AACTA Member Profile | Andy Nehl: journalist, television producer, writer and director

Andy Nehl has worked across film, television and radio, and his wealth of knowledge and passion for exploring topical political and cultural issues makes him an unstoppable media force.

Hungry Beast Producer Andy Nehl and reporter/presenter Monique Schafter at the 2010 AFI awards.

Nehl grew up in rural NSW and Queensland and lives in the bustling inner-western suburbs of Sydney. He is one of the producers behind The Chaser, Hungry Beast and Lawrence Leung’s Choose Your Own Adventure, and led the team that transitioned Triple J from a state-based radio network to a national one in the late 1980s and early 90s. He has also co-written and directed two documentaries, Media Rules and Buried Country. Nehl’s work has been nominated three times for an AFI Award and he won in 2006  for The Chaser’s War on Everything (Best Television Comedy Series, shared with Mark FitzGerald and Julian Morrow), and 2009 for Lawrence Leung’s Choose Your Own Adventure (Best Television Comedy Series, shared with Nathan Earl and Craig Melville).

Nehl is currently busy producing (and sometimes appearing onscreen as an extra!) in comedy news series The Hamster Wheel (Wednesdays, 9.05pm, ABC1). In this interview, he delves into his past to reveal some secrets of the trade and gives us some juicy insight into The Chaser’s APEC summit media stunt that stopped the nation in 2007. Nehl is a strong advocate for honesty and passion when working in collaboration, and believes that having a genuine curiosity and strong work ethic are pivotal to making it in the industry. With the recent development of highly sophisticated digital platforms and the ease and speed of downloadable content, Nehl is intrigued to see what the future holds for television and media consumption in general. He is unafraid of change, and is a recently self-confessed Twitter fiend.

Andy Nehl is one of our longstanding AFI and now AACTA members within the Producers chapter. We are proud to have film and television makers of this calibre as a part of the new Australian Academy. In coming months, we look forward to sharing more of these profiles as we turn the Member Spotlight onto more performers and practitioners – both those working at home and abroad. (You can check out our previous AACTA Member Profiles here.)

L-R: Mark FitzGerald, Julian Morrow, Andy Nehl, Chas Licciardello. With the 2006 AFI Award for Best Television Comedy Series for THE CHASER’S WAR ON EVERYTHING.

 AFI | AACTA: Where were you born, and where do you live now?

Andy Nehl:  I was born in St George, Queensland, about 500kms west of Brisbane, and now live in the inner-west suburbs of Sydney.

Is there a significant memory from your childhood that still resonates strongly with you today?

There’s a lot. As far as memories relating to film and television go, two television programs I saw as a kid in the sixties had a big and lasting impact on me. One was the Mavis Bramston Show on Channel 7, a satirical comedy program that had a lot of fun with topical issues in Australian society at the time. The other was the ABC’s ground breaking and sometimes irreverent current affairs program, This Day Tonight. Both those programs inspired me and opened my eyes to the importance of understanding and questioning what’s happening in the world, and the potential for humour to communicate ideas. I think they certainly contributed to me becoming a journalist and wanting to work on the one hand across current affairs and documentaries, and on the other hand, satirical comedies or entertainment programs.

You originally started working in radio. Why and how did you make the transition to Film and Television? 

I started making Super 8 films when I was in year 8 in high school. At university, I made a few short 16mm films and also had a casual job as a camera operator/production assistant for the University of NSW’s audio-visual unit, so I was into film and TV well before I started working in radio. I also studied filmmaking at UTS. I made the transition into paid employment in television, because I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time – working as a current affairs journalist at Triple J when ABC TV was looking for reporters for a show called Beatbox in the mid-’80s.

Triple J Manager, Andy Nehl and presenter, Tracey Hutchison at the launch of Triple J Melbourne in October 1989.

You’ve worked extensively with ABC TV to produce a number of highly successful satirical series that examine the state of our cultural, economic and political landscape, including: CNNN, The Chaser Decides, The Chaser’s War On Everything, Yes We CANberra, Hungry Beast and The Hamster WheelIs it important for you in your work to have the opportunity to publicly explore, comment on and critique current socio-political ideas, issues and events?

Yes it is. I have always been focused on exploring social, cultural and political issues whether it’s via comedy TV shows, current affairs or serious documentaries. I have been fortunate to work on many of these kinds of programs over the years with great teams of people.

We vividly recall the day when the Chaser team fooled security at the 2007 APEC summit and drove straight through to the red zone in a fake motorcade, a stunt that drew 2.24 million viewers and became the most-watched comedy show ever to be screened on ABC TV. This could have been a publicity nightmare, but instead garnered the respect and attention of the nation. How did you go about managing this precarious but powerful piece of television?

The Chaser’s APEC stunt involved an incredibly large amount of planning to mitigate the potential risks involved. In a worst case scenario, we didn’t want any of team to get shot by an overly zealous sniper when Chas, dressed as Osama Bin Laden, stepped out of the motorcade. We had very serious briefings for everyone working on that stunt and we ensured that all the appropriate precautions were taken. The NSW Police expected that the Chaser team would try something during APEC and we confirmed with them that we probably would, without saying what, when or where, but stressing that whatever we did, we wouldn’t breach any laws. On the day, I had the direct number of the NSW Police Minister’s media adviser up on my mobile phone, ready to dial as soon as the stunt happened, to let police know that it was only the Chaser, and not a security threat. We originally expected to be stopped at the first Green Zone gate and as well as four small cameras with the motorcade, had another five cameras set up around the Green Zone gate.  We were taken by surprise when the police waived us through and we rolled on past where a Red Zone gate had been the day before. We didn’t end up with a publicity nightmare thanks to the high level of planning involved and the professionalism and appropriate actions of all staff who watched as the stunt unfolded. The subsequent fallout, after people were arrested, was also well-managed by the Chaser Team and the ABC’s editorial executives, legal department and publicity department – everyone working together to explain the reality of what had actually happened.

What are the most important elements for you in creating thought-provoking but entertaining television?

Good creative ideas, good research, good writing, good cinematography, good sound, good editing, good planning and preparation, assembling a production team of the best people you can, being prepared to take risks, being dedicated to excellence and making the best possible program you can, a mountain of hard work, and having fun while you do it. Whatever the genre, whether it’s a comedy, satire, documentary, drama or current affairs – being aware of your audience and providing them with some truth or insight into what’s going on in the world or the nature of humanity.

Honesty cuts through and engages audiences, whether it’s honesty of talent in an interview or honesty in a performance.

What does a typical working day entail for you?

That varies depending on the day. Yesterday, a show record day for The Hamster Wheel involved the following: script read through; meetings with the Chaser team; viewing edits of segments; supervising the formatting of final scripts; the preparation of logs for over 70 video inserts; reading 80 emails and writing 10; making a lot of phone calls and posting a few tweets promoting the show; heading to wardrobe and make up and then on to the set for a quick shoot as an extra in a sketch; informing the graphics team and editors of any last minute changes; discussing legal and editorial issues with our ABC executive producer and lawyers; being in the studio control room for rehearsals and the recording of the show, live to tape – which happens three hours before it goes to air; spending the final couple of hours in an online edit suite as we do a quick trim of the show and get the finished program into a tape machine, five minutes before it’s broadcast. After that it’s sit down with a laptop to monitor the stream of Twitter comments about the show, for half an hour as it goes to air. One of the fun bonuses of working on shows like The Hamster Wheel  is getting to play occasional cameo roles in sketches.

Promo image for satirical news comedy show THE HAMSTER WHEEL.

Can you describe the collaborative creative process?

The collaborative process has varied on different programs and documentaries I have worked on. With The Hamster Wheel as with other Chaser shows, the five Chaser members: Chris, Craig, Julian, Chas and Andrew are the key creative team who write and collectively refine the scripts for The Hamster Wheel. Those scripts draw on the work of a team of researchers and loggers who scour the media, finding appropriate material. When scripts are completed they go through a legal and editorial approval process with the ABC and then our crack production team swings into action, organising shoots, producing graphics and editing segments. Given it’s a topical weekly show, production is very fast-paced and we work flat out to get items finished on time. It’s a massive collaborative effort, with everyone involved contributing to the show.

The fact that you need to collaborate with large numbers of people to make films and television programs is what I love most about working in the industry.

It’s a joy to work on shows like The Hamster Wheel where the team functions like a well-oiled machine, all working together towards a common goal, where every one gives their all, inputting to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Andy Nehl playing a funky preacher in a Hungry Beast sketch 2011.

