Yoson An and Alyssa Sutherland on the set of 'New Gold Mountain.'

SBS unveiled its largest ever local drama slate at its upfronts today, including a new four-part crime series from Bunya Productions and CAAMA, Copping it Black, to be directed by Erica Glynn and Steven McGregor.

Next year will also see the broadcaster air a hefty roster of local unscripted projects, including the seven one-off docs produced via the Australia Uncovered initiative, and landmark factual series covering off on topics such as domestic violence, adult literacy, disability, ageism and obesity. 

Goalpost’s gold rush drama New Gold Mountain, delayed due to COVID-19, is now underway in Victoria, with Yoson An, Alyssa Sutherland, Christopher James Baker, Dan Spielman, and Mabel Li toplining the cast.

Set in the Bendigo Goldfields in 1855, it follows the charismatic headman of the Chinese mining camp who suddenly finds himself struggling to maintain the fragile harmony between Chinese and European diggers and authorities when a murdered European woman is discovered to have links with the Chinese community.

Also appearing are Leonie Whyman, Sam Wang, Rhys Muldoon, Alison Bell, Chris Mah and Travis Cotton.

In announcing the cast, SBS director of content Marshall Heald called the series the broadcaster’s “most ambitious drama yet”, with Corrie Chen to direct the scripts penned by creator Peter Cox and writers Benjamin Law, Yolanda Ramke, Greg Waters and Pip Karmel.

Chen said: “’The search for belonging’ is one of the oldest stories we tell ourselves, but one that never ceases to feel particularly urgent and captivating.

“Bold, ruthless, entertaining and darkly humorous, New Gold Mountain is the seminal immigration story that will redefine our perception of frontier Australia. As an immigrant and non-European settler, I am particularly excited to be directing a show that will finally let me put Chinese-Australian cowboys on screen and revising the canon of the classic Western.”

Key scenes for the series are being filmed at Sovereign Hill in Ballarat with filming also taking place around Melbourne and regional Victoria.

Kylie du Fresne and Elisa Argenzio produce, with the series financed with support from Screen Australia, Film Victoria and Screen NSW.

Copping it Black, supported by Screen Australia’s Indigenous department, will follow detective Toni Alma, who is assigned to investigate a suspicious car accident in Perdar Theendar, the Indigenous community she left as a child and has had little to do with over the years.

Clues will lead back to her own family, leading to Toni to navigate her way between past and present, the complexities of the Indigenous art world and her own self-doubt.

Glynn and McGregor have penned the scripts with Danielle MacLean. Screen Territory has provided development assistance, with APC the series’ global partner.

SBS’s other major drama for 2021 is Aquarius Films’ The Unusual Suspects. As IF has reported, the comedy, billed as a celebration of female friendship and Filipino culture, follows a jewellery heist set in Sydney’s eastern suburbs that brings together women from vastly different walks of life.

Fronting the cast are Aina Dumlao, Miranda Otto and Michelle Vergara Moore. The writers include Jessica Redenbach, Roger Monk, and Vonne Patiag, with Natalie Bailey and Melvin Montalban directing and Angie Fielder and Polly Staniford producing.

Miranda Otto, Heather Mitchell, Aina Dumlao and Michelle Vergara Moore in ‘The Unusual Suspects’.

For SBS On Demand, the broadcaster has commissioned Lazy Susan Pictures’ 6 x 10 minute series Iggy & Ace, which follows two young, gay alcoholics who live, work and play together, inseparable by design. But when Ace decides to get sober, a rift develops between the two friends as Iggy balks at the idea of recovery. 

Written by AB Morrison, produced by Hannah Ngo, and directed by Monica Zannetti, the project stems from Screen Australia and SBS’s Digital Originals initiative.

Heald announced today that the program, which supports underrepresented talent, will run for another three years to 2023.

“We’re not just passionate about exploring Australia’s diversity on screen, but also behind the camera. We’re committed to building career pathways for the next generation of diverse and First Nations storytellers,” he said.

Iggy & Ace will also be produced by Melissa Kelly, with Screenwest and Lotterywest supporting the production.

Ngo and Morrison said: “We’ve been working on this for a long time so it’s a massive opportunity for us to be able to do this in WA with some great people around supporting us. We are so stoked to be teaming up with SBS and Screen Australia to see if we can punch up a serious issue with some comedy, and hopefully some heart.”

AB Morrison and Hannah Ngo.

Shooting has now wrapped on SBS On Demand’s The Tailings, the Tasmania-set mystery drama starring Mabel Li and Tegan Stimson. A coming-of-age story, it follows a teenager Jas (Stimson) as she investigates the cause of her father’s death.

A Good Lark production, in association with 2Jons and Roar Film, The Tailings is written by Caitlin Richardson, directed by Stevie Cruz-Martin and produced by Liz Doran with Richard Kelly and Steve Thomas.

In factual, SBS’s previously announced Look What You Made Me Do, a three-part series exploring domestic violence will premiere mid-2021. The three-part series, from Northern Pictures, is hosted by journalist Jess Hill and based on her book by the same name.

