The “game-changing” deal represents the first live-action children’s series to have a global roll-out on the same day, similar to the Netflix model for adult series House of Cards.
13 episodes will launch worldwide on Netflix on July 26 with a further 13 in September. To be known as Mako: Island of Secrets in Australia, it stars Amy Ruffle, Lucy Fry and Ivy Latimer and will premiere locally on TEN -currently home to Shiff’s adult primetime series, Reef Doctors.
Mako Mermaids follows on from the success of H20: Just Add Water having screened to Netflix viewers in the U.S., Canada, Latin America and Europe and Lightning Point (retitled as Alien Surf Girls) on Nickelodeon US.
“We are thrilled to be the exclusive home of Mako Mermaids in all Netflix territories ,” said Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos. “H20 hit an amazing chord with teens around the world who love the clever mixture of action, comedy and romance that Jonathan Shiff and his talented team have created.”
The Mako co-production with Germany’s ZDF was the focus of a TV bidding war at the MIPTV market in Cannes that included Disney, Nickelodeon and Amazon Studios.
“Within a day of that we found we had US interest from others including capital backers,” Shiff told TV Tonight.
“Where we’re headed in the next month will put us on a stage, internationally, commensurate with an actor who suddenly has a break-out role and suddenly they send 20 scripts to them. That’s how I feel.”
With the Netflix backing, Jonathan M. Shiff Productions will also set up offices in Los Angeles and Berlin. Netflix has also committed to a second season, with hopes for a third to shoot in Berlin.
“It’s the first tween live action series to do it like a movie roll-out on the same day. It’s quite cool. I like that,” says Shiff.
“I’m now spending a lot of time in their (Netflix) office talking about the future, which is very exciting.
“We’re really making content for a global audience. We’re a proud Australian company, we will continue to be filming here. More not less, if I have my way. But to do that we have to unshackle ourselves from the traditional pathways here. The regulatory structure here is holding us back and limiting the industry.”
Shiff, who has been making television in Australia for 25 years, warns the Australian industry risks losing children’s live action production to overseas territories especially with the opening of Pinewood Studios in Malaysia.
“The mere fact that after 2 seasons, Screen Australia (investment) pushes you out is not a system that rewards success,” he insists.
“It’s extremely difficult to build a brand that after 52 half-hours, when you’re just getting the audience engaged, the federal government financing body says you’re not eligible again.
“It’s like a kickstart campaign where ‘After 2 series you shouldn’t need us anymore.’ But that doesn’t happen. It’s just fanciful. It’s disconnected from the reality. The reality is it’s actually harder to finance the third season.
“If we don’t have a 40% Offset for Children’s Live Action I think we’re in danger of it going off-shore.”
Yet the good news for Mako Mermaids follows on from TEN pulling family-series Reef Doctors from its timeslot after just one episode. But Shiff says the series was largely financed off-shore, with no Screen Australia funding and likens it to a TEN acquisition rather than a TEN commissioning.
“Most of the budget and most of the creative control was exercised overseas as the show was made for the international market. It’s a great pity it didn’t resonate in Australia. But looking back at why it didn’t…. it’s very difficult to plant the seed a year prior and then dig it up after one episode,” he explains.
“We’re about to get a slot in Germany and they’re very excited about it and very pleased with it. We’ve sold it in a number of European territories and we’re in discussion with a number of US markets.”
Shiff says that while children are open to universal themes this is harder to achieve in family and adult drama.
“Perhaps the lesson out of Reef Doctors is that if you’re older than a child you’re less-open to those and you’re more open to parochial things. So I remain upbeat about its international prospects given that a great percentage of budget came from overseas and given that TEN picked it up as an acquisition -effectively a foreign show, not a local show.”
Now as Mako Mermaids forges an international path, he remains pragmatic about the lessons of one series in one territory, albeit his home country.
“Is it better that we tried and didn’t succeed than we never bothered? We wouldn’t be here in LA doing what we’re doing today,” he says.
“Not everything’s going to be a smashing success and I think it’s always better to be a risk-taker and keep exporting Aussie drama.”