Over the last ten years, have you noticed a significant shift in the way that television is produced? How has the internet, and in particular the ease and prevalence of downloading content, impacted the viewership and the broadcasting of free-to-air television?

The main change in the way television is being produced over the past ten years is that (while there are exceptions) in general, production budgets have come down in ‘real terms’. The workload has increased and more corners need to be cut in order to produce programs within the budgets that are available from broadcasters.

…in general, production budgets have come down in ‘real terms’. The workload has increased and more corners need to be cut in order to produce programs within the budgets that are available from broadcasters.

The Internet and downloading have had a significant impact on free-to-air television audiences, as has the growth of FOXTEL and the new free-to-air digital channels. The result is that audiences for TV programs across all networks are down. But the Internet, mobile, social media and the multiplatform/multiscreen environment have also provided great new opportunities for engaging with audiences, evolving new forms of programming and promoting programs. The industry is in a state flux as we have entered the era of downloading and IPTV. Business models are changing and no one is sure where things will end up. Look at the current difficulties being experienced by Channel Nine and Network Ten. It is a challenging but very exciting time to be in television.

You also co-wrote and directed the documentary Buried Country (2000). What was the inspiration behind this project? 

My friend Clinton Walker had been researching a book on the hidden history of Aboriginal country music for a few years and I came on board to help turn it into a doco.  The inspiration was the music. Australia has had decades of great country music performed by talented Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists for over 70 years. While the Indigenous community was always aware of this, the majority of the non-Indigenous Australian population was not. Buried Country was a great opportunity to document and bring to the world’s attention this significant part of Australia’s musical heritage. I had been a fan of Aboriginal musicians such as Jimmy Little, Roger Knox, the Warumpi Band and Archie Roach for many years so I was keen to become involved when Clinton asked me.

Director Andy Nehl, singer Herbie Laughton, DOP Warwick Thornton and sound recordist Leo Sullivan filming Buried Country south of Alice Springs in 1999.

How did this experience differ to working in television? Was this project more a labour of love?

Making a long-form documentary is obviously different to producing a weekly turnaround TV program full of short segments. The productions schedule is very different with longer blocks of pre-production, shooting and post-production. The team is much smaller, and the long-form narrative structure requires a different approach. But the need for planning and the creative collaboration of the whole team is the same. Is any documentary not a labour of love? Buried Country was funded by Film Australia and SBS Independent with a reasonable budget, considering the travel and music and archive licensing involved, but it still didn’t cover the vast majority of development or research involved, which both Clinton and I were happy to undertake due to our love of the music.

What are some of the ways that you have refined your skills and changed your working methods over the course of your career?

I have continually developed and refined my skills throughout my career and have learnt from different people I have worked with. The arrival of digital, multiplatform technologies and social media has changed the way I work and changed they way we all work. When I first worked for ABC TV in the mid-1980s social media like Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist. They weren’t even a twinkle in some programmer’s eye. These days I’m on Twitter every day. Twitter has been my main source of news since I joined it four years ago. It is a great tool for researching ideas, marketing your programs and interacting with your audience.

Lawrence Leung’s CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE.

What have been some of the biggest hurdles you’ve faced during your career? And what have been the highlights?

The biggest hurdle in my career was probably turning Triple J from a Sydney station into a national radio network when I was manager of it in the late ’80s and early ’90s. A very tough job, but also a career highlight, as Triple J successfully launched in capital cities around Australia. Career highlights in film and TV would be the docos Buried Country and Media Rules, and working on TV shows that pushed the boundaries such Beatbox, Blah Blah Blah, Hungry BeastLawrence Leung and The Chaser shows of the last decade.

Over the years you’ve been nominated three times and twice won an AFI Award for your work on Hungry Beast, The Chaser’s War on Everything and Lawrence Leung’s Choose Your Own Adventure. You also won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Hawaiian International Film Festival for Buried Country. How does it feel to receive such widespread recognition for your craft?

It’s great to receive recognition for your work, but as always that recognition really belongs to the whole team, because the success of those programs is due to the creative input and collaboration of everyone involved.

The Chaser team celebrating their AFI Award win in 2006. Andy Nehl at centre.

Can you name three mentors or people who have inspired and nurtured your creativity over the years?

Yes: Mark FitzGerald, producer and director at ABC TV over many years; Marius Webb, one of the founders of Triple J radio; and Stephen Stockwell, Professor with the School of Humanities, Griffith University.

What advice would you give upcoming television and filmmakers wanting to break into the industry?

Do whatever you can to develop your skills. Do short film courses, uni media courses, research and write scripts, volunteer on other people’s films and community TV programs, undertake work experience attachments on productions that interest you, attend industry events and watch lots of film and TV.  Cheap video cameras and editing software means it’s easy to get together with friends and make short films. The more you do this, the more you will develop your screen story telling skills.

Be determined and persistent, and be a decent human being – the film and TV industry in Australia is very small, and no one wants to work with prima donnas.

The more practical experience you have, the more employable you will be. Be prepared to give a 110% and willingly work long hours with good humour.

What is your all-time favourite Australian film or television series? Why?

This is the hardest of the all these questions to answer because there are just way too many Australian films and TV series that I really like. Being forced to choose one, I’ll pick my favourite Australian movie of this year, which is The Sapphires. Why? It is a great uplifting story, with great performances, great music, great editing, great directing, and such beautiful and stunning cinematography from Warwick Thornton. And on top of all that, it has exposed the general public to a positive and inspiring story about the contribution of Aboriginal peoples to Australian culture.  The Sapphires is a triumph for Goalpost Pictures and all the team who made it.

Thanks for your time Andy, and we look forward to seeing what you do next!

The Hamster Wheel is currently screening on Wednesdays, ABC1 at 9.05pm.

To read other AACTA Member Profiles, click here.

By Lia McCrae-Moore & Rochelle Siemienowicz

Meet Nick Murray – the ‘Jigsaw’ in Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder

Executive Producer Nick Murray is the ‘Jigsaw’ piece of the puzzle in the Australian production company Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder (CJZ).

Nick Murray, Executive Producer and founder of Cordell, Jigsaw and Zapruder, Australia’s largest independently owned production company.

Along with producer and director Michael Cordell,  Murray founded Cordell Jigsaw in 2005, and they went on to establish themselves as producers of an eclectic mix of factual, entertainment, drama and comedy. They recently merged with Andrew Denton’s Zapruder’s Other Films, making CJZ Australia’s biggest independently owned production company.

Murray’s responsibilities as EP include overseeing one of the company’s most highly regarded and  popular shows – the international Rose d’Or-winning Go Back to Where You Came From (SBS).  Murray is also responsible for popular factual television series Bondi Rescue (Ten), the spectacular aerial documentary series Great Southern Land (ABC1) and  children’s sketch comedy series You’re Skitting Me (ABC3) – among other projects.

A former President of the Screen Producers Association (SPAA) and the foundation CEO of Australian cable network The Comedy Channel, Murray has more than 20 years of diverse experience within the Australian television industry.  He took some time out to answer our questions about the lay of the local television landscape, telling us why size matters, why Australian television needs to stop relying on international reality formats, and why we need to nurture more young teams of comedy talent. Oh, and he also tells us that he wishes he’d invented Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals! Read on to find out more.

AFI | AACTA: Can you tell us how you came to merge with Zapruders? What was the rationale behind it, and how is it working out so far?

Nick Murray: It’s working very well.  The creative teams are working seamlessly on the existing shows and new development.  The rationale is to help us to compete with the big foreign owned format dealers like Shine, Fremantle, Granada and Endemol.  To compete with format importers, we need lots of good ideas.  That’s what we do and what we’ve shown we can deliver.

AFI | AACTA: What are the particular advantages of being ‘Australia’s biggest independently owned production company’?

Nick Murray: Being a medium sized production company is difficult.  We have to have high overhead and permanent staff costs so that we are responsive and remain interesting to the networks.  This is a big financial risk.  To remain nimble, we need to offer continuous employment to our key creative people, so the theory is it’s better to be bigger rather than mid-sized.

Nick Murray is Executive Producer of GREAT SOUTHERN LAND (ABC) – a four-part documentary series offering a unique aerial view of Australia and its people. .

AFI | AACTA: As the ‘Jigsaw’ in the Cordell Jigsaw Zapruders puzzle, what are the particular strengths and experiences you, individually, bring to the mix?

