Installed as ABC head of comedy in July, Todd Abbott will start evaluating the development materials of the comedy projects that received support under the $5 million Fresh Start Fund this week – and next week he hopes to greenlight development on several projects that he’s already been evaluating.
That’s the good news for Australian producers and creators – tempered by the fact that the broadcaster’s comedy slate for 2021 is fully committed. So the projects that will advance from now on will premiere in 2022.
Given the ABC’s budget constraints, Abbott tells IF: “Everyone has had to tighten their belts. My task is to maintain the comedy department’s output and to keep the Wednesday comedy night thriving – and then I’ll try to work out how to do hostile takeovers of the other nights. None of the projects I am looking at now is expected to be on air before 2022.”
The Fresh Start Fund has supported 30 comedy concepts or ideas among 200 projects, including many from emerging writers and creatives. At the outset, the broadcaster made it clear there are no guarantees that any of these works will be commissioned. “This was a way of putting more things into development and giving new talent a kickstart,” he says.
Under that initiative, the ABC chose a number of ideas and concepts which received funding for writing scripts and more detailed series outlines. In most cases these were from smaller producers and creators who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to fund their own development.
“What we’re starting to assess now are the results of that development process,” he says. “Each project had its own timeline so they’ll continue to trickle in over the rest of the year and become part of the submissions that we receive regularly.”
Among the pitches he’s received in the past couple of months, more than a few are set in retirement communities and/or among older Australians, while some deal with people in their 30s who realise they have not learned to be adults yet.
A surprising number of producers are comparing the shows they are pitching to Fleabag. While Abbott loves Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s highly original creation he is not looking for an Australian version.
Asked about the kind of projects he’s seeking, he says: “I want to be surprised. I want creatives to come to me when they have something to say, whether it’s a fresh take on a genre, a unique take on an Australian story or an international story that has not been told the way they want to tell it.”
Among the projects that were commissioned before Abbott’s arrival at the ABC are Aftertaste and Entitled.
Shooting of Closer Productions’ Aftertaste, which stars Erik Thomson as a cantankerous chef and Natalie Abbott as his pastry-chef niece, has wrapped in Adelaide, directed by Jonathan Brough and co-created by Julie de Fina and Matthew Bate.
‘Rosehaven’ (Photo credit: Scott Bradshaw).
Abbott is very happy with the rushes and predicts Natalie, who played the lead in Muriel’s Wedding the Musical, will be a star. The supporting cast includes Rachel Griffiths, who was in the original Muriel movie, as a local businesswoman, Wayne Blair, Susan Prior, Peter Carroll, Remy Hii, Kavitha Anandasivam and Justin Amankwah.
Comedian Kitty Flanagan plans to start filming Entitled, a six-part comedy she wrote and will direct and star in, in Melbourne when restrictions are lifted. Co-created by Flanagan and Vincent Sheehan, the show is set in a shabby, suburban law firm that specializes in wills and probate – a messy world of inheritance and entitlement.
“The scripts are fantastic and it’s well overdue that Kitty has her own series,” he says. “It’s a laugh-out loud sitcom.”
The former creative director at Guesswork Television, he found himself at the ABC in the early 1990s when TVTV, the Simon Townsend show he was working on, was brought in-house. He later worked for the Seven Network but went back to the ABC to produce The Memphis Trousers Half Hour with Roy and HG in 2005.
At Guesswork he was involved in a raft of ABC shows including Rosehaven, Frayed and The Weekly with Charlie Pickering. A second season of Frayed and a fifth of Rosehaven are under discussion.
Like his ABC colleagues Michael Carrington and Sally Riley, Abbott often talks to streaming platforms and international networks as potential co-financiers, observing: “The basic equation is we need to keep fostering those relationships to be able to afford to make more shows.”