Programmer’s Wrap 2023: SBS

More local drama than ever, survival series Alone, Great Australian Walks, and a plan to 'Bring sexy back' to SBS in 2023.

“Our primetime drama offering is so exciting,” Natalie Edgar explains.

“It’s the biggest slate that we’ve had on SBS in terms of scripted for a very, very long time.”

Edgar, who is Channel Manager for SBS and SBS VICELAND foreshadows a big year of Australian and international content, including 3 local dramas.

But first Q1 will be marked by an adaptation of survival format Alone.

Produced by ITV Studios Australia, this sees 10 Australians dropped off, alone, into the Tasmanian wilderness. With no producers and no crew, they must film their own stories. The survivalist who lasts the longest wins $250,000 -covered by show sponsors. Why a competition reality series from a public broadcaster?

“It’s been such a massive hit, not only locally here for our On Demand audience and VICELAND, but around the world as well. We’re really excited about it,” she tells TV Tonight. 

“It definitely fits with our Charter in terms of not only being entertaining and informing… but the resilience of the contestants is really inspiring, and the people who you think are going to bail out early, is not necessarily how it plays out.

“There’s nothing like the Tasmania environment. It’s cold, it’s wet. There lots of flora and fauna, that is so unique to Australia, it doesn’t necessarily look like other international versions of Alone.”

Mastermind, Insight and Dateline all return shortly along with Series 14 of Great British Railway Journeys.

“We know that’s such an important genre for our audience, it’s a staple of our schedule. Our audience just loves armchair travel. Any opportunity we get to showcase various locations and really diverse cultures across the globe, we’re trying to do.”

“The hope with this one is it’s going to bridge that cross-cultural divide”

The Swap (retitled from The Big School Swap) produced by Southern Pictures is a three part social experiment with six students from one of the biggest Islamic schools in Brisbane swapping places with six other students.

“They go to a mainstream high school and see how that plays out. I guess the hope with this one is it’s going to bridge that cross-cultural divide that is ever present in Australia, and really help those students to strive beyond the school gates,” says Edgar.

SBS has many acquired drama titles for its 9:30 Wednesday and Thursday slots including Django later this month, a retelling of the classic set in the American Wild West of the 1860s and 1870s.

“It’s so visually spectacular, a great cast”

Screening in March is UK drama Rogue Heroes, a 6 part dramatised account of how the SAS was formed under extraordinary circumstances in the darkest days of WWII.

“It’s been created by Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders) …it’s so visually spectacular, a great cast. I think this one is going to have some real longevity in the schedule.”

She observes, “Of course, just like every other linear network, what we’re seeing is people are consuming across the month and waiting for a couple of episodes to be stacked. So while our overnight linear numbers aren’t as strong as we would like, we’re still reaching audiences via the 7 day and 28 day Consolidated and then of course, via On Demand as well. Drama is still a really strong genre performer for us.”

In Q2 is Asking For It from Northern Pictures, as a follow-up to 2022’s See What You Made Me Do.

“This is Jess Hill’s investigative documentary series, again in three parts, looking at Consent. It’s driving a national conversation around what’s happening in this country, we’ve certainly made headlines… so this will be an interesting conversation.”

On a similar theme is the first local drama for the year, Safe Home in which a young woman leaves a successful job to work at a family violence legal centre, but finds her life turned upside down when she gets entwined in a brutal murder. Produced by Kindling Pictures it features Aisha Dee, Mabel Li, Virginia Gay, Thomas Cocquerel and Antonia Prebble.

“It’s full of twists and turns”

“I’ve seen the first three episodes. It’s full of twists and turns, I think it’s going to be really surprising,” she continues. “People aren’t going to necessarily know where it’s going to go, and there’s lots of interconnecting stories that involve relationships. Aisha Dee is such an exciting talent. It’s great that we’ve been able to bring her home for an Australian drama.”

Who Do You Think You Are? returns for its 14th season with confirmed talent including Barry Humphries, Rhonda Burchmore and Derryn Hinch.

“Our audience can’t get enough of it and it really provides great consistency on Tuesday nights at 7:30 leading into news & current affairs.”

Another question SBS will be asking is Who the Bloody Hell Are We? a 3 part documentary in which John Safran, Cal Wilson and Adam Liaw explore the impact of Jewish, Kiwi and Chinese communities in Australia.

The Eurovision Song Contest, to be staged in Liverpool, marks 40 years on SBS.

“We’re super excited about it. There’ll be lots of things you can watch, not only on linear, but also On Demand in terms of collections.”

SBS is yet to confirm Australia’s entrant for 2023… watch this space.

Former Eurovision presenter Julia Zemiro is also returning to SBS with Julia Zemiro’s Great Australian Walks.

“The conversation around the commission happened before the success of Kate Humble’s Coastal Walks.