Nick Murray: I am one of the few Australian producers who has worked in Network TV management, Indie production and run a cable TV network.  As a result, I have built teams that understand the whole market.  That has helped create and pitch new shows. I guess we have half a chance of predicting trends!

AFI | AACTA: What is it that you love about working in television production as opposed to film?

Nick Murray:  TV is more immediate and attracts a much bigger audience.  It is the only medium where the audience experiences it on the same night across the country.  This year, three of our shows – Dumb Drunk and Racist (ABC2), Go Back to Where You Came From (SBS) and Can Of Worms (Ten) – all use audience reaction to spread word of mouth or provoke debate.  I love that.

AFI | AACTA: In international terms does Australia have a strong local television industry? And what are some of the particular strengths and weaknesses you see in our industry?

Nick Murray: We’ve got a great local industry and Australian shows are performing well on TV.  The biggest weakness is a reliance on formats.  In the UK, both on the broadcast side and in production, they have nurtured a stronger industry because of risk taking and innovation.  There is no lasting benefit to the industry if a foreign owned company makes a really expensive foreign format for a network and the profits go offshore.  Australian drama production costs are also becoming a worry.  Our work practices result in costs that are no longer competitive when compared to international productions.

AFI | AACTA: Looking through the list of shows produced by your company, it’s clear you have an obvious strength in the area of making entertaining yet intelligent factual content. Are there any secrets to making shows such as Go Back to Where You Came From, Great Southern Land or Two Men in a Tinnie, which cover important social issues, but in an approachable way?

Nick Murray: The secret is great casting and cloaking the information contained in the show in an entertaining way.  With Go Back for instance, the quasi-reality elements make the audience comfortable watching a show about a potentially uncomfortable topic they would never normally seek out.

GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM, Series 1, SBS.

AFI | AACTA: Is there a factual format you wish you’d invented?

Nick Murray: Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals.  It has changed the way some people eat and you can shoot an episode in an hour.  Plus it’s got Jamie Oliver in it.  Brilliant!

AFI | AACTA: You must be very gratified by winning the two awards at the 2012 Rose d’Or Global Entertainment Television Festival – for both Best Factual, and Best overall program in any genre for the first series of Go Back to Where You Came From. Can you explain to those who aren’t fully aware of the Rose d’Or how these awards work, and what it means to you as a production company to win them?

Nick Murray: The Rose d’Or Awards are the only proper international TV awards.  It is the highest TV award in the world.  Other awards, such as the Emmys, do not pit US shows against international shows which have their own award.  That’s why it is such big news in Europe and the US.  It was great for SBS and it is a huge honor for us to win and has resulted in a big lift in our profile internationally.  It has brought the spotlight to shine on our other shows and new ideas.

AFI | AACTA: Your Rose d’Or win seemed to go under the radar with the Australian media. Do you have any ideas why?

Nick Murray: I can’t work out why it doesn’t get recognised here.  All I know is that judging by the story placement, many industry publications and funding agency newsletters thought it was more important that some short animation was nominated for an obscure award in the Ukraine, than us getting the Rose d’Or for a major piece of Australian TV.

AFI | AACTA: As you will be aware, this year the AACTA Awards have introduced a new award for Best Reality Television Series. What qualities would you like to see this AACTA Award celebrate?

Nick Murray: It’s got to look at the underlying idea, the casting and the execution.  I’d like to see some new unique ideas in there rather than formats.  If it’s a format award, then it’s an award for the best copy.  I’m not sure that’s what the AACTA awards are about.

AFI | AACTA: The second series of Go Back to Where You Came From was a definite ratings and social media win. Were there any special advertising, PR or social media avenues used to create awareness and encourage people to tune in to the broadcast and engage with it interactively?

Nick Murray: Go Back is SBS’s biggest show of the year.  So they supported it with extensive online and traditional marketing.  Our own team did some terrific work in the social media space.  Through our YouTube partnership, we got the jump on clips and promos online which SBS was able to use too.  But the best work comes in the educational space.  SBS’s outreach unit created a wonderful schools kit and this helps the series live on in classrooms for the whole year.

AFI | AACTA: You have a background as foundation CEO of the Comedy Channel. Any opinions about the current state of Australian television comedy? Is there anything you’d like to see more of? 

Nick Murray: The missing link at the moment for me is comedy teams. We make a wonderful low budget sketch series for teens for ABC3 – You’re Skitting Me.  It’s great working with young comedy performers.  But there’s not much else. The industry has to remember that comedy teams over the years like The Comedy Company, Fast Forward, The D Gen were hugely popular and spawned industry heavyweights like Eric Bana, Gina Riley, Jane Turner, Magda Szubanski, Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Glenn Robbins and Shaun Micallef (and others).  More recent shows shows like Ronnie Johns and The Big Bite brought Hamish Blake, Andy Lee and Heath Franklin into the public eye.  Over the years comedy shows have done more for the industry than any other form of entertainment.  But the form is ignored by networks and funding agencies alike.  That’s short sighted.

‘The missing link at the moment is comedy teams,’ says Nick Murray. Pictured: the cast of young comic performers from kid’s comedy series YOU’RE SKITTING ME (ABC3).

AFI | AACTA: Do you have any advice for young players? Any common mistakes to avoid?

Nick Murray: Young players need to remember that we are in the entertainment INDUSTRY.  That implies that it should be profitable.  Don’t do things for nothing.  Certainly don’t do things for less than award rates.  You need to make a profit to run a successful company.  If you aren’t making a profit, you can’t develop new shows.  So you may as well get a job instead of taking the risks of producing yourself.

AFI | AACTA: Thanks for your time, Nick.

Links and Further Reading

  • Visit Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder to find out more about their current slate of programs.
  • Read Mumbrella account of the merger between Cordell Jigsaw and Zapruder’s Other Films.
  • Series 2 of Go Back to Where You Came From attracted over 1 million viewers nationally on its first night to become the no.1 rating show for SBS with a Metro average audience of 767,000 viewers. Related hashtags such as #gobacksbs had 8 of the top 10 trending topics in Australia and 5 worldwide making it one of the most successful Australian programs of 2012, with over 22,000 twitter mentions in 24hours.
  • Series 1 of Go Back to Where You Came From won the 2012 Golden Rose (Rose d’Or) – Best of Rose d’Or; the 2012Rose d’Or for Best Factual Entertainment; the 2012 Logie for Most Outstanding Factual Programme; the 2012 UN Peace Media Award for Best Promoter of Multicultural Issues; the 2012 UN Peace Media Award for Best Documentary; the 2012 Australian Directors Guild Award for Best Direction in a Documentary Series; the 2012 Banff World Media Festival – Best Social and Humanitarian Documentary; and the 2011 SPAA Independent Producer Award for best documentary.
  • You’re Skitting Me is sketch comedy made for kids for ABC3, starring all-new Australian talent. Performed by teenagers, the sketches introduce characters such as the Tattiana the Sailor Girl, Voldemort, Internet Speak Girl, Mario and Luigi, Cavemen, Vikings, Naughty Girl Guides, Bear Cub, the Hipsters, Uncle Vijay, Inappropriate Joe, Australia’s Next Big Talent judges, parodies of Twilight and the accident-prone Helmet Boy.

Why I Adore… Reality Television

By Emma Ashton | 

Reality television has always been the unruly child amongst television genres – passionately loved by some, but barely tolerated by others, many of whom hoped and predicted that viewers would move on and it would eventually die out and never be heard of again.

Much to the chagrin of many, this naughty (and rumoured to be illegitimate) child, through sheer force of personality, continues to demand attention.

In the past decade, reality television shows have dominated ratings, created many stars, unearthed hidden talents, reinvigorated flagging careers, and provided much media chatter – both of the superficial and the deeply intellectual and sociological kinds. In fact, there’s no ignoring reality shows in any discussion of contemporary television programming.

In the beginning…

The beginning of the 2000s was the start of reality TV as we now know it. In Australia the networks bought up overseas formats like Big Brother, Survivor, The Mole, Dancing With The Stars, and Idol, producing local versions and variations.

The first big hit was the first series of Big Brother Australia, broadcast on Network Ten in 2001. This was the Australian version of the Endemol format, which originated in the Netherlands and now has franchises all over the world which follow the basic format: a diverse group of (usually) young people are confined in a house, with their interactions monitored like lab rats, and regular evictions eliminating all but the winner from the house.

