Powerhouse production at BBC Studios ANZ

Return to Paradise, The Office Australia, Top Gear, 1% Club and Bake Off -in just 5 years BBC Studios ANZ is going from strength to strength.

In just 5 years BBC Studios ANZ has stepped up its production output with a growing slate under General Manager and Creative Director Kylie Washington (pictured above).

Since Mastermind for SBS, it has produced Dancing With the Stars for Seven, The Weakest Link for Nine, The Great Australian Bake Off for Foxtel and The 1% Club for Seven.

More recent announcements have included The Office Australia for Prime Video, Top Gear Australia for Paramount+ and Ray Martin: The Last Goodbye for SBS.

Last week ABC announced Return to Paradise, a local spin-off of the ever-popular mystery Death in Paradise, drawing upon BBC’s own IP.

As Washington recalls, “I looked back to 2016, and Death in Paradise across ABC was number one, or in the top three, every year. I thought, ‘Okay, this is quite clear.’ Also, my insights team had shown data around crime and thrillers. We know these are really popular genres.

“I reached out to (UK producers) Red Planet, and I didn’t know at that time that they were looking at Beyond Paradise, which has since broadcast. They absolutely thought it was a great idea to look at a spin-off set in Australia, with all new Australian characters. It was just one of those pitches that was like, ‘Yeah, that just makes sense.'”

“You’ve got to have all those twists and turns and they have to stand up”

The next step was finding a local writer with a flair for understanding the ‘puzzle’ element of mystery storytelling.

“It’s really, really hard. You’ve got to have all those twists and turns and they have to stand up. Then you’ve also got your series narrative arcs as well in terms of the relationship in the ensemble,” she explained.

“Peter Matessi was hands down that person. He lives and breathes it. So (he wrote) a pilot and then we pitched it to ABC and got the show up, then we pulled together the writers room.”

The Australian series will centre around Aussie ex-pat Mackenzie Clarke, seemingly the golden girl of the London Metropolitan police force, who returns to Dolphin Cove -a beautiful, coastal paradise… and the place she turned her back on six years earlier.

“We’re in the middle of casting right now. We’ve got a ‘long shortlist’ at this stage of the process. We went through the same thing when we were casting The Office Australia. The casting kicks off once you’ve worked out who that main lead female is, and who’s that ensemble around them?

”We’ve got so many great options in Australia, fantastic actresses that could pull off our Mackenzie,” she continued.

“The town itself is where everyone kind of knows each other”

Filming will take place in the new year, likely to be a NSW location.

“You want that kind of feeling that it’s small enough, but it’s big enough with regional areas that you can access. The town itself is where everyone kind of knows each other, or knows of each other, with some really beautiful community relationships that you’re tapping into.”

The Office Australia, led by Felicity Ward (pictured above) as boss Hannah Howard, will screen on Prime Video in 2024 with post production currently underway.

“I’m looking at the last episode at the moment, and several cuts of every episode. We’re all still laughing which is a good sign. Because if you’re not laughing at this point, you know that you’re in a bit of trouble,” said Washington.

Produced with Bunya Entertainment, it also features Edith Poor, Steen Raskopoulos, Shari Sebbens, Josh Thomson, Jonny Brugh, Pallavi Sharda, Susan Ling Young, Raj Labade, and Lucy Schmit.

“But they’re all man-babies!”

According to Washington, Ricky Gervais gave the project his blessing in a zoom call, despite some concerns upon hearing the lead would be female.

“Just to see his face process that information. After a long pause he said, ‘But they’re all man-babies!'” she revealed.

“He was just really trying to convert David Brent, Michael Scott, if that’s a direct translation, to a female. So we went on to explain, ‘That’s not what we’re doing. We’re not just taking those two men and just flipping the gender.’ It’s a whole rewrite, really looking at office dynamics through a female lens in that role of the boss.

“We have talked about that a lot, about landing that character in the right way with the right tone, knowing that audiences can be harder on female leads.

“But he doesn’t have that kind of consultancy process where he has to read every script and every draft. He just blessed us and said, ‘Good luck. It sounds fantastic and I can’t wait to see it.'”

