Do Aussies really want Aussie stories?

Two weeks ago an ACMA survey of some 1200 Aussies revealed they supported local content in News, Current Affairs and Reality TV but on the whole preferred overseas dramas due to their higher production values.

Now another survey of 1000 Australians by Screen Australia says we support a local industry with Australian stories.

So who is right?

Probably both. It just depends on the way you look at the findings and, significantly, who is issuing it.

It is in Screen Australia’s interests to trumpet the success of the local industry given it is the key investor in our Drama productions.

Screen Australia found that four out of five respondents believed Australian screen stories were vital to Australia’s sense of national identity and one out of five believed that the most important benefit of these stories was to ‘make sure that Australian culture isn’t overwhelmed by American culture’.

I guess they were different to ACMA’s group who seemingly love Hollywood content.? They barely rated Underbelly or Packed to the Rafters.

Screen Australia’s Chief Executive Ruth Harley said, “This new research demonstrates the value Australians place on Australian content and how important our stories are to the cultural fabric of our society. While we acknowledge the tangible economic benefits of the screen industry, we must also acknowledge the myriad of ways that Australian stories contribute to our social belonging and sense of national identity.”

It wasn’t all bad from the ACMA survey. They did support having a strong production industry as a desirable stepping stone for Australian actors and other talent, and important for Australia’s place in a global market. They also worried about online channels having increased access to overseas content.

Rather than disliking local drama they sounded like they wanted better from our shows, to match overseas production values. Which sort of places the ball back into Screen Australia’s court to up the funding budgets in order to give us higher production values. Are you keeping up?

Meanwhile we also have the ongoing Convergence Review and that risk that the government could raise the limits for overseas actors working here.

A delegation of industry heavyweights including Gillian Armstrong, Stephan Elliott and Sigrid Thornton are visiting Canberra today to voice their support for Australian content on Australian screens.

For the record, I fully support the push for local stories told by local voices and I always will…


  1. It would help if aussie drama didn’t (almost) always consist of cop dramas, hospital dramas or whatever type of drama home and away / neighbors is.

  2. According to Brian Walsh Spiritedseason 1 was “the highest rating drama in the history of Foxtel”. He also stated “Ratings for season2 were down 7%”.
    By that logic one might presume their ratings were still impressive, no?

    • I think presuming ratings based on an Exec’s line is unhelpful. Every Exec talks them up, it’s their job.

      I suspect the first line was made not long after the first season premiere, to talk the the series up. And the second made while the second season was on air (in fact he told me it was down 8% in early September), to also talk it up. But it’s better to look at raw data. If you look at ASTRA ratings for season two, it didn’t do so well… or as Brian Walsh told me, “good but not spectacular.” It’s fine to want the show to return and to sing its praises, this happens all the time, but Foxtel has already got other dramas in the pipeline. As with any supplier a better form of protest is to cancel your service if it is no longer meeting your needs.

  3. You’re Exactly right BM-dog! Australian’s are being force fed a product they don’t want because those sitting up the top in their high chairs do not want to take risks.

    “We are all incredibly surprised that the show has done so well,” Karvan told Mediaweek. “The wisdom in Australia is we don’t do high concept very well and Australian audiences don’t want high concept out of their Australian product. So we were a bit nervous about whether we could break that rule. We seemed to have unearthed a whole lot of extremely passionate supernatural show lovers. Even people who watch shows like Packed To The Rafters and Offspring are tuning in, which is surprising. There is a real oddness to the show. It’s not your normal, straightforward commercial fare.” – Claudia Karvan, Media Week, July 2011

    and sorry (but not really) to keep banging on, but all the articles and literature coming out supports shows like Spirited not being cancelled….baffling!

  4. Australia has always produced good TV – not just drama. I’d dearly love to hear more Australian accents on our TVs and at the cinema. We are very fast losing our own identity to the US and a lot of it is because most of what we are served up is from the States. Just this year we’ve seen 2 excellent Aussie shows – Sea Patrol and Rescue Special Ops end. I’d love to see a better balance of overseas shows between Australian, European, Asian and US. We’re all supposed to live in a Global Village now, so let’s act like it.