The first Australian series captured the imagination of audiences (which averaged 1.4 million in the three-month period of series 1) and continued on yearly until the three-year hiatus after the low-rating 2008 series. (Big Brother has recently been revived for a ninth series, currently screening on the Nine Network.)

The first season of AUSTRALIAN SURVIVOR aired on the Nine Network in 2002.

In the early days, an important part of the voyeuristic pleasure of Big Brother was the ability to watch the action live on the new-fangled invention, the internet. Viewers could then interact with the show by voting to eliminate contestants through SMS, and also by talking about it online in fan forums.

The rise of reality TV thus coincided with the rise of social media, which enticed viewers to watch shows live in order to discuss them in real time. This was something the critics and naysayers had not counted on: the explosion of social media and the perfect way it married with reality television programs.

After Big Brother, other international reality formats quickly found their way onto our screens, including the first series of Australian Survivor (Nine Network, 2002), Australian Idol (Network Ten, 2003), Dancing with the Stars (Channel 7, 2004), Australia’s Next Top Model (Fox 8, 2005) and many others.

The Masterchef phenomenon

It was Masterchef Australia which finally forced the industry and the critical viewer to give the reality genre some respect. The first series of this show hit our screens in April 2009 (Network Ten) as a replacement for the dead Big Brother, and it showed that a cooking show could pull in huge viewing numbers night after night. Ratings averaged more than 3 million viewers a night, peaking at 4.11 million in the final episode.

Julie Goodwin and Poh Ling Yeow – winner and runner-up for MASTERCHEF Series 1, 2009.

Other networks were desperate to find a reality show that would get people tuning in. Channel Nine achieved this with The Block (revived with great success in 2010) and most recently The Voice (2012); as has Seven with My Kitchen Rules (first season 2010) and The X Factor (first season 2005, revived in 2010). In fact, it should be acknowledged that Seven persisted with those latter two shows despite slow first seasons, eventually turning them into mega hits.

In 2009, viewers who had previously hidden their love of reality TV, along with new viewers who’d just discovered it, were suddenly talking about Masterchef, passionately involved in whether their favourite contestants would win or be eliminated. The success of this program showed that reality TV was not going away, but instead was a force to be reckoned with. Viewers who had finally crossed to the “dark side” were now willing to test the water with other shows in the reality genre.

Indigenous? Muslim? Middle-Aged or Mumsy? Please apply

Personally, what I love about reality TV is its diversity of casting. For the first time in primetime history, there were people from different backgrounds, ages, sizes and sexuality on our television screens, and look at how we have embraced them! It could be argued that this has paved the way for more risks to be taken in casting within drama series, other television formats, and even feature films.

Winner of BIG BROTHER, Series 4, the Fijian-born Trevor Butler and runner-up Bree Amer, 2004.

Who can forget Trevor Butler, of Fijian background, winning one million dollars on Big Brother 2004 and going on to have a media career? Or Casey Donovan, who won the reality singing show Australian Idol 2004 at the age of 16, voted for by viewers who did not care about her Aboriginal ancestry or her size? The hugely talented Indigenous singer Jessica Mauboy also obtained her start on Australian Idol, where she was runner-up in the 2006 series. Without this start, it’s possible she’d never have been discovered, and we wouldn’t be enjoying her talents in feature films like Bran Nue Dae and most recently, The Sapphires.

Journalist, television host and radio broadcaster Chrissie Swan may never have had a media career without the kick start she got from appearing as runner-up in the 2003 series of Big Brother.  Nine years on, she still battles criticisms for her weight, her parenting and her refreshing candor, but she forces the industry to treat her with respect because of her popularity with audiences, a popularity which culminated in her winning the Most Popular New Female Talent Logie Award in 2011.

Jessica Mauboy, runner-up in the 2006 series of AUSTRALIAN IDOL and now gracing cinema screens in THE SAPPHIRES.

Amina Elshafei, who was open about her Muslim religion on the 2012 series of Masterchef Australia, was loved by the audience. She showed that a Muslim girl, wearing a hijab and avoiding pork, can be sassy, talented and ‘Australian’. As did Mo and Mos (Mohammed El-leissy and Mostafa Haroun) who were the extremely funny bumbling team on the first season of The Amazing Race Australia. Australian born Muslims of Egyptian background, these two friends were one of the reasons the 2011 show was such fun to watch.

Reality singing TV shows were initially considered an illegitimate way for a person to enter the industry as they had not done the “hard yards” in the music circuit. However shows like Idol, The X Factor and The Voice gave talented singers the opportunity to showcase their skills when previously they may not have had the right ‘look’ or the necessary connections to get ahead in the industry.

Without Australian Idol, would record executives ever have considered signing up 2003 winner Guy Sebastian? A Sri Lankan/Malay boy with an afro, who was not shy about talking about his belief in God or the fact that he was a virgin, he was not exactly made in the traditional pop star mould, yet he continues with chart success and as a judge on The X Factor.

Winner of the 2012 series of The Voice, Karise Eden has a big, gravelly voice and a troubled background, growing up in foster care with low self esteem. It’s highly unlikely that she’d ever have succeeded in getting a demo tape onto a recording executive’s desk without The Voice. And fellow contestant Darren Percival’s demo tape would have been stamped “too old” and “been gigging too long”. Through The Voice, however, he was able to reach his audience – the mums at home who don’t have the time, money or energy to get out to live shows.

The award-winning hit, GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM, Series 1, SBS1.

Go Back To Where You Came From (SBS, 2011) brought the genre respect by highlighting the important and contentious issue of refugees. The program used the tricks and conventions of reality TV productions, placing the cast of six ‘ordinary’ Australians outside their comfort zone and pushing them to their emotional limits. The three-part series took its Australian participants on a confronting 25 day journey which saw them challenge their preconceptions about refugees and asylum seekers. The resulting show, along with its discussion forum and social media frenzy, increased viewers’ understanding of global issues, increasing our empathy for the plight of dispossessed people. The series garnered a number of awards, including the coveted Golden Rose for Best of 2012 at the Rose d’Or Awards ceremony in Switzerland, the TV Week Logie Award in 2012 for Most Outstanding Factual, and two awards at the 2011 United Nations Association of Australian Media Peace Awards for best television documentary and for its promotion of multicultural issues.

Now with the second series of Go Back to Where You Came From (currently broadcast on SBS1), the same production team have created a celebrity version of the show, with participants including former hardline Liberal politician Peter Reith and former ‘shock jock’ Michael Smith. This is attracting similar accolades from the press and audiences.

In a society where education, race, gender and socio-economic background strongly determine opportunities, reality TV has surprisingly allowed these barriers to be challenged and crossed, changing our cultural perceptions and norms in the process. This can only be a good thing.

Connection, emotion and fantasy – why reality works for me

Another aspect of the reality genre which I love is watching people receive the opportunity to transform their lives. It may just be with the big cash prize, but also in other ways.

Would winner of Masterchef Australia season one, Julie Goodwin, a middle-aged stay-at-home mum, ever have dreamt her life would change so much when she auditioned for the show? Anyone bored with the humdrum of their everyday life would cheer her on for jagging a Woman’s Weekly column or her television cooking show. It is not just the winners, however, who change their lives. The vast majority of the Masterchef contestants have changed their lives as a result of being on the show.

South Australian winners of MY KITCHEN RULES, Leigh Sexton (left) and Jennifer Evans – who was initially seen as a ‘villain’.

What really draws love, however, is being able to emotionally connect with the contestants. Like modern day Vaudeville, these shows cause us to fall in love with some, and fervently dislike others. In fact, some contestants are set up to be villains, and this need not be seen as a  negative, as the savvy reality TV contestant realises this role will get them more air time and a higher media profile. In fact, the villain can even transform into the hero. For example, this year’s My Kitchen Rules winner, Jen (Jennifer Evans), started off being quite disliked for her forthright views, however she forced the audience to treat her with respect, due to her superior cooking skills and her entertainment value.

I also love the fact that I can be personally involved in reality television shows through voting and social media interactions. Yes, we viewers are sometimes manipulated by the editing, but it feels good to be supporting the people we like.

Another aspect I enjoy is the sheer quantity of fresh faces that appear on our screens with each new show. As each new series starts, I can’t help but  wonder who will be the star, who will have the talent? Which contestant will I hate, and which ones will  make me laugh?

