Programmer’s Wrap 2023: ABC
A musical about the HIV epidemic in Australia, Mother & Son, The Newsreader, taking risks as the national broadcaster -and several shows not returning in 2023.
Of all the broadcasters, ABC has the biggest slate of local production across drama, comedy, documentary, children and news.
Not all of it can realistically be canvassed in a single conversation, but in this final Programmer’s Wrap, Jennifer Collins Acting Director, Entertainment and Specialist, pinpoints some of 2023’s highlights.
Two new shows are already screening on Tuesdays, Better Date than Never and natural history series Australia’s Wild Odyssey.
“Better Date than Never is just a beautifully crafted show and exactly the tone of show that we’re after. It’s got that gorgeous heart and humour. It’s returnable, and the casting is incredible…. it’s just so delicately produced, so respectful and reflecting the diversity of Australia -it’s right in the sweet spot of what we do as the national broadcaster,” she tells TV Tonight.
“Australia’s Wild Odyssey really showcases the best of Australian nature and the cinematography is awe-inspiring. It is just stunning. The team have put together such a beautiful series with great experts, great cinematography, using cutting edge equipment. They’ve captured images of our flora & fauna that have never been seen before.”
Mondays have seen the return of Four Corners, Media Watch and the resumption of Q+A to Mondays. This will see China Tonight, India Now! and Planet America screen on Friday nights on ABC News channel (with a 10:30pm Monday replay on ABC).
“Monday is such a great night for news & current affairs and to start the week with an agenda-setting show like Q+A was exactly the right spot for it.”
‘We love Leigh, there’s lots of opportunities”
Australian Story will follow the current Back Roads season with Leigh Sales to introduce episodes, similar to the late Caroline Jones. Collins hints at more from Sales to come.
“There’s lots of discussions with Leigh across the organisation right now. We love Leigh, there’s lots of opportunities … but yes, you’ll see more of Leigh. This is just the first thing that’s bedded down but as you know, development takes time.”
Foreign Correspondent returns to Thursdays from February 16, pairing with 8:30 shows this year such as Grand Design franchises: Grand Designs NZ, The Streets & House Of The Year, amid rumours Grand Designs Australia will be a future ABC brand.
Wednesday night heavy hitter Hard Quiz and The Weekly return next week.
In February ABC celebrates Sydney WorldPride with the Opening Concert feturing Kylie Minogue and Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade screening back to back with hosts including Casey Donovan, Courtney Act, Jeremy Fernandez, Rhys Nicholson, Nate Byrne, Jack Evans and Mon Schafter.
“It’s been a labor of love for Zoe”
Three part documentary Queerstralia by Zoë Coombs Marr follows, Queer history of Australia during this landmark docuseries.
“That is amazing, a really interesting history surprisingly untold -or not surprisingly, given that people within the LGBTQI+ community have often lived with that threat of persecution. A lot of the history that she unearths comes together by reading newspaper articles about police charges. So she sort of pieced it together, but she’s also had help with cameos from people like Hannah Gadsby, Magda Szubanski, Ian Roberts,” she continues.
“It’s been a labor of love for Zoe. She’s worked so hard on this series and her trademark humour is right through it. It’s really a special, landmark documentary series.”
“This is a story about how government and community came together”
The first local drama this year is a 4 part musical, In Our Blood (picturd top) about the HIV / AIDS epidemic in Australia during the 1980s, written by Adriano Cappelleta, Jane Allen and Jonathan Gavin with music by Elliot Wheeler and produced by Hoodlum.
“It’s a really fascinating and illuminating story of how it unfolded in Australia. We started hearing about this terrible virus that was highly infectious and taking lives … this is a story about how government and community came together and led the way in how to save lives and work together to take action. It was a really community-led action plan, but with the musical elements, leads like Tim Draxl & Matt Day, it’s really entertaining.”
Aunty Donna’s Coffee Cafe stars Mark Samual Bonanno, Broden Kelly, and Zachary Ruane who first appeared as part of ABC’s Fresh Blood comedy initiative. It will be the first local comedy in the 9pm Wednesday slot this year.
“I’ve watched a couple of episodes. It’s the three of them running a cafe and it’s completely bonkers…they’re funny, unpredictable, the format is just so unique. Fans are not going to be disappointed by this one,” she assures.
It will guest star Nazeem Hussain, Miranda Tapsell, Pia Miranda, Tony Martin and even Richard Roxburgh as Rake.