Jay Laga’aia will host Endemol Shine Australia’s Lost for Words, a three-part series exploring Australia’s staggeringly low adult literacy rates and offering a group of adults – aged from 18 to 70 years old – a life-changing opportunity to overcome the one thing that has always held them back.

Closer Productions and Joined Up Films will team for interactive SBS On Demand series Are You Addicted to Technology? Hosted by Dr Huu Kim Lee, a former gaming addict turned clinical psychiatrist, it will take viewers on a personalised journey to question the relationships they have with their mobile devices.

Also on the factual slate is Artemis Media’s Australia’s Health Revolution with Michael Mosley, which will see the British doctor team with Australian diabetes warrior Ray Kelly to improve the nation’s health.

Expected in late 2021 are the seven docos to emerge from the Australia Uncovered initiative, a prime-time strand of single documentaries exploring diversity and equality.

They include:

  • DNX Media and Screen Impact’s The Children in the Pictures (1 x 1.5hr) goes inside Task Force Argos, the investigative team dedicated to rescuing children being sexually abused by highly organised dark web networks.
  • Jumping Dog Production’s The Bowraville Murders (1x 1.5hr), which won the AIDC Pitch earlier this year, investigates one of Australia’s worst unsolved serial murder cases and the systemic racism that has denied justice for the victims over the last three decades.
  • Using archival footage Northern Pictures’ Strong Female Lead (1 x 1 hr) explores the gender politics in media, the public and parliament during Julia Gillard’s term as PM.
  • Celia Pacquola will host Joined Up Films’ Australia vs Anxiety (1 x 1hr), meeting those who suffering from the condition, those on the road to recovery and those who are helping with the journey.
  • Lune Media’s Can Science Prevent Suicide? (1 x 1hr) will provide a comprehensive portrait of suicide in Australia today, investigating why it’s happening and what is being done to try and solve the problem.
  • Our African Roots: Santilla Chingaipe will unearth Australia’s forgotten black African history and reveals the central role people of African ancestry played in events that shaped modern Australia. A Chemical Media production. 
  • Shark Island Productions’ The Department (1 x 1.5hr) will go inside child protection system in NSW, following caseworkers as they navigate the complexities of keeping children safe in families experiencing domestic violence, addiction, poverty, mental health issues and intergenerational trauma.

Warner Bros. Television Australia’s Who Do You Think You Are? will return for a 12th season, with subjects to include Jack Charles and Celia Pacquola. Stranger Than Fiction Films’ Australia in Colour will also return for a second round, and Artemis Media’s Every Family Has A Secret a third.

The Untold Australia strand will also air, including three projects announced last year but since delayed: Southern Pictures’ Stutter School, Mint Pictures’ Birdsville or Bust and Flickchicks’ Bowled Over.

On the books for 2022 is Joined Up Films’ What Does Australia Think About?, which follows in the format of Is Australia Racist?, exploring disability, ageism and obesity.

The Rachel Perkins fronted First Wars, from Blackfella Films, first announced last year, will also air in early 2022.

‘Strait to the Plate’.

New commissions for NITV include Strait to The Plate, hosted by Aaron Fa’Aoso, which will unearth the stories, culture and secrets behind the unique cuisine of the Torres Strait. 

The channel has also ordered feature doc Incarceration Nation from A Bacon Factory Films, exploring the cost the justice system is having on the culture, values and wellbeing of Indigenous people.

As previously announced, NITV and Network 10 have co-ordered The First Inventors, a factual series that will see Rob Collins talk to Indigenous Australian experts to shine a new light on ancient Indigenous innovations and discoveries.

Next year will also see the NITV premiere of EQ Media’s The Fight Together. Directed by Larissa Behrendt, it follows a group of Indigenous NRL players who came together to develop a pre-game ceremony to respond to New Zealand’s much-loved haka.

Returning are a third season of children’s series Little J and Big Cuz, and a fourth helping of Going Places with Ernie Dingo. 

SBS Food also boasts a range of new shows, including 200-episode series The Cook Up with Adam Liaw, due to air every weeknight at 7pm.

Chef Analiese Gregory will bring the rugged food culture of Tasmania to audiences in A Girl’s Guide to Hunting, Fishing and Wild Cooking, while Shane Delia is back with A Middle East Feast with Shane Delia, seeing him recreating the food traditions of his homeland.

Guillaume Brahimi will return with Plat du Tour to accompany the SBS’s coverage of Tour de France, as will Cook Like an Italian with Silvia Colloca, Asia Unplated with Diana Chan, and Australia’s Food Bowl with Stefano de Pieri. 

In entertainment, SBS is once again the home of Eurovision and the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, and quiz shows Mastermind and Celebrity Mastermind will also return. 

In sport, SBS continues to broadcast the Tour de France after securing the rights until 2030, as well as UCI Road World Championships, the International Champion’s Cup, the US Open Finals, the NBA and WNBA, the ISU Figure Skating, FIG Gymnastics, and the Dakar Rally.

International drama due for SBS in 2021 includes murder mystery The Sister, post-war thriller Shadowplay, Northern Ireland crime drama Bloodlands and Latin-language epic Romulus.

There will also be new seasons of the The Handmaid’s Tale, Vikings, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, War of the Worlds, Shrill and Why Women Kill. 

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