EXCLUSIVE: If you think you know SBS local dramas, two new titles are set to change your mind, says Channel Manager Ben Nguyen. Here’s what’s coming in 2021.
Long running international drama Vikings is coming to an end for SBS next month, wrapping up 8 years of bloody, historical action. But while Channel Manager Ben Nguyen laments its passing, he hopes to tantalise drama fans with a new offering from Italy.
“It will be sad to see it come to an end, but then we’ll be launching Romulus, which is a new, historic drama, that tells the story of the founding of ancient Rome,” he says.
The 10 part series, filmed entirely in archaic Latin, it is the foundations of Rome as seen through the eyes of three people who decide not to follow the fates expected of them.
“They’ve had to teach the actors a ‘dead language'”
“They’ve had to teach the actors a ‘dead language’. It’s definitely a violent period of history, that shapes the world we now live in.”
Wednesday and Thursday nights remain a destination for linear drama ain addition to SBS on Demand. Also coming in Q1 is Shadow Play, from the creators of The Bridge and Midnight Sun.
“Taylor Kitsch leads the cast and Michael C. Hall is in there, alongside a German cast. It’s set in Berlin close to the end of the Second World War, so aside from a level of chaos and lawlessness, you also have the beginnings of the Cold War, power plays and Nazi war criminals who were on the loose. Within all that, we get the story of a US detective finding his feet, on the search for his missing brother,” he continues.
Monday nights on SBS are home to historical and factual content including new 24 Hours in Emergency, while Tuesdays features news and current affairs. Insight will return in March with new host Kumi Taguchi, plus Dateline and The Feed.
Great Continental Railway Journeys will be followed by repeats of Who Do You Think You Are? ahead of a new local season in Q2 (so far Celia Pacquola and Uncle Jack Charles are confirmed). The pandemic has also led to local storytelling this year -no international travel to dig up family trees.
Mastermind returns for semi-finals on February 15 with Jennifer Byrne before a new season, with new host Marc Fennell on February 22nd.
“I think the set is having a little bit of a revamp, and Marc has a sense of humour and plays off the guests in different ways. Celebrity Mastermind will also come later in the year.”
The Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras screens in early March, safely staged at Sydney Cricket Ground.
Nguyen is waiting on word from the US on police comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine, with events in America having led to a rethink from the creative team.
“It’s going to be really interesting in the wake of Black Lives Matter. I think the cast has been quite frank in discussing their role as being a dramatisation of what occurs in a police precinct and the responsibility that they have behind that,” Nguyen explains.
“They scrapped all the scripts that they had in place”
“They scrapped all the scripts that they had in place and went back to the drawing board. So that’ll be really interesting.”
SBS plans to fast-track the series once NBC locks it in.
On Saturdays, Ernie Dingo is seen in half hour editions of Going Places with Ernie Dingo, but a longer form is available on NITV the next day.
Also coming is a second season of Australia In Colour by Stranger Than Fiction Films and Arrow Media.
“It was a big success a couple of years ago and it’s one of the areas of production less-affected by COVID, being archive-driven. It’s really good to have that back telling more thematic stories. Last time we went through the decades but this one will be themed episodes.”
Coming in Q2 is local drama The Unusual Suspects, a four-part heist caper set in Sydney’s glamorous Eastern Suburbs. Described as atale of female friendship and empowerment, it also marks the first major representation of Filipino-Australians in a drama series.
“I think audiences will be pleasantly surprised. It has a very different energy. It’s very vibrant, and there’s an element of sharp comedy in there. Miranda Otto, Matt Day and Peter O’Brien play wealthy, eastern suburbs types who have everything going for them, with harbourside mansions,” he reveals.
“Everyone’s got big secrets and putting up these facades”
“Aina Dumlao’s character is really the heart of the show. She plays the nanny to Miranda Otto & Matt Day’s children, who is doing it tough, just trying to make ends meet. Michelle Vergara Moore’s character has married a wealthy young businessmen. There’s a lot of class elements at play. Everyone’s got big secrets and putting up these facades no matter who they are, but it begins to unravel.
“There’s a lot of split screen, telling narratives across multiple time periods. I think it’s going to surprise people.”
SBS is also hoping for a new season of The Handmaid’s Tale in Q2, after filming resumed in Toronto. It will be joined by Bloodlands, starring James Nesbitt as a Northern Ireland detective.
“It has a lot of personal echoes for him involving IRA and paramilitaries in the past. It’s looking at how some of those events have never fully resolved themselves.”
“It’s really important survivor stories get told”
Powerful documentary series See What You Made Me Do sees Jess Hill exploring domestic abuse, and is based on her book of the same name.
“It’s really going to generate a lot of conversation. It’s a tough subject matter, but it’s really important survivor stories get told.”
The Eurovision Song Contest finally returns in May, although it’s not clear whether as a socially distanced event or completely virtual. Montaigne gets her chance to represent Australia, with a song to be revealed soon.
The Tour de France is also back, as a prelude to the Olympics.
“Breaking the silence and talking about these issues is only a good thing”
Later in the year is Australia Uncovered, an anthology of 7 documentaries including The Bowraville Murders, Our African Roots, Can Science Prevent Suicide? and Celia Pacquola presenting Australia vs Anxiety.
“I think most of us have friends and family who experience anxiety and depression, so breaking the silence and talking about these issues is only a good thing.”
Australia’s Health Revolution, recently filming in WA with Dr. Michael Mosley and Ray Kelly tests Mosley’s treatment on diabetes. Every Family Has a Secret with Noni Hazlehurst will also return later this year.
In Q4 is another local drama, New Gold Mountain set in a Chinese mining camp in Bendigo, 1855. The cast includes Yoson An, Alyssa Sutherland, Christopher James Baker, Dan Spielman and local breakout talent Mabel Li.
“It’s our first period drama and is so cinematic”
“If people have expectations of what an SBS drama is, this is going to blow them out of the water. It’s our first period drama and is so cinematic,” he declares.
“Yoson An plays the guy in charge of the Chinese miners who are facing all sorts of pressures from the local authorities. There’s a lot of subtitles and it has very international scope. It’s a Western in an Australian bush landscape.”
Two other local dramas The Tailings filmed in Tasmania and WA’s Iggy & Ace will both debut at SBS on Demand. Previously-announced Indigenous drama Copping it Black has moved to 2022.
Also coming is more War of the Worlds, Jay Laga’aia literacy documentary Lost for Words while SBS Food has a whopping 200 episode series The Cook Up with Adam Liaw
“The studios at Artarmon are wafting beautiful smells through the office. We haven’t really had a ‘chop & chat show’ for a long time!” he laughs
You can read more on SBS 2021 shows here.
Tomorrow: 10’s Daniel Monaghan