“I just want more Arts”

Even with a mammoth portfolio of content, ABC's Jennifer Collins wants to bring more arts to Australians on the national broadcaster.

By any measure ABC’s Jennifer Collins has a mammoth portfolio.

As Head of Factual and Culture she oversees factual, arts, religion, science, education, health, history and social affairs on both ABC Television and Radio National.

That includes everything from crowd-pleasing hits such as Anh’s Brush with Fame to Art Works on ABC TV Plus and everything in between.

But the former Screentime and Fremantle exec admits she is hungry for more on ABC.

“I just want more arts. Big shows like Love on the Spectrum and Old People’s Home are the ones with heart and warmth. They’re kicking big goals for us, and we’ll continue to do those big contemporary shows. But I’d like to see more international co-productions around Science,” she tells TV Tonight.

“Science audiences are really looking for those big blue-chip Science docos. I’d love to work more with public broadcasters around the world with similar ambitions for science. So we’re doing Carbon: The Unauthorised Biography with Genepool’s Sonya Pemberton, narrated by Sarah Snook. Because of the budget, because we’re able to bring broadcasters together, they can put that money into visual effects. It’s stunning, really stunning, and it makes that accessible for a much broader audience.”

Last week ABC announced two new arts titles, Great Southern Landscapes presented by Rachel Griffiths, and Stuff The British Stole with Marc Fennell.

“The slate is absolutely enormous. We’ve got Tuesday nights at 8:00 and 8:30. We’re running some shows at 9:30. We’ve got more specialist content on ABC TV Plus on top of that. And then we’ve got slots on Sunday at 7:40 as well.

Love on the Spectrum was our number one show last year. Huge audiences watched it on broadcast or on iview and then engaged with it on social for weeks and weeks.

“This year we’ve got the new spin-off of Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds. We loved the four year olds but now we’ve got a new group, the teenagers,” says Collins.

“Australia is the first country in the world to get a new version. Two groups of people with extreme loneliness, amazingly, in teenagers as well as old people. They’re shooting right now with a the new cast of seniors. It’s beautiful casting again. Endemol Shine really do a beautiful job of casting this show.”

Also coming is Back in Time for the Corner Shop with the Ferrone family, the third iteration in the Back in Time franchise.

“It’s a great way of telling history, a really accessible, family-friendly format,” she continues.

“It’s always performed very well for us and really engaged audiences, but most importantly, got the kids watching. There’s few shows where kids want to actually sit with their parents and watch and that is one of them.

“We felt like the Corner Shop is so Aussie. The milk bar could tell so much about Australia, and I think even during COVID people are going local again.”


Miriam Margolyes returns with her brand of insight and opinion on Miriam Margolyes: Australia Unmasked.

“Miriam is out filming right now. She’s amazing …polarising, sometimes yes, but that humour just cuts through. She can talk to anybody and she does talk to everybody. People love to chat with Miriam. She’s looking really, at class in Australia. Post COVID does everyone get a fair girl in Australia?”

Collins is particularly excited by Space 22 exploring if creativity has the power to heal?

“It’s the first commission from BBC Studios Australia for us. I’m personally very invested in this show in terms of arts and mental health. We’re bringing those two together to see whether creativity can help with your mental health. It’s Natalie Bassingthwaighte hosting for the first time on the ABC in this sort of role. She’s obviously been very public about her own struggles with mental health,” she explains.

“We’ve got seven participants, extraordinary stories… people suffering from anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc. and putting them in a social experiment. We have artists come in to work with the participants. There’s an art therapist, Nula, who’s amazing, and we’ve got Eddie Perfect coming in to do some music. We’ve got Abdul Abdulla and Wendy Sharpe to see whether art therapy can actually help with your mental well-being and, spoiler alert, it does.”

Also coming is 3 part doco Tiny Oz, with host Jimmy Rees and artist JoAnne Bouzianis-Sellick, pitched squarely at parents watching with their kids.

“Each episode is one story about history. One is about the moving of Sydney zoo from Hyde Park, across to Taronga and how you do that when there’s no Harbour Bridge. So you’re walking the animal straight down Macquarie Street. An extraordinary story that tells you about how zoos have changed over the years.”

Further episodes explore pearling in Broome and hot air ballooning in Adelaide, to screen in May.

Phillip Island is the broadcasting base for Southern Ocean Live hosted live by Hamish Macdonald and Dr Ann Jones revealing stories about whales, great white sharks, cuttlefish, albatross along our southern coastline.

“The following week, we’ll put out Meet the Penguins because at the time we go to air we won’t see lots of penguins at Phillip Island. So we will film across the night put together a Penguin special. Having natural history in primetime is pretty special.”

Art Works with Namila Benson returns tonight to ABC TV Plus in the earlier 8pm timeslot.

“We’re really proud of getting an internal art show up. It’s really important for us as the national broadcaster,” says Collins.

“It was a hard year launching an art show when a lot of the galleries and exhibitions were closing down, artists were really struggling, festivals were closed. The team managed to put together a really good show, despite all of that. I think this is the year for Art Works. Namila is sensational, I’m really excited that she came across from Radio National.

“It’s just a great way of pulling all our arts content together. I’ve been talking to all the state agencies about emerging and freelance producers who are working in different states and territories and stories they want to get air in their local regions.”

ABC is also in discussions with leading performing arts organisations to better showcase their work for audiences.

Sadly, Anh Do is out this year with Anh’s Brush with Fame due to his writing commitments, but Collins vows, “he is going to come back onto the ABC …not sure when, but it won’t be this year.”

Collins also confirms that drawing upon marquee names presenting such as Rachel Griffiths, Claudia Karvan and Justine Clarke, is a balancing act.

“They have to be authentic. They have to have a real love books or country music or a love of arts like Rachel Griffiths. When we commission we really do look for those authentic hosts, but unashamedly we’re also looking for hosts that can bring in larger audiences, so we can take arts out to a broader audience, she adds.

“We want as many Australians to see our arts content as possible.”

Art Works returns 8pm tonight on ABC TV Plus.

One Response

  1. I’d love to see more arts on the TV. I agree that the audience should be broadened. Perhaps showcasing arts beyond the inner-city museum and theatre districts as well, such as the arts and theatre halls of the suburbs and regional towns, and the arts and crafts scenes of the suburbs and regional towns as well, which is somewhat alluded to in the article.

    The identity of ABC TV Plus is a bit of a hodgepodge. The arts and comedy does go together as it’s performing arts, though some of the documentaries don’t appear to fit in with arts. Documentaries are important but should probably be separate or on a separate channel. For example, do documentaries like Louis Theroux: Forbidden America really wholeheartedly fit into an arts channel?

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