‘Love on the Spectrum.’

Netflix has acquired global streaming rights to Northern Pictures’ Love on the Spectrum, the ABC-commissioned docuseries which follows seven young adults on the autism spectrum as they take their first steps into the world of dating.

The format’s co-creator, Northern Pictures head of factual Karina Holden, explains how the deal came about, discusses how the company has coped with the COVID-19 disruption and laments the ABC’s cuts to commissioning factual and entertainment shows.

Q: Congratulations on the deal for Love on the Spectrum, which premieres on Netflix on July 22. How did the streamer come on board?

A: We had been in conversations with Netflix for some time, tracking the development of several projects and meeting with their Los Angeles based team. Their interest in diverse representation was really strong and as Netflix started to experiment with more dating formats, our timing was good. The audience reaction to the series when it premiered on ABC was very encouraging, as the series built from week to week and had an overwhelmingly positive reaction.

The beautiful thing about the show is the way it explores each person’s unique experience of autism, giving us a much broader understanding of neurodiversity. The one thing the cast have in common is they all want the same thing – love and belonging. Being able to share Love on the Spectrum with the rest of the world through a platform as big as Netflix is so exciting and we hope more people fall in love with the series.

Q: As you know it’s rare to see an original Australian format break out worldwide. As you created the show with Cian O’Clery, where did the idea come from and what makes it so relatable?

A: Cian and I are trash telly tragics. We love pulling apart shows and working out what makes them tick and what would make them better. We’d talked about making a dating show for ages, and after having some success with Luke Warm Sex, which was an awkward kind of show about love and intimacy, and then making two series of Employable Me, we had some key ingredients we knew worked for the audience. Most of all, we wanted to be the opposite of all the shallow, attention-seeking dating shows by creating a series with a big heart and a deeper reason to exist.

We took the idea to Screen Australia early on and received support to develop a format bible. We felt confident it was an idea that had international appeal and would have resonance for other broadcasters. We’re so lucky Screen Australia felt the same way.

Q: What was your reaction to the ABC’s immediate cuts to commissioning factual and entertainment programming?

A: We’ve been devastated by the announcement to reduce funding to factual programming on ABC Television. Watching the national broadcaster get hit, blow by blow, with cuts has been upsetting. But to see factual content take the knife in this latest round of cuts is gutting.

Shows like Love on the Spectrum, Employable Me, Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds, War on Waste, Revelation, Don’t Stop the Music and Magical Land of Oz have delivered huge audiences. On a cost per hour basis, factual delivers in spades. But more so, factual programming contributes to the cultural life of Australia. It’s the programming that reflects who we are as a nation and that’s never been more important.

Independent producers have a mighty job on their hands to keep working through these challenges. After bushfires, pandemics and funding cuts…. we’re all been tested. I’d say myself and my colleagues are in this business because we’re optimists. You’ve got to believe there will be wins. And you have to leverage from your successes. It will be interesting to see where the swings and roundabouts take us over the next five years.

Q: Strong Female Lead, Tosca Looby’s one-hour doc for SBS, will explore Australia’s struggle with the concept of women in power. Who will Tosca be interviewing and what is she seeking to discover?

A: It’s under wraps at the moment but we’re excited to see what emerges. We expect it will create quite a stir when it’s completed.

Karina Holden.

Q: How have you and your colleagues coped during the lockdown? Spending more time on development?

A: We’re working on our lighter side at the moment. I think lockdown has done that. God knows we need some joy. Our scripted department led by Catherine Nebauer has been especially busy and I’m excited to see what 2021 will bring as there’s been many virtual writers rooms happening over the last few months.

Q: You had to halt production of SBS’s See What You Made Me Do, in which investigative journalist Jess Hill delves into domestic abuse, a third of the way through the shoot. Has that resumed?

A: That was tough to stop shooting. Especially as the situation during COVID-19 intensified for so many people living with domestic abuse. We’ve been able to pick up a few stories with some remote filming, but essentially we had to down tools until protocols were put in place. We’re hoping to commence filming again in August with Jess Hill and the team.

Q: You are doing a third season of archive-based natural history series News of the Wild for the Seven Network. What does that cover?

A: The team is in the final weeks of post, which is no small feat considering this season was 80 episodes. News of the Wild is a wildlife-focused entertainment show aimed at 7-to-12-year-olds, mixing both comedy and factual. Northern Pictures has been delivering content to the Seven Network for five years straight since Catherine Nebauer launched our kids division and this consistency has been incredibly important for the company. With everything now in limbo as the quotas are being reviewed and possibly being removed altogether for 2021, we are obviously hoping we’ll see a return to the previous regime.

‘Big Weather.’

Q: Your ABC doc Big Weather (and how to survive it), hosted by Craig Reucassel, co-produced with DMA Creative, wrapped on the weekend before the production shutdown. How’s it looking?

A: Another mighty responsibility. We certainly had a massive undertaking on our hands shooting over the summer of 2019/2020 with the worst fire season on record. With DMA Creative based in Queensland and Northern Pictures in NSW, we had an intense juggle negotiating crews onto the frontline and keeping everyone safe. It’s been a beast to wrangle through the edit as we try to find the learnings in the devastation and disaster. But Craig makes it supremely watchable and I believe the audience will strongly connect to the series when it comes out later this year.

Q: A Wild Year on Earth, which will chronicle some of the natural world’s most awe-inspiring events including migration, rebirth and transformation over the course of one year, is in post. Who commissioned that?

A: This has been my escapism this year. This natural history series is so jaw-droppingly beautiful, it’s been a joy to disappear into the edits over the last six months. Actress Laura Carmichael (Downtown Abbey) has been doing the voice over with us remotely as the sound studios in London have been in lockdown. Her partner, actor Michael Fox, has been recording Tolstoy’s War and Peace for Audible and had set up a home studio, so we have been able to record all the narration down the line from their house in the English countryside. The six-part series is for BBC America and Sky Nature in the UK. It will also air on Love Nature’s pay TV platform, which is in 150 million homes globally.

Q: Is Northern Pictures making a submission to the options paper review and if so, what are the main points/proposals?

A: Yes, we are submitting a detailed response. We are definitely in favour of quotas for Australian content being placed on all platforms, including streamers. As previously mentioned, we want a commitment in place for ongoing quotas for children-centric programming on Australian commercial networks and public broadcast services.

Australian creatives have an extraordinary opportunity to really leap ahead in 2020. We will be out ahead of the world in creating content, where the rest of the global industry has stalled. Mechanisms such as the Producer Offset and quotas will be a big part of that potential success. We hope the government sees this opportunity to strengthen the sector. For as we’ve seen with Love on the Spectrum, a well-crafted proof of concept in this country can take on the world.

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