Parsing the ABC’s 2017 slate with director of television Richard Finlayson
Claudia Karvan as Josephine Newton.
The ABC has revealed the first part of its 2017 slate, with more programs to be unveiled in February.
The schedule includes over 20 new Australian shows, in addition to new seasons for established titles such as You Can't Ask That, Cleverman, Janet King and The Doctor Blake Mysteries.
Cleverman is returning – with a season that ABC TV's Richard Finalyson calls "a little less dark than the first" – as is Glitch. The second season of the Matchbox zombie drama will be co-produced by Netflix and the ABC.
Perhaps the highest-profile new program comes from the team behind Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, Fiona Eagger and Deb Cox: Newton's Law stars Claudia Karvan as Josephine Newton, "a suburban solicitor with an over-developed sense of responsibility who attempts to return to her briefly glorious stint at the Bar."
Finlayson describes the eight-episode show as "really broad and light and funny. She’s a flawed, vulnerable character, like a number of the heroines we’re seeing on air at the moment. I think it’s going to work really well."
He also touts The Warriors, about two Indigenous Aussie rules players who move to Melbourne after making the draft. Featured in the new series are Vince Colosimo, Lisa McCune and John Howard.
"It’s a story everyone knows pretty well. It’s a very real story in terms of talented Indigenous athletes coming from remote parts of the country. Suddenly they’re fish out of water in this incredibly competitive and very transparent environment."
"I think you see, particularly through shows like Black Comedy and Black As – there is a trademark humour amongst Indigenous people and I think this show really helps us find the platform for that."
One-offs are becoming increasingly hard to justify in the modern world of streaming and binging content, Finlayson says.
"We do far less one-offs in the drama space than we did in the past. We have one significant one that we’re not announcing yet but it’s a big title for next year that we’re looking towards. It really needs to be a big idea: something that really is promotable. Really [we do] one, maximum two a year of those events."
"What we have been toying with is slightly longer closed series. [The] Beautiful Lie is an example; four episodes. Seven Types of Ambiguity, coming up next year [is another]. It’s an amazing book by Elliot Perlman, and it’s a beautifully constructed drama. Great performances, fantastic writing. It’s a Matchbox production and we’ve come to expect only the best from them. Hugo Weaving’s performance is fantastic. Andrea Demetriades is brilliant. It’ll do really well. It's a classic example of a show that will be great for people to watch on iview, in their own time. A seven-prong story told in six parts."
Also in the line-up is Goober, starring Shane Jacobsen as "an autistic Uber driver and his adventures and misadventures," as well as the three-part event series David Stratton's Stories of Australian Cinema.
IF spoke to Finlayson shortly after he'd seen a rough cut: "it’s coming together really well. Lots of great cameos as you would expect from all the big stars."
They include Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Jacqui Weaver, Fred Schepsi, Sam Neill, Judy Davis, Hugo Weaving, Gillian Armstrong, David Michôd and Eric Bana.
Says Finlayson: "If you think back to things like Matilda [and Me] that we did with Tim Minchin recently, and David's show coming up, we try to build these big flagship arts shows that will really draw a big audience and engage a mass audience with the arts."
Ian Thorpe will front Bullied, based on the Dutch format, in which the school-age victims and perpetrators of bullying sit down to watch footage of the bullying itself with their families.
"I’ve seen some of the rushes and it’s very confronting obviously. It gives you a first-hand experience of [bullying]. We’re scheduling it around National Bullying Day in February. The format is one that’s going to drive a big conversation. It’ll probably be controversial. There are people who may be critical of the method of gathering footage. But in the long run the format provides a great way to create an intervention that doesn’t actually identify any bully. It really focuses on the dynamics in the peer group, which is how bullying really happens."
As for Rake and Jack Irish, Finlayson is keeping mum: "We have discussions happening around Rake, always. Such a successful show for us. Jack Irish we’re always looking at. Haven’t made any decisions on those things."
In 2017 the ABC will double its commitment to digital-first content, with more than 200 hours of new content made especially for iview.
“Continual evolution is part of the DNA of the ABC," says Finlayson. "Earlier this year, we proudly launched the live streaming of all ABC channels on ABC iview, and in September we successfully launched the new ABC ME platform for school aged children."
"I can’t see why in the very near future all drama won’t be available for binge. Having said that, there’s certainly a section of the audience who do like the weekly drop of episodes and are happy for that rhythm of distribution to be maintained. But we’re not far off a world where everything’s going to be available stacked on iview. We don’t have the rights to do it at the moment but we’re working with producers to give us that flexibility."
The full list of new and returning titles is here.