Deborah Mailman and Rachel Griffiths lead the cast of ‘Black B*tch’. 

Leading the ABC’s drama slate in 2019 is Blackfella Films’ Black B*tch, starring Deborah Mailman and Rachel Griffiths, with the broadcaster reconfirming its commitment to Australian stories and diversity at its upfronts today.

Other new drama/comedy series on the ABC’s slate for new year include the previously announced Frayed, a Mermaid Television production that stars Sarah Kendall, RevLover’s Diary of an Uber Driver, Synchronicity Films’ The Cry, and 30-episode serial The Heights, from Matchbox and For Pete’s Sake Productions.

Speaking at the content launch, ABC acting MD David Anderson put forward that the ABC is Australia’s “chief storyteller”. He  cited statistics from the most recent Screen Australia drama report – that showed the ABC invested more in Australian drama content than any other single broadcaster in the last financial year, and that its budgets for first-release drama was higher than the three commercial free-to-air networks combined – as evidence of the ABC’s commitment to Australian stories.

“Australian storytelling is central to the ABC’s purpose now and into the future. You’ll often hear me talk about the power of Australian stories; how it helps us understand who we are, each other, the community in which we live, the world around us, and tells us that when we shine a light onto our challenges that it promotes our diversity, that our differences make us better and ultimately leads towards social inclusion, and I think, a better Australia.

“So in 2019, we’ll reflect and celebrate the stories of this nation with honesty, integrity and independence. We’ll showcase Australian life in all its beauty and its blemishes, and all its geographical and cultural diversity.”

Returning in 2019 is Bunya Productions’ Mystery Road, which will shoot in Broome, the fourth season of Working Dog’s Utopia and Jungle’s Squinters, with Stephen Peacocke, Genevieve Morris, Anne Edmonds, Justine Clarke, Ernie Dingo and Claudia O’Doherty joining the cast. Also back on screens is What Horse?/Guesswork Television’s Rosehaven, Hoodlum’s Harrow, Matchbox’s Glitch, Katering/Guesswork Television’s Get Krackin’, A Scarlett Pictures Black Comedy and Giant Dwarf’s The Letdown.

Head of drama, comedy and Indigenous Sally Riley emphasised the ABC’s commitment to diverse stories. “The face of the ABC has never been more diverse… For us, the push for diversity, it’s not just on screen. It’s behind the camera, in the storyrooms. Every room that we fund, we push to have diverse, new young writers to come through.

“But for us, it’s really important that those stories, if they are about an Iranian living in Sydney, then it has to come from that authentic source and be written by an Iranian writer. So we have to grow that talent, and I feel like that’s part of our job.”

Black B*tch – a working title – sees Mailman play Alex Irving, a charismatic and contradictory Indigenous woman who is thrust into the national spotlight after a horrific event – an event which embattled Prime Minister Rachel Anderson (Griffiths) sees as a publicity goldmine for her party. She appoints Alex to the Senate, but Alex wants to be more than just a publicity stunt, and when the PM betrays her, she sets out for revenge. Rachel Perkins directs the six-part series, with Darren Dale and Miranda Dear producing. Screen Australia has invested in the series, as has Create NSW, Screen Queensland and Screen Canberra. It will be distributed internationally by Keshet International, working alongside Endeavor Content in the US.

In factual, the ABC will see Endemol bring UK-format Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds to our shores, with groups of retirement home residents and pre-schoolers brought together in a social experiment to see if intergenerational contact can improve the health and wellbeing of the older people.

Northern Pictures will follow people with autism spectrum disorder as they navigate relationships and dating in Love on the Spectrum, and the prod-co will also deliver a second season of Employable Me, which follows people with disability in the workforce.

Gruen’s Russel Howcroft will trace the history of advertising agency Mojo in How Australia Found Its Mojo, a one hour doco from CJZ, while Artemis Media will follow one of Australia’s most successful artists and printmakers, Leon Pericles as opens his largest retrospective exhibition as his wife Moira declines with dementia in Storm in a Teacup.

Fredbird Entertainment will explore Australia’s ever-shifting relationship with the British Royal Family in The Crown and Us: The Story of the Royals in Australia. In The Cult of the Family, A Big Stories Company will explore the notorious cult ‘The Family’ and its charismatic leader Anne Hamilton Byrne, and ten years on, Renegade Films will look back at the Black Saturday bushfires in Aftermath: Beyond Black Saturday.

Sally Aitken will direct The Pool, written by Christos Tsiolkas and produced by Mint Pictures, which will explore Australian culture and identity through the prism of the pool – with everyday people and luminaries alike sharing their commentary on the role of the pool in our collective imagination.

The ABC will open up its music studios for Fremantle’s The Recording Studio, in which members of the public record songs with some of Australia’s top music producers, musicians and engineers. They will work together over two days to record a personal son that the singer will then present as a gift, thank you or tribute to a loved one or their community. Fremantle stablemate Escape From the City – based on UK format Escape to the Country – will see hosts guiding a family, couple or individual through their decision to escape the city and move to coastal, country or regional Australia. 

From the Indigenous department, Bunya Productions’ three-part series Blue Water Empire, presented and produced by Aaron Fa’Aoso, will explore the culture and history of the Torres Strait from pre-colonisation to now, while ahead of the federal election, Joined Up Films will examine the barriers to having an Indigenous national leader in Will Australia Ever Have a Black Prime Minister?, with Mark Coles-Smith hosting.

The arts slate includes Media Stockade documentary China Love, which explores the phenomenon of Chinese wedding photography, and for AusMusicMonth the broadcaster will program Ghost Pictures’ anticipated Michael Hutchence doc Mystify, directed by Richard Lowenstein, and Beyond Entertainment & Blink TV’s Backburning: Midnight Oil.

The ABC will also make a return to natural history programming with Magical Land of Oz, voiced by Barry Humphries and produced by Northern Pictures, which will take a “sweeping journey” across the Australian landscape.

Other returning series include Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell, Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery, Anh’s Brush With Fame, Hard Quiz and Gruen.

The children’s line-up includes the previously announced Unlisted, The Strange Chores, Hardball, InBESTigators and Spongo, Fuzz and Jalapena, and a second season of Mustangs FC.

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