you can do.”
Documentaries, which can pull bigger crowds in earlier slots, are part of the fabric at SBS.
Kurt Fearnley, Scott Cam, Casey Donovan and Rodger Corser will be profiled in Who Do You Think You Are? with more names to be revealed.
“We had a nice lift in audiences in the last season which was fantastic for a show coming up to its 10th season. When you refresh the cast each year there are constant opportunities to bring the audience to it,” says Nguyen.
“Does it have to be celebrities? Can you tell ordinary peoples’ family stories?”
“I think Every Family has a Secret (previously My Family Secret) will have a lot of the same appeal. A question audiences have asked us for a long time is ‘Does it have to be celebrities? Can you tell ordinary peoples’ family stories?’” he asks.
“The families have some kind of secret in their past. The first episode has someone’s dad as a war criminal, and someone who doesn’t know who their biological father is. But it is told in such an emotional and compelling way with Noni Hazlehurst, who has so much warmth.”
Untold Australia will showcase single documentaries on topics including Disability & Transgenders, there is more of Marry Me, Marry My Family, Medicine or Myth?, Struggle Street (locations are under wraps) and Christians Like Us, with a group of Christians sharing house as cameras look on.
“The casting has a really diverse group with interesting stories to share with one another,” he observes.
“There are some very emotional stories they have to tell.”
SBS is bound to draw big crowds when channel favourite Michael Portillo takes a trip on Great Australian Railway Journeys and Nguyen’s enthusiasm is evident.
“When Gogglebox did Portillo in India it was one of the most hilarious things I’d ever seen. They cleverly picked up his colourful pants matched whatever he was sitting on that day,” he laughs.
“There is a quirkiness in his delivery, aside from it being fascinating travel. And he makes an extraordinary volume of TV for the BBC.”
“It feels like you’ve grown up with them.”
International docos include Jane, a National Geographic doco on Jane Goodall, John & Yoko: Above Us Only Sky on the untold story of Imagine, and the anticipated return of the famous 7 Up series, 63 Up.
“ITV haven’t announced the date but I think we will try and go quite quickly because it creates so much noise every 7 years,” says Nguyen.
“It really is a stand-out documentary experiment. I think everyone who has been watching it over all this time feels so connected with them. It feels like you’ve grown up with them.”
In July SBS also marks the 50th anniversary of the Lunar landing with 3 part series Chasing the Moon from PBS.
First food titles are now on Wednesdays instead of Thursdays and this year includes new episodes of Gourmet Farmer with Matthew Evans, plus Luke Nguyen aboard the Reunification Express in Vietnam, Luke on a Train.
“It’s an idea was initially a source of amusement amongst the team. But then we thought ‘Actually this could be really fun!'” he laughs.
“Food and trains. What could go wrong?”
In Q2 is the premiere of 6pm quiz show Mastermind.
“What created the opportunity was ABC moving into news & current affairs in that slot with The Drum. So they moved out of light entertainment. The option for audiences on primary channels are live news, Pointless or Mastermind. So we felt like it was an opportunity and crossover with SBS World News,” he continues.
“I can’t quite announce a host yet but we have found someone and they will be great for the show.”
There is also the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, Women’s World Cup, more Dateline, Insight, plus VICELAND and NITV titles.
There is no decision yet on The Chef’s Line, Go Back to Where You Came From or Filthy Rich & Homeless (unlikely in 2019).
“It is time to call an end to RocKwiz”
Nguyen finally confirms RocKwiz is not returning.
“The decision we’ve made is that it is time to call an end to RocKwiz after a long success on SBS,” he admits.
“Julia became a big talent through SBS but it is a natural decision as channels evolve and moving into new spaces over time.”
SBS is also yet to schedule 2014 documentary Once Upon a Time in Carlton.
“At the time it was commissioned we had a particular programming strategy but as things change it’s obviously been challenging to find the right place for it. So there is no update.”
Under its Screen Australia funding agreement, it must be screened before its licensing period expires.
“To put it in an audiences’ hands is fantastic.”
On a brighter note this week all eyes are on the Gold Coast for Eurovision: Australia Decides an ambitious Live event to choose Australia’s representative in Tel Aviv.
“It’s totally new territory so like a lot of shows we will learn a lot out of this experience. The songs are great so to put it in an audiences’ hands is fantastic. What will be fascinating is building the grass-roots support for whoever the artist is and building It for the event in May,” says Nguyen.
“I really like Kate Miller-Heidke’s song but also Mark Vincent’s popera feels very Eurovision. Electric Fields has a nice vibe.”
You can catch it Live around the country at 8:30pm AEDT this Saturday.