Essential Media’s Ian Collie talks the genesis of Doctor Doctor and what’s next

23 September, 2016 by Harry Windsor

Ian Collie on the Doctor Doctor set.

The second episode of Essential Media’s Doctor Doctor, broadcast on Wednesday night, avoided the second ep dip, growing the show’s week-on-week to an average audience of 821,000 viewers and a peak of 1.024 million across the 5 City Metro, according to Nine.


The show’s producer, Essential Media’s Ian Collie, initially thought the series would bow next year, closer to the start of the ratings season, but the scheduling move made perfect sense once Nine explained it, he told IF.

"They love it, which is the main thing. They know their audience and their schedule. Programs like My Kitchen Rules, which is on four or five nights a week from February onwards, tend to dominate the schedule.”

IF spoke to Collie about the project’s inception, bringing Claudia Karvan on board, and what else is on Essential Media’s slate.

Was Doctor Doctor always developed for a commercial network? At what point did Nine become involved?

They were always in mind. I had an early version of what you’ll see on screen. A doctor who moves back to the country town where he grew up and [that he] couldn’t wait to escape. But because he’s in professional disgrace he goes back with his tail between his legs to ‘give back’, or at least that’s what the medical tribunal wants him to do. That broad-brush idea was always there – a medical dramedy but set in a country town. We hadn’t seen that for a while. Initially we had Flying Doctors in mind as a template, but wanting to subvert the template. And we had talked to one of the broadcasters, the ABC, and they liked the idea. [But] I do a lot for the ABC with Rake and Jack Irish and other things, and I thought, well, this could actually work well for a network, and Nine was the one we thought of. And it’s just great to have another door to go to. It’s a first-world problem, but I can’t just keep going to the same broadcaster (laughs). And Nine have been terrific: really smart and insightful and obviously supportive.

Who came up with the initial concept?

Tony McNamara [Puberty Blues, Tangle] and I. I go to MIP and MIPCOM markets quite a bit, pedaling my wares like the tinker that I am, and I remember one descriptor saying: we really love Aussie drama but why is it so very urban? It looks the same as all the other urban dramas, [whether it’s] cops or crime or legal. He said: look, you’ve got this great coastline and the outback, which is distinctive. So I thought maybe I should look at some idea that could be located on the coastline or in the interior. I just started thinking that a medical show would be a change. I’d done law and crime, but hadn’t dabbled in medical drama. But I always had an interest in it and a little bit of a background – not as a medico but when I used to be a lawyer. And then I had a friend of a friend who had fallen from grace as a professional and had been put on what they call an impaired registrants list, where you’re essentially on probation to clean your act up. I just thought – we all love a flawed character. So some sort of specialist, or it could be a GP, who falls from grace – that was the very broad idea. And then Tony, who’s just a gun, came onboard. He actually grew up in the country so a lot of the family stuff was probably inspired by some of his stories and his own history, and we just finessed it and then went to Nine.

When was this?

Roughly about May 2014. Doctor Hugh, as we originally called him, then Doctor Doctor, was pitched around then. There are three producers: myself, Claudia Karvan and Tony McNamara. Tony came on board early as a writer-producer, essentially the showrunner, very much the story producer, but I also brought in Claudia. Claudia and I had been talking about and had developed a few projects together. She’s a really gun producer and had worked with Nine on House of Hancock. And she was also a close colleague and friend of Tony McNamara. Doctor Doctor was overlapping with Rake and a few other projects I was doing, so all in all I needed another colleague. Claudia came on fairly soon after we got a bit of traction with Channel Nine.

Was the casting process a long one? You’ve got some pretty storied leading men in your other shows, like Guy Pearce and Richard Roxburgh.

You’re always trying to get the perfect person. Channel Nine and the networks generally are fairly emphatic about who they think works, particularly for key cast. But Rodger [Corser] was one that they really liked. Roger to his credit auditioned for it, and he was terrific. Especially for me personally, because I hadn’t seen him in a lighter, more comedic role. It had been in programs like Underbelly or Glitch, where he’s terrific. But he’s such a versatile actor. And he just looked the part. We had Kirsty McGregor as our casting director. Obviously you’ve got Roger, Nicole de Silva from Wentworth, Ryan Johnson, and we had older actors like [Steve] Bisley and Tina Bursill, who’s just brilliant as Meryl. But then [we had] a lot of these young, relatively unknown actors like Chloe Bayliss, Matt Castley, Shalom Brune-Franklin, Charles Wu. So there’s some great new faces, and it’s a really diverse cast. Claudia’s obviously got a performance background and was fantastic during casting, but all three of us – myself, Tony and Claudia – collectively made the call. We worked very closely together.

Beyond Doctor Doctor, what else is on your slate?

We’ve got an SBS project that’s looking good, but until it’s a bit further down the track I can’t really talk much about it. We did The Principal with SBS, which did really well for them, and this new one they really like. We’ll probably know later this year. We’re hoping to go into production early next year. So that’s really encouraging. And we’re certainly in development on another series of Rake and another series of Jack Irish, so hopefully they’ll come to fruition. And, hopefully, another series of Doctor Doctor.

I know you’ve dabbled in feature film before, is that something you’re looking to do again?

Well I’ve only made one [Saving Mr. Banks], which was a very big one. I’ve got two features in development, one that’s going out to casting now. Both of them are UK-Australian co-productions. I’m very cautious and measured with film, because I think it’s such a hard beast these days. The dwindling box office for arthouse film particularly makes a lot of stuff that I love really hard to finance, and secondly I’m so busy making TV drama that I like. It was the same thing with Saving Mr. Banks. It took me about eight or ten years to get up, but I could let it simmer while I was working full-time on TV drama, so I didn’t have to rush it into production. You’ve just got to be careful not to keep incurring too much cost, where it becomes a loss-making thing.

Are you working with Andrew Knight on anything? He’s had an incredibly busy couple of years with The Water Diviner and Hacksaw Ridge and Jack Irish and Rake and Ali’s Wedding.

He probably overspent himself. He had an amazingly busy year and it came to a bit of a crunch. The same thing happened to me except I can bring on another co-producer like Claudia for Doctor Doctor, so I have that luxury. For Andrew, he’s the writer, so it’s a bit hard. And Jack was six parts, we were shooting in the Philippines, it was quite challenging and he was a co-producer with me, so it was a big year for him. But he’s just brilliant. He’s one of my main writers. We do Rake together with Peter Duncan, we do Jack with Matt Cameron and Andrew Anastasios. He and I are working on an international conspiracy thriller that Channel 4 expressed some interest [in], with Kris Mrksa. Hopefully it gets traction with them. And there’s King of Thieves, the feature we’ve been developing with David Parfitt in England, who did Shakespeare in Love and My Week With Marilyn and a number of other things.

How much are you talking to the streaming platforms?

We’ve got one thing in development with Stan that Peter Duncan and I are doing. That’s at first draft. Enemies of the State. That’s in development but it’s early days.