EXCLUSIVE: ABC’s slate is always bursting at the seams with drama, comedy, entertainment documentary, kids and news -so big, it can’t all be accommodated here. But ABC Director Entertainment & Specialist Michael Carrington tells TV Tonight about some of the surprises in store this year.
New comedy Aftertaste, with Erik Thomson as an angry chef returning home to Adelaide, premieres tonight. The series is produced by Closer Productions (The Hunting) with Michael Carrington noting Thomson’s abrasive character will face redemption.
“We’re very excited about it. It’s a terrific comedy, starring Erik Thompson and Natalie Abbott. Her character is charming, and gives the emotional, humorous connection, that hopefully softens him as the series progresses,” he says.
The cast also includes Rachel Griffiths, Wayne Blair, Susan Prior, Peter Carroll and Remy Hii.
“Charlie did so brilliantly well last year”
Also back on screen tonight are Hard Quiz and The Weekly with Charlie Pickering.
“I think Charlie did so brilliantly well last year that we are building on the learnings of what audiences were engaged by and enhancing it. I think it’ll be more humorous -if he can be more humorous.”
Thursdays are the new home of Q+A in an earlier slot, joined by Back Roads and, later this year, Foreign Correspondent.
Harrow returns on Sunday for its third season with Daniel Harrow (Ioan Gruffudd) entangled in an underworld of cybercrime, crypto-piracy, and murder. Sundays remain the destination for local drama.
“It’s an ever-popular crime series, that does really well for us. Ioan just just brings a gravitas to the series. I think people will continue to latch on to that emotional rollercoaster of his life,” he continues.
Australian Story returns on Monday, with Four Corners now in its 60th year alongside Media Watch. What sits in the old Q+A slot?
“We haven’t decided what to do after Media Watch yet”
“We haven’t decided what to do after Media Watch yet, we’re still working on that,” says Carrington. “Sam Neill’s presenting a journey around the Pacific following the trail of Captain Cook. But Monday night current affairs and being ‘in the moment’ is really important so we are trying to stick to that tone and that dynamic on Mondays. While the year will kick off with a factual show, it could change later in the year.”
New comedy series Fisk is expected to follow Aftertaste on Wednesdays.
“This is the story of a crazy solicitor company, starring Kitty Flanagan, so it’s bound to be loved,” he continues.
“It’s more narrative comedy, something that people are attracted to on the ABC, something we’re very proud of continuing to do. (Head of Comedy) Todd Abbott is beautifully ensconced and working on a whole development slate.”
It also features Julia Zemiro, Marty Sheargold, Aaron Chen, Glenn Butcher and John Gaden.
Expected in Q2 is new local drama Wakefield. Filmed in the Blue Mountains, it stars Rudi Dharmalingam as a gifted psychiatric nurse, whose his grip on his own sanity is slipping, joined by Mandy McElhinney, Geraldine Hakewill, Ryan Corr, Harriet Dyer, Wayne Blair. Viewers will get the chance to binge the entire season first through iview.
“It will put a smile on their faces as much as horrify them”
“Wakefield will launch on iview before it then moves to ABC TV. It’s a really special series, I think it’s going to surprise people. It will put a smile on their faces as much as horrify them.”
Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell is back in 2021 but there’s no word on whether as one or two seasons, with COVID restrictions still a consideration for studio audiences.
A new season of Superwog has been filming in Melbourne and Sarah Kendall has a second season of Frayed.
“The family finally gets back to London to deal with the unraveling of the family (scandal) when the husband died, left her no money and then ends up being corrupt. He stole it all, it turns out,” Carrington explains.
“The balance has shifted back to her life in London with the kids, but I think it turns out that they love Australia more than the UK.”
There are 10 brand new episodes of Spicks & Specks with Adam Hills, Myf Warhurst and Alan Brough, likely for an early Sunday slot, while Gruen also returns.
Factual specials include more Love on the Spectrum and Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds -this time filmed in an ‘intergenerational play centre’ plus profiles on actor David Gulpilil, Franco Cozzo, and designers Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson.