“It showcases history, geography, there’s a bit of science”

“It’s travel / culture but it showcases history, geography, there’s a bit of science in there. Julia is such a wonderful, inspiring woman, she’s kind of like our caretaker on these walks. So it’s really a wonderful, long-running factual series.

“Anyone that travels with me knows that I love a walk. At 5am I’m forever trying to recruit my colleagues, and they’re just not interested!” she laughs.

In the second half of the year will be two other local dramas, While the Men Are Away and Erotic Stories -both of which are 30 minute titles (these will not screen together).

While the Men Are Away is an 8 x 30 queer revisionist historical dramedy set in 1940s rural Australia with Michela De Rossi (pictured above), Matt Testro, Phoebe Grainer, Jana Zvedeniuk and produced by Arcadia.

“I think audiences are really responding to shorter & sharper versions, like The Bear, which is easily digestible,” Edgar explains.

“It’s a bit more snackable in terms of digital experience”

“I remember (SBS Commissioning Editor) Julie Eckersley saying, ‘What do you think about half hours?’ I think because of the nature of scripted content -like I mentioned before- people aren’t necessarily just watching it on linear. It’s a bit more snackable in terms of digital experience. So putting my audience hat on, I don’t necessarily have a problem with it. It’s all about story.

“In terms of scheduling and putting it into a linear schedule, we just have to find something to sit in that back hour, which I think we may have.”

Erotic Stories by Lingo Picture is an anthology of contemporary tales about lust, desire, and longing, but with an SBS twist.

“Each episode will have a different character perspective, a different spotlight and will be stand-alone.

“Julie talks about about ‘Bringing sexy back to SBS’ and I think that these are really good examples of where she’s kind of strategically heading,” she teases.

Amongst the other international dramas are the Free to Air premiere of Vigil, The Vanishing Triangle, the final season of The Handmaid’s Tale, expected later this year, and period UK drama The Doll Factory based on a best selling book.

Also coming this year is three-part observational documentary The Matchmakers, from BBC Studios Australia.

“We’ve got such a wonderful cast of people looking at the private and traditional way that families and cultures match-make….. regardless of culture, I think the quest for love, and marriage is a real audience driver.”

Filming has been underway at Mascot on Inside Sydney Airport (working title) from the team behind Inside Central Station. There will also be a fourth season of Every Family has a Secret by Artemis.

“Noni Hazlehurst has such a lovely manner”

Who Do You Think You Are? is all about recognisable talent. But Every Family has a Secret is a lovely way of shining a spotlight on everyday Australians,” says Edgar.

“It’s a really lovely series and rates really well. The stories are so fascinating and unique, so Australian and Noni Hazlehurst has such a lovely manner.”

Anthology documentary series Australia Uncovered is also expected later in the year.

What about more of Celebrity Letters and Numbers? Expect a new slot in 2023.

“There’s another series in the can. We haven’t landed on a date for that one yet, you would have noticed that we moved the last series to a Monday to try and build audiences.”

Dishing It Up, which screened on Thursdays, will return but likely on SBS Food.

In Sport across the network are Tour De France,  Tour de France Femmes, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a Espana, the Paris-Roubaix Femmes, the Women’s and Men’s Australian National Road Series as well as the Women’s and Men’s European Cycling Spring Classics.

Tomorrow: ABC: Jennifer Collins

7 Responses

  1. So far this is my pick of the FTA channels although some shows I watched on Foxtel. I’m looking forward to their new drama too. Can recommend Vigil. Viceland always tackles the erotic, exotic and what comes naturally but it’s mostly on as late as possible at night. I tape those show “just in case” I miss something and can rewind back to sort it. Agree with Pertinax regarding walking, I get exhausted sometimes watching all of them tripping about the planet. As for their train trips nothing beats a good train trip it’s one of the best “people watching” things you can do besides airports or shopping centres.

  2. I’m not normally a massive viewer of SBS, but I think that’s going to change this year! I’m really looking forward to Alone Australia, The Swap, Asking For It, Safe Home and Inside Sydney Airport

  3. Why the defensiveness about Kate Humble?, everybody walks. Julia Bradbury started it by following Wainwright’s Peaks guides in 2007 and when on to walk canals, railways, The Coast To Coast, (also Wainwright) Iceland, Germany, South Africa, Best British Walks With a View, Coastal Walks and Britain’s 100 best walks and she finally walked Cornwall and Devon in 2021 during lockdown, following in the footsteps of Humble, but also Portillo and Alex Rose. Robinson has walked The Coast To Coast, The Thames, old trackways and through history and time. Rob Bell walked old railway routes and roman roads. Robson Green walked Hadrian’s wall. SBS has aired an awful lot of them and it’s not hard to see where lack of a new idea came from.

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