The Ferrone family and Annabel Crabb need no introduction for their new series, Back in Time for the Corner Shop.
“It’s such a fantastic entertaining format, and a great way of telling living history,” says Collins. “This time around we’re looking at history through the lens of the corner shop. Whether you call it a milk bar, or you call it a corner shop, it’s always been a focal point in Australian communities, regionally and in the cities. So it’s just such a great vehicle to cycle through the decades. This one is starting in the 1850 and going right through the through to the 1990s.”
Collins also praises Warner Bros. Australia for including “fantastic cameos” in the mix.
“This year, we’ve got one scene in particular with Jeff Fatt, the purple Wiggle and the shared memories of his own family growing up in a regional store,” she observes.
“The art department should get every award”
“On the wall is a vintage Bushell tea poster and he points out it’s actually his mother in it. So it’s those little moments that just bring that living history to life…..the art department should get every award because they have a couple of days to turn it into a new era, and they do such a great job.”
Ningaloo in May, filmed on Australia’s North West Cape, is presented by author Tim Winton.
“It is stunning… the photography is just out of this world. There’s a wonderful scene where Tim says, ‘I’ve been swimming with whale sharks for 30 years and the golden rule is never touch them.’ In this one, he’s being asked to pick off the parasites off the mouth of the whale sharks,” she continues.
“Ningaloo has been his lifelong inspiration for his life and his work and influences so much of his writing.”
“Both of them, as actors, were very passionate about mental health”
Queensland-produced Limbo from Bunya Productions is a 6 part comedy with Ryan Corr & Bob Morley which tackles the series issue of mental health.
“It’s the first time that Bob’s actually done comedy, but you wouldn’t know that. It’s really beautiful. It’s thoughtful, smart. They’ve got a gorgeous relationship and both of them, as actors, were very passionate about mental health as an issue.”
Interview series The ABC Of returns in May.
“We created that in response to the ABC’s 90th and it did really well. David Wenham was just this fantastic interviewer and we got such gold nuggets out of the ABC Archives, that the ABC audience really responded to so we commissioned another series.”
8 part drama The Messenger will screen around May based on Markus Zusak’s best-selling novel of the same name.
“It follows Ed Kennedy, played by William McKenna (Nowhere Boys) as an accidental hero, a cab driver who mysteriously delivers all these playing cards with instructions of little acts of kindness that he has to play out. He doesn’t know who’s sending him these cards or why. So it’s sort of a personal journey of Ed and all the people around him,” she explains.
“Apparently, Markus got numerous offers to make this into a series previously, but wanted it put into the hands of a good Australian producer and is really happy with this production by Lingo Pictures.”
“Working Dog are creative geniuses”
Utopia returns for its fifth season of the Nation Building Authority in June, with all the cast returning.
“I haven’t seen a frame of it yet….. Working Dog are creative geniuses. They’ve delivered for us before, so there’s a lot of trust there.
“And we have the highly anticipated return of The Newsreader coming in the second half of the year,” she reveals.
“It’s Election Night 1987. We’ve got the Hoddle St shooting in Melbourne, the stock market crash, the 1988 Bicentennial – historic moments in Australia. It’s directed by the wonderful Emma Freeman again, with fantastic performances by Anna (Torv) and (Sam Reid). There’s lots of action this time with Geoff (Robert Taylor) and Evelyn Walters (Marg Downey), and their daughter.
“I don’t think viewers will be disappointed. It is just compelling. I’ve watched three episodes and loved every second of it.”
There are also high hopes for a Mother & Son reboot from Matt Okine who stars alongside Denise Scott. Original creator, veteran screenwriter Geoffrey Atherden has also been a consultant in the new show’s writers’ room.
“I’ve only read the scripts of these. But it is hilarious. It’s true to the original tone of Mother & Son with a wonderful contemporary spin on it. It is a bold reimagining,” she admits.
“If the ABC can’t take risks, who can?”
Collins defends a decision to take on the classic comedy, widely considered to be Australia’s best sitcom.
“If the ABC can’t take risks, who can? …we’ve got this original show that did so well, with so much love for, and then you’ve got two performers like Denise Scott and Matt Okine… comedy is all about taking creative risks.”
Craig Reucassel returns for a third season of War on Waste, last staged in 2018.
“It was a huge success for ABC, with younger and older audiences alike. It was one of those wonderful series that really prompted a whole national conversation on the environment,” Colins maintains.