“Rachel has a personal interest in art”
Claudia Karvan will host an (untitled) Book Series while Rachel Griffiths presents Finding the Archibald.
“I was really intrigued by this idea that you would go back over 100 years and try and pull together the winners of the Archibald. By all accounts, Rachel has a personal interest in art, so she was thrilled to be able to host the program.”
Fans of Bluey, get set for new episodes in the second half of the year. Also coming is new curiosity kid’s show The Wonder Gang.
“Kangaroo Beach also launched recently -another brilliantly, successful show,” says Carrington. “It just shows you that kids just love seeing their own environment and characters they can relate to. I was really pleased with the launch of Kangaroo Beach.”
Annabel Crabb will present 4 part series Women in Parliament and returns with Charlie Pickering for a surprise second season of hypothetical show Tomorrow Tonight.
“On the back of that experience, the production team felt that they could improve and get the show to become even more engaging. Annabel & Charlie have collaborated on that and they spent a lot of time reworking it. I think it’s worth giving it another go just because the idea behind it is a really interesting one,” he observes.
Also returning after a year off is music show The Set, bolstered by a positive reception to The Sound.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to have music back on television,” says Carrington. “Dylan Alcott is back and I think the format will slightly change and open up a bit more, learning from The Sound, with a broader focus and being more inclusive in terms of musicians and performers.
“I was so inspired with the work on The Sound”
“The struggle that we have with music on television is it’s so competitive out there. They can access music, through anything they want to: audio, video content on YouTube or other platforms. It’s going to be a challenge but I was so inspired with the work on The Sound so I pulled out all the stops to get back into Season Three of The Set, which will come later in the year.”
Other local dramas are coming in 2021 include the final season of Jack Irish with Guy Pearce & Marta Dusseldorp (filming wrapped last week in Melbourne). New drama The Newsreader stars Anna Torv as a TV anchor seeking credibility in the 1980s newsroom, alongside Sam Reid, Robert Taylor & William McInnes. Here Out West is an anthology of shorts by emerging writers from the Fresh Start fund.
“Tony just brings that beautiful, emotional connection to story”
Fires by producer Tony Ayres is inspired by stories of the people who survived last summer’s catastrophic fire season. Will that be a challenge for viewers?
“I think Tony just brings that beautiful, emotional connection to story. So it’s something we’re looking forward to. It’ll be tough but the fact is, this is just going to be happening more and more, so why not experience it through some great storytelling?” he asks.
“There’s no doubt it’s a challenge to get the story right, and to keep that emotional connection accessible to audiences. But I think it will be, notwithstanding the fires and what people have experienced here in Australia, a standalone story that will be of its time, but probably completely compelling.”
Carrington also announces a new weekly Arts show is coming to Wednesday nights on ABC TV Plus.
“That is in development as we speak, and hopefully we’ll launch that around Easter. The title is still to be worked out as well, and the host we’re just casting now. We’ve just building the production team to take that forward. So that will be the anchor during the week,” he reveals.
“We weren’t as ready as we would have liked to have been”
“We had to (launch ABC TV Plus) in the year of a pandemic, where we weren’t as ready as we would have liked to have been, with the content for that channel. Knowing that it was launching on the first of January was a big challenge.
“So far so good, ABC TV Plus is up on ABC Comedy by about 2%.”
New local comedy Why Are You Like This launches on February 16 on ABC TV Plus with 20-something friends played by Naomi Higgins, Olivia Junkeer and Wil King.
One popular ABC show not returning in 2021 is Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery but current restrictions make it difficult.
“COVID has pushed lot of things back. When you have to get out and about in the community, a show like that is tricky and challenging. So we’ll wait to see what happens this year,” he adds.
“Another thing I’m mindful of is fatigue”
“Another thing I’m mindful of is fatigue – all the people that make these shows are under a lot of pressure. So I’ve always got that in the back of my mind, too, As much as audiences at the top of mind, I do have to think about the people who are making the programs.”
You can read more on ABC’s full slate here.
Tomorrow: SBS Channel Manager Ben Nguyen