Confirmed as head of children’s production at the ABC earlier this month, Libbie Doherty is on the look-out for comedies and factual entertainment programs.
Overseeing a department of 65 people including 25 in Melbourne, she commissions around 380 hours of content annually across ABC KIDS and ABC ME as well as overseeing ABC KIDS Listen, children’s digital products and third party social media.
Her budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 is unchanged, despite the $84 million funding cut over the next three years. “Our broad commissioning strategy is to present the best of Australian content and the best from the rest of the world,” she tells IF in one of her first interviews since her appointment, after acting in the role for a year.
“We are always in the market for comedy. The Inbestigators, which has just launched, will follow up with a new season next year but we definitely have room for comedies.
”We’re also looking for factual entertainment programs in the vein of Teenage Boss, which we can turn around fairly quickly. Funnily enough we don’t get pitched very many of those.
”What we would like to find are projects that are innovative in approach and methodology, like My Year 7 Life and My Year 12 Life, where kids shot the whole shows, or have a different spin on something.”
The recently announced co-production deal with Canadian public broadcaster CBC includes plans to co-develop one series for pre-schoolers and another for primary school kids. Doherty is open to suggestions from Australian producers for both – either live action or animation – which she will table with CBC.
To foster new talent and diversity, her unit insists there is at least one emerging writer in the writers room for each show. It also aims to give first-time directors at least one episode.
The exec is thrilled with the break-out phenomenon of Ludo Studio’s animated children’s series Bluey, created by Joe Brumm, which racked up more than 90 million program plays on iview. The second season, co-commissioned with BBC Studios, will consist of 52 x 7-minute episodes.
Disney acquired the rights to both series for Disney Junior and upcoming streaming service Disney+ in all territories outside Australia, New Zealand and Greater China.
Rationalising Bluey’s success, Doherty says: “We think people really connect with the contemporary reflection of Australian families. Pre-school TV often shows parents who are bumbling or silly. The parents in Bluey are very relatable, the children are so adorable and so funny and the voices are Australian. And it’s a creator-driven show, coming from Joe Brumm who lives and breathes this world with his children.”
Hardball, Northern Pictures’ first foray into live-action drama created by Guy Edmonds and Matt Zermes, performed well on ABC ME during the April school holidays.
Doherty is happy with the performance of Gristmill’s The Inbestigators, creators Wayne Hope and Robyn Butler’s follow-up to Little Lunch, which launched on June 21 on ABC ME. Netflix collared the rights outside Australia/New Zealand.
‘Itch’ (Photo credit: David Dare Parker).
Itch, a 10-part action-adventure directed by Renée Webster and Nicholas Verso, will premiere on ABC ME later this year or early next year, with multiple episodes available for binge viewing on iview.
Produced by Komixx Entertainment’s Australian offshoot in association with Feisty Dame Productions, the series stars WAAPA graduate Samuel Ireland as Itchingham Lofte, a science-obsessed teen who pursues the unusual and sometimes dangerous hobby of collecting all the elements on the periodic table.
“We wanted to do a story which reflects what kids are talking about, which is this concern about the environment,” she says. “The beauty of Itch is the main character discovering a new element on the periodic table which could be the answer to our energy problems, creating an ethical dilemma about what to do with it.”
Netflix also acquired global rights outside Australia/NZ to The Unlisted, Aquarius Films’ action sci-fi thriller created by Justine Flynn.
Due to premiere here in the second half of this year, the 15 x 30’ series follows two 13-year-old identical twins (Ved and Vrund Rao), who team up with a group of underground vigilante to stop a powerful corporation from imposing control over the world’s youth.
“I think it will be a game changer,” Doherty says. “The production values, the complexity and the ambition of the show are really amazing. Aquarius and Justine have delivered in spades.”
Among the latest commissions co-funded with Screen Australia are First Day, a 4-part series from writer-director Julie Kalceff and producers Kirsty Stark and Kate Croser; and Kangaroo Beach, a 26 x 11’ animated series from Cheeky Little Media.
Starring Evie McDonald, First Day continues the story told in a stand-alone episode in 2017 of 12-year-old transgender girl Hannah as she navigates the challenges of starting high school and finding the courage to live as herself.