AIDC 2020: Observational docs a renaissance for Nine

“The good news is there’s been an absolute renaissance in this country in the last 18 months, in observational documentary.

“In Free to Air Networks that’s absolutely the case,” says Nine’s Head of Content Production and Development, Adrian Swift.

“The bad news is we don’t have any money ….and we really like the observation documentaries that we’ve got.”

Speaking yesterday at the Australian International Documentary Conference, Swift told delegates Nine is particularly buoyed by Paramedics from WTFN and newcomer Taronga: Who’s Who in the Zoo? from McAvoy Media.

But Nine also has the long-running RBT plus Australian Crime Story, Bondi Vet: Coast to Coast, Desert Vet, and Monster Croc Wrangler, while Emergency is also due.

“I would have sat here two years ago and said ‘Sorry, everything is either The Block or The Voice.’ But a big chunk of our schedule is good old fashioned -but innovatively made- observational documentary,” he revealed.

“(Paramedics) is a mixture of fixed rig and off the shoulder shooting. We tried to give it a little bit of ER gloss in how we graded it, and it has a very short depth of field to give it a slightly different feel. It’s not fundamentally different to ob docs as we know it, but we really think it tells a story and focuses particularly on the doctors, their roles and the toll on the doctors.

“In a world where there are no heroes anymore -we don’t trust politicians, we don’t trust the banks- frankly, we’re searching for people who are worthy…the bushfires gave us a lot of those people. But these guys are genuine heroes.”

“It’s something that’s not easy to watch, but it’s very engaging to watch. I think these are the kinds of shows that are going to become more important in everyone’s schedule.”

Swift also screened a moving scene from Taronga: Who’s Who in the Zoo? where vets were unable to save a koala undergoing emergency surgery. He pointed to the vision which kept rolling, rather than avoiding the drama.

“Everyone thinks that at commercial networks it’s cut, cut, cut. But the joy (of that scene) is to keep rolling,” he continued,

“I think the way observational documentary is going is capturing a genuine moment. As soon as you start cutting you’re taken out of the moment.  Just roll.

“And I would say that about Married at First Sight. We don’t invent anything. Our great trick there is just keep rolling. Once you start ‘franken-grabbing’ things, I think you lose the sense of the moment.”


  1. I don’t watch any of these shows now, but did watch Paramedics when it first started. I much prefer Ambulance on 10 as it is based on the BBC format. I find Paramedics to be a sensational version and some of the ambos come across more like Play School presenters than paramedics. I’ve worked in this sector in the past and the majority of them don’t need to be constantly told that they are “heros” and “angels” – all they want to do is their job with the minimum of fuss.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.