Hosts with the most – to gain

I also love seeing the fresh (or re-freshed) faces of the cast of judges and hosts who front these shows. At one point it may have been considered a career dead-end – though faded 80s rock stars must have been grateful for the boost to their retirement funds. Now, however, these are prized jobs. Media identities know that if they can appear on a top rating reality show, they may just reinvigorate careers, find whole new fan bases, sell merchandise and showcase another side of themselves.

Revived careers – the judges for THE VOICE AUSTRALIA, Season 1: Joel Madden, Keith Urban, Delta Goodrem & Seal. 2012

It was no coincidence that most of the coaches on The Voice had singles, marketing campaigns and ticket sales commencing at the time the show was broadcast. Delta Goodrem had not had a hit for five years and now she’s everywhere. Within Australia, Keith Urban was considered a niche talent, more famous for his movie star wife, Nicole Kidman, than for his own talents. But with The Voice he cemented his identity as a likeable and approachable talent within the mainstream.

Deserving Respect – a new Award for reality TV

One of the chief criticisms leveled at the genre has been that it steals jobs away from real actors and from creative talents involved in scripted drama, as well as leaching resources from hard news and traditional documentary formats. These are probably issues for someone other than a rabid reality fan to answer!

However, it must be acknowledged that the popularity of reality productions (many of which are more popular here in Australia than their international counterparts) has meant that they are a huge employer within the local industry and a training ground for many new talents both behind and in front of the camera. Live television events, such as those orchestrated by reality television shows, seem to be the future of free to air television, and one of the few formats resistant to time-shifting, illegal downloading and audience fragmentation.

The reality TV genre is broad and continually evolving. Reality television shows have given Australian viewers many of the iconic television moments of the last ten years, and it’s clear now that this genre will continue to thrive in the competitive television landscape.

As an obsessive fan and prolific commentator on reality television, I must say that I’m thrilled to see this much-maligned form of entertainment – which is such an important aspect of the yearly television schedule – now being acknowledged with its own Award by the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA). The people involved in producing, commissioning and working on reality television shows certainly deserve to have an award that recognises excellence within their genre, thus giving legitimacy and acknowledging excellence within these formats.

I’m eagerly looking forward to November, when we’ll find out which shows have been nominated for the AACTA Award for Best Reality Television Show. Bring it on!

About the author:

Emma Ashton is Editor/Publisher of Reality Ravings (www.realityravings.com). You can also follow her on Twitter @RealityRavings where she’s sure to be tuning in live and tweeting about the latest reality offerings on Australian television.

It’s on! The 2013 AACTA Awards Cycle is launched.


The search is on for Australia’s most outstanding film and television performers, practitioners and productions, with the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) calling for entries for the 2013 AACTA Awards.


Enter the AACTA Awards

Entries are now open across all categories: Feature Film; Short Animation; Short Fiction Film; Television; and Documentary.

The 2013 AACTA Awards include more than 50 Awards — recognising excellence across screen crafts including screenwriting, producing and acting, through to cinematography, composition and costume design. This year we are also introducing a new Award, the AACTA Award for Best Reality Television Series.

For information about 2013 AACTA Awards categories, eligibility criteria, deadlines and fees, and information on how to enter, click here.

Join a Jury

We are also now seeking AACTA Awards jurors – screen professionals from a cross-section of crafts, who come together to determine the nominees and winners for various Awards in the following categories: Feature Film Pre-Selection; Documentary; Television; Visual Effects; Young Actor; and Short Fiction Film and Short Animation.

AACTA Awards jurors determine AACTA Awards nominees and winners across a variety of categories, which many jurors find both rewarding and educational.

As the AACTA Awards are industry-assessed, jury positions are open to AACTA members only. This ensures that jurors are: screen industry professionals who have gone through an accreditation process to verify their experience and expertise; and those best qualified to recognise excellence in their field. It is not too late to become an AACTA member in order to join a jury.

To read more juror testimonials and to apply to become an AACTA Awards juror, see the Join a Jury page on the AACTA website.

On the Box: Australian Television 2012 – Part 2

By Simon Elchlepp

In Part 1 of this article, we scanned some of the Australian Dramas, Mini-Series and Telemovies set to grace our small screens this year. Now it’s time to look at the funny business – Comedy and Light Entertainment – as well as at Reality TV and some kid’s programs we’re looking forward to seeing.

Comedy & Light Entertainment

Andrew Denton and his new game show RANDLING

For many viewers, Wednesday nights are a regular couch-date with ‘Aunty’. This may well continue with the premiere last week (2 May) of ABC1’s new Wednesday night line-up.  First there’s the hotly anticipated word-based game show Randling (8.30pm), featuring multi-AFI Award winner Andrew Denton’s return as show host. Following this battle of wits and words, AACTA Award-winning series Laid (9pm) returns in its second series, with Roo’s world turned upside down in another flurry of hilariously awkward situations. It’s all capped off by Agony Aunts (9.30pm) in which Julia Zemiro, Myf Warhurst, Judith Lucy and other high profile Australian women give men advice on how to navigate the difficult terrain of the modern relationship.

Here are some others we’re looking forward to:

Shaun Micallef Is Mad As Hell (ABC1, from 25 May 2012, 10 x 30min)

Shaun Micallef of SHAUN MICALLEF IS MAD AS HELL

Satire is notoriously difficult to get right, but Shaun Micallef’s satirical look at Australian news in 2007/08’s Newstopia was one of those shows that succeeded. Now Micallef is back for more in Shaun Micallef Is Mad As Hell, and the Newsfront­-inspired title promises a piercing look at how our media report about the world around us and shape our view of it. The ABC calls it “a half-hour weekly round-up, branding, inoculation and crutching of all the important news stories,” and in the absence of any Gruen Transfer this year, Shaun Micallef Is Mad As Hell could be just the media-skewering show we’ve been looking for in 2012.

Hamish And Andy’s Euro Gap Year (Channel Nine, first half of 2012, series)

Hamish Blake and Andy Lee of HAMISH AND ANDY’S EURO GAP YEAR

Some people are lucky enough to enjoy not just one, but two gap years. After Hamish And Andy’s Gap Year unleashed the two larrikin comedians on an unsuspecting USA, in 2012 it’s Europe’s turn to brace itself for a visit from Hamish and Andy. With a disused pub in London as their studio, Hamish and Andy’s Euro Gap Year will screen on Nine leading up to the Olympics. Sport will not, however, be the focus. Instead Hamish and Andy will travel the continent and visit Bosnia, Russia and France, among others, to introduce Australians to the curious yet endearing characters and customs of Europe’s various countries, which apparently include  ‘bus pulling,’ ‘ice-swimming’ and ‘festivals of snails’.

Lowdown Series 2 (ABC1, 2012 TBC, 8 x 30min)

Paul Denny, Dailan Evans, Adam Zwar and Beth Buchanan reunite for LOWDOWN SERIES 2

There are few things on the telly that are as satisfying as a satire which sets its aims on a mock-worthy target – and hits the spot. And so fans of Frontline and The Hollowmen will greet Lowdown’s second season with open arms. Adam Zwar returns as the Sunday Sun’s star entertainment reporter who compensates for his lack of a moral compass with a keen sense of which stories will drive up circulation. From exposing political sex scandals and violent actors, to outing gay sportsmen and setting up cheating TV chefs, Alex will do what it takes to save the Sunday Sun’s declining figures. Lowdown Series 2 reunites AFI Award winners Adam Zwar, Kim Gyngell (as the Sunday Sun’s editor) and series producer/writer/director Amanda Brotchie to poke fun at the tabloid press.

Sporting Nation (ABC1, 2012 TBC, 3 x 60min)

John Clarke ready to entertain us with SPORTING NATION

All those disappointed by the sad news that there’s no The Games: London Calling will be delighted to hear that 2012 will not pass without John Clarke having another go at the follies of organised sport. As has been well documented, Australians tend to be somewhat crazy about sports, so it’s time to find out why we take it so seriously. Meeting legendary sporting heroes, sports fans, sporting sages and sporting cynics, Byron Kennedy Award winner Clarke discovers that the story of Australian sport has all the elements of great drama – a rich golden age, a crisis that threatens its very existence, and a re-emergence against colossal odds. And it’s based largely on fact.