  5. There is no reason Australia can’t make good quality dramas because NZ manages to put out consistently better dramas than us. Sure, they churn out some crap too but they do have some great creative shows over there. We just need some creative minds with some influence here!

  6. @ Iolonthe If people had kept watching Crownies ppl would realise it is very well written and crafted! The actors have done a great job!
    I agree not all Aussie Shows are great but some are!

  7. its bad because most aussie writers are the same ones bringing you new series producers in this country need to branch out and find new writers and take some chances instead of giving their mates the jobs because the content is terrible sometimes. but we do produce some really good shows. we just need to nurture our new writers more.

  8. I must say that I have always preferred overseas dramas to Australian productions. Production values are superior, acting is better, storylines are usually always better. On very rare occasions there have been some good Australian dramas but they are few and far between.

  9. @Max Renn
    I was agreeing until the spartacus comment, I enjoy the show but would never say that the acting in very good, certainly not from the aussies.

  10. American cable shows are way beyond the primitive Aussie “dramas”. The writing is just so much better. Aussie actors can be good… given the right material. Look at Spartacus.

  11. Secret Squïrrel

    Agree with most of the comments here. You can make your survey say whatever you want by asking the right (or wrong) questions.

    I’m more than happy to support Australian content but there is very little drama made here that is up to the standards of what plays on US cable – Breaking Bad, Deadwood, Dexter, and the others mentioned are on a completely different level than drivel like Wild Boys or any but the first Underbelly (and that was only good not great). Don’t get me started on unmitigated garbage like Sea Patrol and Cops LAC – they’re not even in the same universe.

  12. Basically everyone wants our storytelling to be better. Producers don’t prioritise script when in fact it’s the most important part of the process

  13. If a screenwriter walked into an Australian commercial TV network and pitched Lost, the response would be “we love it, but can you rework it into a law enforcement procedural? Also we think it needs a female authority figure who secretly harbours a weakness for bad boys.” The institutional aversion to take risks is the fundamental problem with Aussie drama.

  14. What I don’t understand is why anyone is suprised that Australian TV is by and large atrocious (with a very few honourable exceptions). Any industry that is sheltered from international competition by quotas or other trade barriers will struggle to rise to the level of mediocrity. Remember how crap Australian cars were when tariffs were over 100%? TV is just the same, a sheltered workshop which does not care about quality, only whether something is “Australian” or not for the purposes of local content requirements.

    No doubt people will argue it couldn’t exist with local content. Perhaps but I don’t buy this. Some shows will always be local – sports, news, game shows etc. We will probably have less local drama but what we do have would be higher quality – less “Crownies” – which seems unquestionably to be a bonus. This would be replaced by more and better overseas shows which is a win for viewers. The only losers would be Australian TV types who can’t compete internationally and I don’t see why they are any more deserving than the tens of thousands who used to work in Australian car and textile factories.

  15. Money isn’t the reason that Australian writers don’t write good shows, its simply that they aren’t skilled enough to write them, just look at how bad the film industry is.

    The only hope we have is Foxtel, at least they seem to be heading in the right direction, all be it slowly. Take, Satisfaction, not great, but at least the writers tried something, and thankfully Showcase allowed them to actually try to create something.

  16. Of course Australians prefer American shows. Problem is some Australian shows come across as cheap, badly written, badly scripted, badly directed and extremely poorly acted…..take a look at Neigh-bores….need i say any more???

  17. It comes down to economies of scale. I love Breaking Bad etc too. But they don’t rate very well. The difference is however that the US has the population and therefore the audience numbers to support those shows – even a cult audience there is bigger than a mainstream one here. In Australia, we just don’t have the numbers.

  18. If a shows good i’ll watch it. Don’t care where it’s from. We play it too safe here though. Wilfred is one unique show that Australia’s produced, and the Americans went and remade it. But compare it to The Walking Dead, United States of Tara, Buffy, Lost. We just don’t make shows like that here. It’s either based on cops, lawyers, or families.