Hit series The 1% Club is in its second season for Seven and winning its timeslot.

“Seven are very happy. It’s one of those shows that can sit there and they can put it in wherever they need to,” said Washington.

“It’s very basic, and it just works”

“Even though they change slots, it’s just two really basic factors: Jim Jefferies (pictured above) and the competitive element: I want to know if I’m as smart as other people in the country. It’s very basic, and it just works.”

Also returning for Seven is Dancing with the Stars with new host Chris Brown, replacing Daryl Somers. If Somers perhaps went “off script” in confirming the hosting change, Washington is generous in return.

“I personally loved Daryl. I really enjoyed the time with the series that we’ve done with him. You know, he is Dancing with the Stars!” she noted.

“Ultimately, that’s Channel Seven’s call”

Will Gold Logie winner Sonia Kruger have equal hosting status with Brown in the 2024 season?

“Ultimately, that’s Channel Seven’s call, but I share a similar view. I think in 2024, we can have co-hosts.”

Also announced in Upfront season is a return to Top Gear Australia with hosts Blair Joscelyne, Beau Ryan and Jonathan LaPaglia.

“We did great chemistry testing. The three of them were fantastic together, and had a real energy,” she noted.

“It’s such a big brand and with such a car-loving country, we feel like it’s time for that show to come back. There’s different stories, big entertaining challenges, and we shoot internationally as well.

“Paramount really wanted high production values”

“Bev (McGarvey) and Dan (Monaghan), and everyone at Paramount really wanted high production values. They didn’t want to do a cheap, very domestic (show).”

So the show will deliver on big visuals and even stunts?

“It’s the car reviews and everything but it’s the chemistry of those hosts and spectacular landscapes and yes, we still are making TV shows that have stunts both in Australia, in the UK and in the US. Absolutely. But I guess there would never be a time where safety is not the highest priority. That is certainly the case on this show,” she inisisted.

But BBC Studios ANZ also faced its darkest days this year with the tragic passing of Cal Wilson, co-host of the Great Australian Bake Off. It is a loss felt deeply within the industry and by crew.

“We all went through, as a production team, what was seemingly innocent at the beginning of our shoot to, things dramatically changing in a very short amount of time.”

Production had already concluded when Wilson passed early last month, however she will appear in early episodes and is not replaced in the 2024 season.

“We thought she would be coming back”

“No, because we thought she would be coming back. We thought maybe (a later episode), maybe the finale. We were all very hopeful, because we just didn’t know what it was,” she explained.

“Natalie Tran stepped up and did a fantastic job of solo hosting, as did Darren (Purchese) and Rachel (Khoo), our judges. They all pulled together.

“She didn’t want to let anyone down”

“Cal was such a professional…. in terms of her work ethic, and her generosity, she didn’t want to let anyone down. But she also didn’t know what was going on, herself. She’s just one of those complete professionals, saying ‘I’m just gonna get through it, just gonna soldier on.’ Our lasting memory of her is ‘I’ll just sort out this thing and I’ll be back.’

“We were still thinking she was going to be okay, she was going to pull through it. So it was a huge shock for us all. The sadness that we all feel for Chris and his son Digby… the memorial was so beautiful, and so sad.”

Screening on SBS in 2024 is Mastermind S6 with host Marc Fennell, multicultural marriage series The Matchmakers and Ray Martin: The Last Goodbye in which the evergreen journalist plans for his funeral.

“I haven’t seen anything like it on TV”

“The access that we have gotten into worlds, the questions that Ray asks about -something that we are all going to be dealing with at some point in our life- is so fascinating and intriguing,” Washington continued.

“I haven’t seen anything like it on TV, it’s going to be really, interesting to see how the SBS audience responds to it.”

Despite a bumper crop of commissions there’s no slowing down for BBC Studios ANZ. Washington is particularly excited about developing original titles, having appointed Chris Kam as a development producer alongside Head of Scripted, Warren Clarke.

“We’re really putting a lot of focus on our original scripted development at the moment working with Australia’s best writers, who are world class. We really want to make shows that just stand for something. That have a quality about them,” she added.

“That’s what attracted me to join BBC Studios. It stands for something and I like that.”

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