This Christmas (ABC, second half 2012, six-part series)

The Moody family from ABC comedy THIS CHRISTMAS

There’s hardly any time of the year that is riper for comedic potential than Christmas. No matter how far you’ve run to escape your family, the fights, bad gifts, boring uncles, overbearing in-laws and shocking family secrets, it will all catch up with you during the Merry Season. Each episode of This Christmas is set a year apart, as Dan (Ian Meadows) visits his dysfunctional family every year at Christmas. AFI Award winners Phil Lloyd (At Home With Julia) and Trent O’Donnell (The Chaser’s War on EverythingLaid) have mined similar territory before with Review with Myles Barlow – Christmas Special and will know how to milk this comedic setup for all it’s worth to generate plenty of laughter.

Josh Thomas

Please Like Me (ABC1, 2012 TBC, 6 x 30min)

This Christmas isn’t the only ABC comedy series of 2012 that will look at all the entanglements and embarrassments that family life brings with it. Well-known to comedy buffs through his stint as Generation Y team leader on Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation, comedian and Logie Award-winner Josh Thomas writes and stars in Please Like Me. For Josh life is just kicking off, now that he lives in a share house and makes his steps towards being an adult and turning twenty-one. But then he’s forced to move back home to care for his divorced mother and grow up a bit quicker than he expected to. For AACTA and AFI Award-winning director Matthew Saville, Please Like Me marks his return to comedy after his work on We Can Be Heroes, while the show’s cast includes Debra Lawrence, David Roberts and Caitlin Stacey.

Also tracking:

An as of yet untitled Jane Turner and Gina Riley project on Seven (maybe more Kath & Kim following their upcoming feature film Kath & Kimderella?); ABC2’s multiplatform comedy The Strange Calls about a hapless city cop (Toby Truslove) who is demoted to night duty in the sleepy beachside village of Coolum; Myf Warhurst’s Nice on ABC1, which sees the former Spicks & Specks presenter take a nostalgic journey through popular taste, cultural icons and her own childhood.

Reality Television

If there’s something Australian TV viewers can’t complain about, it’s a dearth of reality TV formats. In only a few years, reality TV has seen a meteoric rise in popularity on Australian television screens. Buoyed by the success of MasterChef’s first season back in 2009, reality TV has now become the most watched TV genre in Australia, bumping sports broadcasts to second place. No wonder then that reality shows have become a crucial part of Australia’s television output. Reflecting this growth, and the industry talent and innovation within the genre, AACTA has announced a new Award for 2013 – the AACTA Award for Best Reality Television Series. Here’s a quick scan of just some of the shows on offer this year.

The Voice (Channel Nine, from April 15 2012)

There have been many talent casting shows in which singing hopefuls try to convince a panel of judges of their musical skills – but very few have been as strikingly successful as the Nine Network’s The Voice. With a jury that includes Keith Urban, Delta Goodrem, Seal and Joel Madden, chances for the show’s success were always good, but few would have predicted that The Voice would turn into the ratings juggernaut that it has become. With the show entering its final stage of live competitions and the start of audience voting, you can expect The Voice to continue dominating ratings and watercooler discussions.

Judging THE VOICE: Keith Urban, Delta Goodrem, Joel Madden and Seal.

My Kitchen Rules (Seven Network, January 31 – February 23 2012)

Following two successful seasons, My Kitchen Rules truly took off earlier this year and successfully challenged the MasterChef empire. Adding a team from New Zealand certainly increased the sense of competition and you can be sure to see more teams in 2013 turning their homes into an instant restaurant to serve dinner for the judges and the other contestants and aiming to impress with their culinary skills.

Manu Feildel and Pete Evans – judges of MY KITCHEN RULES 2012

Australia’s Got Talent (Seven Network, from April 16 2012)

First screening in 2007, Australia’s Got Talent has truly established itself as one of Australia’s most enduring reality TV shows. Amidst a sea of competitors that focus on singers, dancers or other artists battling it out for the sympathies of juries and audiences, Australia’s Got Talent sets itself apart and gives all self-made performers – be they singers, magicians or comedians – a chance to shine. Judges Dannii Minogue, Brian McFadden and Kyle Sandilands make their return for the show’s sixth season.

The Block (Channel Nine, from April 16 2012)

Before MasterChef or Australia’s Got Talent, there was The Block, the Nine Network’s reality show for all hobby renovators. After a six-year break, The Block returned in 2010 and has been going strong ever since, and has already been confirmed for another season in 2013. Set in Dorcas Street in Melbourne (just a few blocks down from the AFI | AACTA’s Melbourne offices!), The Blocks current season once again taps into our national obsession with giving our homes a face-lift and demonstrating our DYI skills.

MasterChef  (Network Ten, May 6 2012)

Originating in the UK, MasterChefs brand of reality competitions arguably kicked off the current reality TV craze. Much has changed though since those early days when the show dominated the field, and competition is fiercer than ever, not least after My Kitchen Rules‘ success earlier this year. After season 3 of MasterChef  came in for some criticism for its tough challenges and tests, in 2012 the show promises to return to its basics: celebrating its contestants and their ambitions.

Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston – the testing trio of judges on MASTERCHEF.

Next Stop Hollywood (ABC1, 2012 TBC, 6 x 30min)

Next Stop Hollywood puts a spin on the format that is bound to appeal to film and TV fans. The show follows six aspiring young actors from Australia as they try to make their mark during pilot season – the frenzied period in LA when network television pilot shows get the go-ahead and casting begins. All of these young talents will have to fight to make it in the cutthroat US system. Produced by AFI Award-winning production house Matchbox Pictures, Next Stop Hollywood finally puts the cameras of reality TV onto the industry itself and promises to deliver captivating insights.

Aspiring Australian actors try to make it big in NEXT STOP HOLLYWOOD

Bollywood Star (SBS, from June 2 2012, 4-part series)

The popularity of Bollywood movies has exploded in recent years and more than a few have filmed in Australia. There’s no question that the films’ exuberant  and colorful dance numbers and songs make for enthralling viewing. To deliver not just another singing and dancing competition, SBS had the bright idea of tapping into our fascination with Bollywood movies with their new reality show Bollywood Star. The show will follow the search  for an Australian Bollywood star: an unknown who will go on to win the prize of a lifetime – a coveted place in the next movie by renowned Bollywood producer and director Mahesh Bhatt.

Bollywood meets iconic Aussie landmarks – BOLLYWOOD STAR.

Children’s Television

The Flamin’ Thongs (ABC3, 2012 TBC, series)

Whale Bay is home to Australia’s least visited tourist attraction, the Giant Thong. But that may be about to change, for all the wrong reasons. Behind this animated series are AFI Award-nominated director Colin South (DogstarThe CircuitStone Bros.) and writing team Bruce Griffiths and Simon Dodd, both veterans of Good News Week and each with four AWGIE (Australian Writers’ Guild) Awards to their name.

In Your Dreams (Seven Network, 2012 TBC, series)

Noel Price, one of Australia’s most prolific producers of first-rate children’s television, returns with In Your Dreams. Having produced children’s TV classics such as Blue Water HighDon’t Blame the Koalas and Spellbinder, two-time AFI Award winner Price sets In Your Dreams in both Australia and Germany. Price’s previous series, the country-hopping A gURLs wURLd, already looked at cultural differences and In Your Dreams takes this one step further, as Australian teenage twins Samantha and Ben Haselton discover what ‘culture shock’ is all about when they spend the summer with some eccentric, aristocratic and accident-prone relatives who live in a remote German castle.

Conspiracy 365 (Movie Network Channels, Family Movie Channel (FMC), 2012 monthly, 13 x 60min)

Conspiracy 365 is an action thriller adapted from Gabrielle Lord’s best-selling young-adult book series. It follows the life of teenager Cal Ormond (AFI award winner Harrison Gilbertson) as he ‘searches for the truth behind a deadly family secret’. Joining Harrison on the Melbourne shoot are Marny Kennedy (The Saddle Club), Taylor Glockner, Rob Carlton (Chandon Pictures, Underbelly), Julia Zemiro (Charlotte’s Web, The Wedge), Kate Kendall (Stingers), Ryan O’Kane (City Homicide) and David Whiteley. With the story unfolding as monthly instalments over the course of 2012 and the final episode to air in January 2013 now is still a perfect time to join the fun.