    Also doesn’t help that quality Australian shows don’t get an audience, yet shows that are terrible can rate through the roof. Underbelly is poorly scripted, poorly acted, but because there’s really nothing like it it gets praised like it’s the greatest thing ever. Wild Boys was a great idea, but rather than go for quality and something gritty like Deadwood, they chose mass appeal and it’s just soapy fluff.

    Sitcoms are non-existant here too. So many US and UK sitcoms. Not one in Australia.

  19. Australian stories but it needs to be interesting and done well.

    eg. Underbelly is a much inferior product compared with the Sopranos, the Wire, Sons of Anarchy etc

    US and UK filmtvtheatre offers more work allowing people to learn and refine their craft.

  20. Also I don’t think it has anything to do with history to draw from. These are the dramas I currently watch.

    Breaking Bad – Present time
    Dexter – Present time
    The Walking Dead – Present time
    True Blood – Present time
    Mad Men – 1960”s
    Game of Thrones – Past (but it’s fantasy)
    Boarwalk Empire – Late 1800’s
    Homeland – Present time

    So with all of those, there is no reason we couldn’t do the same sort of stuff, but we never break away from the tired cliches of cops, doctors, lawyers and couples and families. Most of those shows have a high concept, we need to take the same risk in storytelling.

    Also as far as comedy goes, almost all comedies are set in the present time.

    The problem is the quality of premise, writing, acting, directing and production values, they all add up. I cant think of one aussie drama i have watched in my adult life. As for comedy, besides the crap that Paul Fenech puts out and the ABC comedies, I cant remember when I last saw a main channel scripted comedy series.

  21. Indeed, the example of ‘Spirited’ is telling – fabulous Australian production abandoned by fools who have no idea of what discerning viewer wants!

  22. Must really suck to be a person who forces themselves to watch crappy shows just because they’re Australian. American cable dramas are clearly on a totally different level to the sort of garbage from the likes of Seven.

  23. I think we have great production values. We just don’t have the huge budgets that Americans have. And I don’t know who they are surveying but good Aussie drama always rates well

  24. The problem with Aussie stories is that there’s very little history to draw from (only 150 years), tend to always fall in the same kind of limited range of themes, mostly involving who is sleeping with whom, and almost always are serious and dour.

    It’s hard to break out of that without taking a serious financial risk, especially as the occasional tentative attempt doesn’t succeed. So we’re probably stuck with it.

  25. 1000 studies can be done, and the results can be interpreted any way you want. Common sense will tell you the real answer to this question though; Australian’s want to watch well told Australian stories.

    That means great production values, great scripts, great acting, great editing, great camera work, etc. Just like absolutely anything in life, the only way to get great is through practice and experience.

    Screen Australia and the Australian TV industry need to up content production big time. Start making more scripted TV programs. They don’t all need big budgets, look at something like the UK’s ‘Friday Night Dinner.’ 4 actors sitting in a house for half an hour. But it’s a well written, funny and very popular show.

    If we can start making a lot more content, we’ll start to improve our production quality and this will trickle over into the struggling film industry. It all starts with more content production, so get on it Screen Australia

  26. I think the majority just want high quality..

    Even though we have nowhere near the budget I would love to see an all Australian cast and crew create something beautiful and thought provoking such as Angels in America or Boardwalk Empire

  27. “Rather than disliking local drama they sounded like they wanted better from our shows, to match overseas production values”

    Exactly! Which is why I am so frustrated about the cancellation of Spirited. Spirited was one of the first Australian Dramas to step up with quality storylines and production values to match. The show had no overseas PR but was already gaining a worldwide following.

    It’s clear the powers that be don’t actually care what the consumer wants, they’re all about telling the consumer what they should want

  28. I don’t care if Aussie shows don’t have the production values that American shows do- I just watch because it is Australian and I hate cookie-cutter American serials.

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