“We’re always looking for shows with thought-provoking content and make meaningful change and War on Waste is a perfect vehicle for that …we have large scale stunts and Craig is so good at that. It’s about solutions in a format that brings all of this along in such an entertaining way.”
“Politicians cook, Annabel brings the desert.”
Amiable interview series Kitchen Cabinet with Annabel Crabb makes a surprise return in second half of the year.
“It’s such a simple premise. Politicians cook, Annabel brings the desert. It’s been 7 years since the last series. She’s disarming, her charm is what brings out these nuggets of gold from the politicians. And we’ve now got this whole new crop of politicians.”
New in 2023 is a series with Chas Licciardello, Kirsten Drysdale & Lawrence Leung to be known as WTFAQ (previously No Stupid Questions). Described as a hybrid format with both location and studio elements, this sees the team answer questions submitted by the audience.
“So it might be, ‘Is my Smart TV listening to me?’ for example. The team will go off and research that. There might be trivial questions, but they might be deeply serious questions, interrogated in an entertaining way.”
Tasmanian drama Bay of Fires created by Andrew Knight, Marta Dusseldorp and Max Dann is due in the second half of the year.
“Marta plays Stella, who finds herself in witness protection in a small community in Tasmania” which is rife with simmering feuds, crime and sometimes, murder. “It’s quirky, it’s fresh, original, great characters.”
“It is new territory for us, so that’s exciting”
Also coming in Drama is House of Gods created by Osamah Sami and Shahin Shafaei and produced by Matchbox Pictures.
“This is reflecting our commitment to telling stories of our cultural diversity. It is new territory for us, so that’s exciting. And it’s authentic because Osamah is the son of a cleric, so he knows this world. It’s a story about faith, family and secrets.”
Comedy series Gold Diggers produced by CBS Studios with The Alliance, is set in the 1850s Gold Rush in Australia. Created and written by Jack Yabsley, Collins describes this series as “a madcap comedy about two sisters. It’s bawdy and pretty absurd, really.”
Take 5 with Zan Rowe also returns along with more Gruen, and Question Everything for Wil Anderson fans.
Collins assures that documentary Folau will also screen.
“It is a really wonderfully crafted documentary. We are working to get that scheduled. It’s not quite in the plan yet, but we’re working on it.”
Also yet to be scheduled is Stories from Oz, where six stories are retold as musicals, including Schapelle Corby, Tampa affair, Princess Mary and Barnaby Joyce vs Pistol & Boo.
“I’m hoping that is going to land in the second half of the year.”
As yet there is no decision on new chat show Frankly hosted by Fran Kelly.
“Fran did a really great job. The guests were terrific. But we haven’t made a decision on that one yet.”
“It’s really up to the creatives.”
As previously confirmed Spicks & Specks and You Can’t Ask That are out for 2023, but Collins insists, “Both of them will come back. It’s just the timing and scheduling …it’s really up to the creatives.”
Also not returning to ABC are Aftertaste, Tomorrow Tonight, Win the Week and comedy interstitials from Sammy J.
However Total Control and Muster Dogs are both in development for further seasons while Collins adds, “I’d like to go again with Old People’s Home for Teenagers. So we’re in discussions on a second season of the teenagers version.”
With no Mad as Hell on the horizon, Collins confirms, “We don’t intend to make Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell without Shaun, but the door is of course always open to Shaun for return…”
“We’d be mad not to be talking to that team”
There are also discussions with producers behind two other ABC successes: Mystery Road and Summer Love.
“Mystery Road was our number one ABC drama on ABC iview last year. It is such a great series for us, with diversity on screen and behind the cameras. We’d be mad not to be talking to that team about what we do next,” she agrees.
“And I love Wayne (Hope) and Robyn’s (Butler) work. I’ve been a fan of them for a long time. I thought Summer Love was a perfect vehicle for nurturing new writers and new performers. We’re in discussions with that team about what a series two would look like.”
Finally, no ABC slate would be complete without a nod to ABC superstar Bluey, now in its third season.
“Four years in and Bluey’s audience continues to grow with the show the highest rating program in the history of ABC Kids. In fact, it has carved out the position of #1 program ever across all broadcaster video on demand platforms in Australia,” adds Collins.
“And it’s not just a show for kids! In 2022, Bluey is the top ABC program for the co-viewing demographic across all programs on our four broadcast TV channels.
“We love Bluey, we love the team. I can’t wait to see the next delivery.”