Marny Kennedy, Harrison Gilbertson and Taylor Glockner from CONSPIRACY 365

Mako Mermaids (Network Ten, TBC, 26 x 30min)

Reef Doctors (see part 1 of ‘On The Box’) isn’t AFI Award-winning producer Jonathan M. Shiff’s only new show to be shot in the tropical waters of Queensland. After three successful series and an AFI Award win in 2008, H2O: Just Add Water see a continuation of sorts with big-budget spin-off Mako Mermaids. The $12.3M series focuses on three mermaids who are charged with the task of protecting their magical Mako Island from trespassers, only to be thwarted by the arrival of 16-year-old land-dweller Zac, who forms a special connection with the island and is granted a fish-like tail and amazing powers. Filming on Mako Mermaids has only begun this week, so we’ll have to wait and see if this promising new adventure series will air this year – but in any case, we’re looking forward to it already.

More mermaids for H2o’s Jonathan M. Schiff. MAKO MERMAIDS has just begun production.

That’s it for our quick wrap-up of Australian television. Feel free to tell us below what you’re looking forward to most. And if there’s a particular show you think we’ve missed out on, tell us that too or email our editor (editor [at] afi.org.au) with details.

You may also be interested in On the Box: Australian Television 2012 – Part 1.

On the Box: Australian Television 2012 – Part 1


By Simon Elchlepp

Now for the fourth year running, we preview some Australian television highlights coming up in the year ahead (you can find our stories from 2009, 2010 and 2011 to revel in a bit of TV nostalgia). As it’s already April, some of 2012’s highlights have already come and gone, but there are still plenty to look forward to. In fact, 2012 shapes up to be a particularly interesting year on the small screen, for while there are many continuing series building on successes of past seasons, there is an impressive number of original productions due to screen this year. The ABC, in particular, has increased its drama and comedy output dramatically in recent years, while the commercial networks seem more prepared to take the plunge on ‘event’ telemovies and mini-series than in previous years. What’s also notable is that Australian TV producers and writers keep mining the nation’s rich history for their inspiration, unearthing stories from both familiar and lesser known periods of Australia’s past.

The trend also continues for networks to offer more viewing flexibility, with online viewing services like the ABC’s iview, SBS’ On Demand and Network Seven’s Plus7, constantly improving the audience’s ability to catch up on viewing at times to suit their own schedules.

John Waters and Asher Keddie – OFFSPRING SEASON 3.

As in 2011, we’ll focus on the television categories celebrated in the AACTA Awards: Drama, Comedy & Light Entertainment and Children’s Television. Some shows that have premiered recently, or will do so in the next couple of weeks, are Randling – six-time AFI Award winner Andrew Denton’s long-awaited return as show host, as he presides over a battle of words between teams that include witty wordsmiths such as Julia Zemiro, Rob Carlton, Angus Sampson and Robyn Butler (from 2 May, ABC1); Laid Series 2, which sees Roo (Alison Bell) having her world turned upside down when she is introduced to her opposite – Marcus, who doesn’t kill everybody he has sex with, but heals them (from 2 May, ABC1); and  Offspring Series 3 (now showing on Wednesday nights, 8.30pm, Network Ten), in which Nina Proudman (Asher Keddie) faces more messy family challenges. We’ve also just seen the impressive telemovie Beaconsfield on the Network Nine.

As always, we can’t include everything, but here’s a taste of Australian content that’s still to appear on your telly in 2012. In Part 1 we’ll look at the Drama offerings. Next week, in Part 2, we’ll focus on Comedy & Light Entertainment and a couple of new Children’s shows set to debut this year.

Drama: Series, Mini-Series and Telefeatures

Bikie Wars: Brothers in Arms (Network Ten, from May 15 2012, six-part mini-series)

One of the darker spots of Australia’s recent history is the Milperra massacre, a violent clash between the Bandidos and the Comancheros motorcycle clubs on Father’s Day, Sunday 2 September 1985 that left seven people killed and 28 wounded. Bikie Wars: Brothers in Arms aims to shine a light on how this deadly conflict could built up in the bikie gangs’ tribal culture with its particular code of honour. The show’s strong cast reads like a who’s who of Australian male TV stars including Todd Lasance, Luke Ford, Anthony Hayes, Damian Walshe-Howling and Callan Mulvey, with two-time AFI winner Susie Porter and Maeve Dermody in other roles. Veteran TV producers Greg Haddrick and Roger Simpson and director Peter Andrikidis together have a whopping 13 AFI Awards and 32 AFI Award nominations to their names, so it’s safe to say that this project is in good hands.

L-R: Anthony Hayes, Matt Nable and Callan Mulvey rev it up in Channel Ten’s BROTHERS IN ARMS.

Dangerous Remedy (ABC1, 2012 TBC, telemovie)

Jeremy Sims will take the lead in ABC1’s DANGEROUS REMEDY.

The story of Melbourne GP Dr Bert Wainer is that of a long, hard struggle on two fronts. As Australian social mores rapidly change in the late 1960s, Dr Wainer, moved by the death of a young woman, embarks on a campaign to overturn laws that make abortion an offence punishable by up to 15 years in jail. But soon he’s not only up against the legal system, but also against an illegal abortion ring involving highly paid doctors, backyard abortionists, high-ranking police and power-broking politicians. As producer/writer’s Kris Wyld’s next project after the AFI and AACTA Award-winning East West 101, Dangerous Remedy promises to be another slice of first-rate Australian TV drama, brought to life by a high-profile cast that includes Jeremy Sims (as Bert Wainer), William McInnes, Susie Porter, Maeve Dermody and Gary Sweet.

Devil’s Dust (ABC1, second half of 2012, two-part telemovie)

For more than a century, asbestos was one of the most commonly used building materials, and it took decades to recognise its devastating health impacts. In Australia, a decisive part of that struggle were the actions of three men, recreated in the telemovie Devil’s Dust. These central characters are: Bernie Banton (Anthony Hayes), who takes legal action against James Hardie after contracting cancer from his years of working with asbestos; Adam Bourke (Don Hany), who becomes aware that James Hardie is selling a product that causes the death of thousands of people; and Matt Peacock (Ewen Leslie), the ABC journalist who reveals evidence of the link between asbestos and cancer, and then devotes his career to exposing the shocking truth and bringing justice to victims. Two-time AFI Award-winning writer Kris Mrksa and producers FremantleMedia Australia bring the moving story of this still ongoing national tragedy to the small screen.

Anthony Hayes as mesothelioma sufferer Bernie Banton in DEVIL’S DUST.

Howzat!  (Channel Nine, 2012 TBC, two-part mini-series)

For a while, discussion around Howzat! The Kerry Packer Story focused mainly on which network would screen this ‘sequel in spirit’ to ABC’s Paper Giants, and whether Rob Carlton would reprise his AACTA nominated and Silver Logie-winning performance as Kerry Packer. Now that both questions have been answered, it’s time to take a closer look at the actual production. And what we can see so far looks like a highly entertaining trip back to the late 1970s when a young Kerry Packer took on the cricket establishment. Then owner of Channel Nine, Packer set up a rebel competition, the World Cricket Series and ushered in the era of one-day cricket played under lights. Lachy Hulme, also appearing in Beaconsfield and recently seen in Any Questions for Ben?, The Killer Elite and Offspring, continues his strong run and portrays Kerry Packer, backed by a supporting cast of moustachioed stars including Brendan Cowell, Damon Gameau and Matthew Le Nevez.

 

Matthew Le Nevez plays Dennis Lillee, Damon Gameau as Greg Chappell and Brendan Cowell as Rod Marsh on set of HOWZAT! 

Jack Irish – Bad Debts / Jack Irish – Black Tide (ABC1, 2012 TBC, 2 x 90min)

Rain. Wind. Pubs. Beer. Sex. Corruption. Murder. That’s Melbourne in winter for you, according to Peter Temple’s Ned Kelly Award-winning series of Jack Irish crime novels. Jack is an expert at finding people who don’t want to be found – dead or alive – and doesn’t mind stirring up a bit of trouble. He’s a former criminal lawyer, part-time investigator, debt collector, cabinetmaker, mug punter, and sometime lover – and the producers couldn’t have found a better actor to portray this complex character than Emmy Award-winner Guy Pearce. But while Pearce is certainly the big name on the roster of Jack Irish, he’s surrounded by a supporting cast that reads just as impressively: Damien Garvey, Anthony Hayes, Shane Jacobson and Roy Billing co-star, directed by one of Australia’s most promising young TV directors, AFI Award winner Jeffrey Walker.

Lawyer, punter, debt collector and sometime lover – Guy Pearce stars as Jack Irish.


Mabo 
(ABC1, June 2012, 117min)

Jim Bani and Deborah Mailman as Eddie and Bonita Mabo.

