Nine drama boss: Halifax success good for industry

Andy Ryan talks Halifax, Seachange and how quota changes will not stop Nine commissions.

“I’m a firm believer that we roll out drama in episodic form, whether it’s on a Free to Air network, or even if it’s on Streaming,” says Nine Head of Drama Andy Ryan.

“I believe in giving audiences some form of closure and satisfaction at the end of each episode, but pulling them through to next week.”

It’s a strategy that has paid off for Nine with Halifax: Retribution which concluded last week with its highest numbers across the season at 556,000 metro viewers.

In Timeshifted numbers, the series has performed even better. In such treacherous times for Australian Drama (when is it not?) Halifax is cause for optimism.

Halifax is a good news story for Nine and a good news story for television and the Drama sector. I think the fact that we can hold our numbers week on week, lift them and then finish the season higher than where we started is kind of unprecedented these days. We’re delighted.

“When you deliver a show that resonates with the audience, they’ll come. The figures over the 28 days are over one and a half million (national),” he continues.

“There’s no doubt that Rebecca Gibney is an absolute icon”

“There’s no doubt that Rebecca Gibney is an absolute icon and a fan favourite. She’s a fantastic actress, but she’s also a terrific producer and a wonderful presence on set, behind and in front of the camera.

“The ambitions of the producers and us going into Halifax was to make a show that looked and felt very international in its outlook and had a budget that was commensurate with that.

“Melbourne looked sensational, and looked very different to the Melbourne that we normally see in House Husbands or Offspring. I think audiences responded to that. It was a great crime yarn that was intriguing and thrilling.”

While the series had the bigger arc of chasing a sniper, episodes still tied off weekly stories, such as Jacqueline McKenzie as a plot red herring.

“Every episode progressed the crime story, but gave you some sense of satisfaction by the end of that hour,” Ryan explains.

“When we as audience members trust the storytelling, we surrender to it, and we enjoy the game of red herrings. We know that Romeo and Juliet are going to die. But it doesn’t make the play any less compelling.

“I had people coming up to me from within Nine ….trying to guess who was the shooter?”

“I had people coming up to me from within Nine – whether it’s the SMH or Fin Review, the accounts department and cafeteria staff- trying to guess who killed Ben and who was the shooter? The level of engagement has really surprised me.”

This leaves the series sitting in a strong position for renewal, but Nine is yet to make a decision.

“It’s early days, we just need to get all the numbers through, work out how we could finance it as well. Episode One is over 1.5 million so that’s a fantastic result. There’s lots of ducks to get in a row and we’re in the process of investigating all that now.”

Since May Ryan has been the sole Head of Drama at Nine, a position he jointly shared with Jo Rooney since 2011.

His newest announcement is Amazing Grace, starring Kate Jenkinson & Sigrid Thornton, currently filming in Sydney.

“There’s some great reveals in Episode One, which I want to keep close to my chest.”

“It’s a show about women, childbirth, midwives and their relationship with that whole process, and their personal lives. There’s some great reveals in Episode One, which I want to keep close to my chest. Suffice to say, Grace’s (Jenkinson) world is going to be turned upside down in Episode One that’s going to force her to reassess her work and personal relationships as well.

“The birth centre is in a repurposed old nurses home in the campus of a hospital, and it’s staffed by midwives.

“This not just about women at the point of birth, it’s about the relationship between the midwife and the woman / family throughout the course of the pregnancy. They also do home births, but with the imprimatur of the hospital.

“This is a show about the midwives. It’s not a show about doctors.”

Nine’s hit drama Doctor Doctor is currently filming a 5th season with Rodger Corser. Both will wrap by Christmas for broadcast in 2021.

But the Drama landscape is also undergoing change after the government revamped the local quota system. Ryan is optimistic Nine will uphold its long legacy in Australian Drama even with change afoot.

“Gone are the days where Drama underpinned your schedule for 45 weeks of the year. What Australian Drama can give to our slate is to punctuate the year with high profile, event Dramas, and then much-loved returning Dramas. That’s the balance that I’ll always seek to keep,” he insists.

“We don’t commission Dramas to meet quota.”

“The bottom line is that the new system gives us a lot more flexibility and that’s a good thing from our point of view. So, in that sense, we’re pleased. The thing to remember, in any discussion about Drama, is that we don’t commission Dramas to meet quota. We commission Drama, because it is successful, and gives us texture to the programming.

“So that approach is not going to change.”

But Nine has also drawn upon New Zealand Drama to meet its quota. While Nine is still assessing the impact of changes, Ryan maintains it will always meet the requirements, and is looking at co-productions with Nine-owned Stan.

“Stan is upping its commitment to local commissions and they will exceed any quota that would have been put on them anyway.

“I’m working with Stan on co-productions that will work for both platforms.

“That’s an advantage that we have actually, as a network.”

There is also no decision still on a second season of Seachange.

“Sigrid’s face will be front and centre with our audience but we haven’t made a final decision one way or the other,” Ryan replies.

“It did a great job, the audience loved it. We’re undecided at this point, so it’s still possible.”

“Never say never.”

There are also no plans for scripted comedy (Here Come the Habibs and True Story with Hamish & Andy were the most recent) but Ryan does not rule anything out.

“Never say never. We had no intention of doing one when Habibs walked in the door, and it was almost an on-the-spot commission.”

While Nine has two dramas now in production, it was fortunate to not have any filming during the worst of Sydney’s first wave of the pandemic. With Informer 3838, Doctor Doctor and Halifax all performing in 2020, Ryan is upbeat about the year ahead.

“We didn’t have to stop production on anything, which was terrific. Just serendipity, actually. And we could announce one renewal and one new show during lockdown.

“I’m particularly proud of the performance of Halifax and I hope people in the industry feel emboldened by the show’s success.”

8 Responses

  1. Really interesting interview David. I agree with J Bar, let SeaChange go and do something new, perhaps with some of the same cast i.e John Howard and Kerry Armstrong.

  2. I’m a bit sad about the state of Australian drama… we had a an amazing industry before 2000 and the advent of reality tv. Budgets have now moved to making singing, dancing, cooking and dating shows that are not watched by the target audiences 18-35 who no longer watch free to air tv. We had a thriving drama landscape that launched the careers of our biggest Hollywood stars and now it’s just on life support. I like Gibney don’t get me wrong but she is no Helen Mirren and nine hasn’t made any good drama since the underbelly franchises sorry. Get rid of reality and make some drama that’s binge worthy on Netflix, we can do it M, we have the talented local cast and crews to do it! The broadcasters just don’t have the balls.

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