The life of Eddie Mabo has been the subject of several documentaries, most recently in Rachel Perkins’ groundbreaking series First Australians. Now Perkins, fresh from the success of Bran Nue Dae, returns to tell Eddie Mabo’s story in this telefeature. At its heart is the love story between Mabo and his wife Bonita that sustained their momentous struggle to change the face of Australia. In the lead role, Jimi Bani (The Straits, R.A.N.) is surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that includes Deborah Mailman, Colin Friels, Miranda Otto, William McInnes and Ewen Leslie. The talent assembled behind the camera is just as impressive: Byron Kennedy Award winner Perkins works with a team that includes multiple AFI Award winners Anthony Partos and Sue Smith. Expect this to end up on a lot of ‘best of year’ lists by the end of 2012.

The Mystery of the Hansom Cab (ABC1, second half of 2012, 120min)

Period crime series are hot right now on Australian TV screens. A trip into the prohibition era revitalised Channel Nine’s Underbelly series and the 1920s glam and swagger of the ABC’s Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries endeared the series to many TV crime hounds. Now the ABC follows up its recent success with The Mystery of the Hansom Cab, a telemovie based on the first detective novel ever written in Australia in 1886 by Melbourne barrister’s clerk Fergus Hume. A milestone in the development of the literary crime genre, The Mystery of the Hansom Cab has been filmed three times as a silent movie and now returns to the small screen courtesy of producer Margaret McDonald and director Shawn Seet, who has shown a sure hand with such material as Underbelly: Razor.

Reef Doctors (Network Ten, 2012 TBC, 13 hour series)

In the current wave of crime and medical dramas that has swept Australian TV screens in recent years, family-oriented action fare has taken a bit of a back seat. That’s about to change with Reef Doctors, a 13-part drama series starring Lisa McCune in her first role since Sea Patrol wrapped last year. McCune stars as a single mother and leader of a team of doctors that serve the remote Hope Island Clinic, looking after residents of a small island community on the Great Barrier Reef, as well as tending to holiday-makers and thrillseekers. Reef Doctors also marks McCune’s first foray into producing and she is joined by two-time AFI Award winner Jonathan M. Shiff (Elephant Princess, H20 Just Add Water, Cybergirl), one of Australia’s foremost producers of family TV entertainment. Rohan Nichol, Matt Day and Richard Brancatisano complete the cast of this Australian-German co-production.

Rohan Nicol and Lisa McCune in REEF DOCTORS.

Puberty Blues (Network Ten, second half of 2012, series)

Claudia Karvan and Jeremy Lindsay Taylor – PUBERTY BLUES.

Like Bruce Beresford’s 1981 classic movie of the same name, Ten’s new series is based on the novel by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette. It recently made headlines for its top-flight cast that includes Claudia Karvan, Susie Porter, Dan Wyllie, Jeremy Lindsay Taylor, Rodger Corser and Ashleigh Cummings. More AFI Award winners are found behind the camera, with Southern Star duo John Edwards and Imogen Banks (Offspring, Tangle) producing and Glendyn Ivin and Emma Freeman (Hawke, Tangle, Offspring) directing. It will be fascinating to see what this impressive team of creative minds will bring to the re-telling of the story of two Sydney teenage girls trying to fit in with the local surf gang. Early word has it that the series will not only portray the two girl protagonists, but also their families and friends in greater detail.

Redfern Now (ABC1, second half of 2012, series)

Redfern Now looks like it might become a landmark series in more than one sense. It is crafted by seven Indigenous Australians under script guidance from three-time BAFTA Award winner Jimmy McGovern, with over 250 Indigenous Australians to be employed in various roles including producers, directors, writers, actors, production and post-production staff. While this will provide career opportunities for creative Indigenous Australians on a massive scale and have an impact on the whole film and TV industry, what will transpire in front of the camera should be just as interesting. Produced by Blackfella Films (First Australians, Mabo, The Tall Man), Redfern Now will tell “the explosive and dramatic stories of six households in Redfern […] one of Australia’s most famous suburbs – an area full of contradictions; [an] Aboriginal icon, centre of black struggle, and a real estate goldmine”, according to McGovern.

Tricky Business (Channel Nine, from May 14 2012, series)

When the first Tricky Business promo was released, it didn’t take long for some to compare the series to Packed to the Rafters. Ultimately, only once the first episode has screened will we know how similar or different both productions are. What’s clear already is that the show boasts a strong cast that includes two-time AFI Award winner Shane Bourne, Gigi Edgley, Debra Byrne, Kip Gamblin, Antony Starr and Tomorrow, When The War Began star Lincoln Lewis. Tricky Business focuses on a family that runs a debt collection business. Channel Nine’s Head of Television, Michael Healy, promises a show with “a very strong balance between family and procedural.”

A complicated family with a business in debt collection – Channel Nine’s TRICKY BUSINESS.

Underbelly: Badness (Channel Nine, second half of 2012, eight-part mini-series)

Last year’s Underbelly: Razor arguably revitalised the long-running Underbelly franchise by injecting it with a good dose of 1920s glamour. But after that trip into the past, the question is whether there’s any historical ground left for the series to tread? Returning executive producers Des Monaghan and Greg Haddrick seem to have found the answer: Underbelly: Badness jumps closer to the present day than any previous Underbelly series. Set in 2001-2011, this latest series focuses on Sydney underworld figure Anthony Perish and how he was brought to justice after ten years of police investigation. Production company Screentime have landed a casting coup, as AACTA Award nominee Jonathan LaPaglia will return to Australian TV screens as Anthony Perish, after his much lauded turn in The Slap. The cast is completed by Matt Nable, Josh Quong Tart, Ben Winspear, Leeanna Walsman and Jodi Gordon.

 

Underground (Network Ten, second half of 2012, telemovie)

For 2012, Network Ten has lined up a roster of productions that are likely to generate plenty of discussion around the water cooler. Apart from Bikie Wars: Brothers in Arms and 70’s tale of teenage rebellion Puberty Blues, there’s Underground. Few people have received as much media attention and polarised the public as strongly in recent years as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. And so you can bet that this telemovie about a young Assange and how he allegedly hacked the CIA website is bound to make waves. After weeks of intense online speculation, Ten have recently announced Underground’s impressive cast, headed by newcomer Alex Williams and including stars and AFI Award winners Anthony LaPaglia and Rachel Griffiths. The production will be directed by Robert Connolly (The Slap, Balibo, The Bank).

Wentworth (Foxtel, 2012 TBC, series)

One of Australian TV’s undisputed classics is Prisoner, which ran for seven years and has garnered a cult following around the world (the fact that there’s a 174 DVD box set with all 692 episodes out there speaks to the series’ everlasting appeal!). So Foxtel has some big shoes to fill in with its contemporary “re-imaging” of Prisoner called Wentworth. Little is known about cast and crew at this stage, but Foxtel Executive Director of Television promises “a dynamic and very confronting drama series, developed and stylised specifically for subscription television audiences.” Produced by Jo Porter (Packed to the Rafters, All Saints, Always Greener), Wentworth will follow the story of newly arrived prisoner Bea Smith and her rise through the ranks of the all-female prison hierarchy to the position of “Top Dog”.

Winners & Losers (Seven Network, 2012 TBC, series)

Currently, we don’t know much about the second season of Winners & Losers other than the fact that it will return to TV screens in 2012. But that bit of information alone will be enough to excite fans of one of 2011’s biggest ratings winners. The final episode of season one brought some big changes to the lives of Frances, Sophie, Bec and Jenny, which gives series creator Bevan Lee (Packed to the Rafters) “a new launching pad for season two.”  Filming on season two began on August 23 last year and we look forward to finding out what’s in store for the four girls at the heart of Winners & Losers.

What will this year hold for the four friends from WINNERS AND LOSERS?

Also tracking:

ABC’s Rake returns for a second series, while Seven Network has a new drama called A Place to Call Home from Packed to the Rafters creator Bevan Lee in the making. Some of Pay TV’s biggest 2012 shows have already been released, but you can still catch up, for example on Tangle in its third year and Conspiracy 365.  Costing $13m, the latter checks in as Australian Pay TV’s most expensive production to date.

Stay Tuned…

Next week, in Part 2 of this story, we’ll be checking out Comedy and Light Entertainment, including Hamish And Andy’s Euro Gap Year, Lowdown Series 2, Next Stop Hollywood, Please Like Me, Shaun Micallef Is Mad As Hell, Sporting Nation and This Christmas, as well as some children’s television picks.