ABC adds D for Diversity

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The ABC is spearheading its 2017 slate with more Diversity, both on and off-screen.

ABC Director of Television Richard Finlayson describes the wide tastes in the 20 new Australian shows coming next year as appealing to a diverse audience.

“While everyone else is narrowing down their slates ABC has incredible diversity. Headlining we have big shows in each genre that stand on their own. Newton’s Law is a big accessible drama, with a big star. And a Robert Connolly drama, The Warriors, which we really haven’t seen before in that way, but is something everybody will be able to relate to. Ronny Chieng: International Student is a big co-production with Comedy Central and the guy is a global star now,” he says.

“In blue chip Factual are Blue Water Empire, an astonishing untold story of the Torres Strait Islands dramatised with Jack Thompson. Not bad! At the other end of the spectrum are social issues like Bullied, hosted by Ian Thorpe, which will allow people to walk in the shoes of people who have been bullied. It will be a centrepiece of conversations of bullying in our community.”

“It’s an issue that Michelle has put a stake in the ground on.”

But Finlayson also points to the cultural Diversity that will be showcased in Ronny Chieng: International Student, The Warriors and docu-drama Blue Water Empire.

“This is something we’ve been working on for a while, but we do realise we have a long way to go and we will be working hard to bring the industry along with us to make sure we are properly reflecting the world we live in,” he says.

“It’s an issue that Michelle (Guthrie, managing director) has put a stake in the ground on.

“But you need to pick where you can make a difference. What we have focussed on is Indigenous representation, and Sally Riley has changed the way we see Indigenous Australians on TV. And she’s built and entire production community that is really now starting to be amongst the best in the field.

“In Non-English Speaking Background we haven’t made the same sort of leaps and that’s what we want to do. Not only casting for diversity but working on the real challenge to make sure there are enough people coming through the industry.”

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Underpinning ABC’s strategy for the next 3-5 years are three key-words: ‘Ambitious, Accessible, Australian.’

“Ambitious creatively, ambitious in terms of the audiences we’re trying to reach, ambitious in terms of the risks we’re prepared to take. Accessible is about the opportunity for shows to reach all Australians available everywhere, anywhere on digital platforms. And Australian is obviously at the very heart of the ABC, as the leading Australian storyteller in the country,” Finlayson explains.

“Anh has an incredible knack for being able to disarm his subjects”

One of the easiest renewals for 2017 was more of Anh’s Brush with Fame, a break-out hit from its very first episode.

“We love it because it’s an Art show as much as a conversation. Anh has an incredible knack for being able to disarm his subjects to get something,” he continues.

“That environment when you are painting someone. I guess they feel stripped naked, in a way, ready to reveal things that they mightn’t have otherwise done.”

He has similar hopes for new quiz show Hard Quiz with Tom Gleeson.

“We’re hoping it’s a brand that will live on for us for a few years. It’s a show that’s efficient, not cheap by any means, but is a really familiar format held together by Tom, but just a different take on an old idea.

“We’re quite happy with it. We never expected to smash it on day one, it’s going to be a builder.”

ABC’s slate does include several shows that were due in 2016 but pushed out to next year, such as Stop Laughing This is Serious, Seven Types of Ambiguity, David Stratton’s Stories of Australian Cinema, and Bullied.

“In the case of Bullied (presented by Ian Thorpe) it was about getting the show ready to a point of where we want it to be. It’s coming together really well and we’re really happy with it. It’s also an opportunity to hit the National Anti-Bullying Day which is in March,” Finlayson explains.

“So it’s an opportunity to have a big cross-platform campaign, like Mental As, which will have Tara Moss’ Cyberhate and Ian’s show as centrepieces. There will be a whole conversation going on radio, online and news sites.”

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“I’ve never used this word before in describing television, but it is ‘Sumptuous.'”

Another ‘event’ due for mid year is under wraps tackling another “big issue with great talent.”

rage will celebrate “30 Years of the munchies, coming home, turning on the TV and chilling out,” he laughs.

rage is a show that has survived the coming and going of MTV. It’s always been a curated show and I think that’s it’s (strength). That’s why it’s still going.

“Dream Gardens is also one to watch out for. It’s Grand Designs meets Gardening Australia. I’ve never used this word before in describing television, but it is ‘Sumptuous.’ It is visually beautiful.

“There’s a fantastic new host in Michael McCoy, who we’ve found. He’s a landscape architect, who looks great, is a brilliant presenter and is entirely authentic, which is important.

“I reckon it is a sleeper and will do really well.”

Finlayson also describes upcoming drama Seven Types of Adversity from Matchbox Pictures as a premium drama. Based on the novel by Elliot Perlman it features Hugo Weaving, Andrea Demetriades, Xavier Samuel and Alex Dimitriades.

“It’s not light and breezy. It’s a complex story with fascinating characters,” he explains.

“It’s like a Rubik’s Cube the way it folds in all the elements, piece by piece. It maintains the suspense and mystery until the very last moment.

“It’s a Slap-like conceit, in a sense.”

Hack Live will return at least quarterly, if not more frequently on ABC2 but Finlayson admits to some concerns over a recent debate on the recent resurgence in Aussie patriotism, and ordered the show observe a 30 minute delay.

“I was nervous about the last one. We talked about it a lot, but we thought it was the right thing to do to have him on air. The ABC is always careful but brave about those sorts of things. So we did a lot of work behind the scenes to make sure we were clear from an Editorial point of view and legally. But if you’re not worried about those kinds of things then you’re not trying your hardest,” he suggests.

“Our new MD is really supportive of that as well. It would be easy not to be. We’re a very transparent organisation. We’re up for that sort of focus.”

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“We will double our investment in iview-first programming”

iview will also get a content boost, from 100 hours of original content in 2016 to 200 hours in 2017.

“We will double our investment in iview-first programming, which will primarily be short-form content and remain mostly on iview. Where we see enough interest shows will graduate to broadcast, which we saw with Katering and You Can’t Ask That.

“It gives us the opportunity to uncover a huge new pool of creative talent we previously haven’t been able to access on traditional platforms. So that’s really exciting.”

2017 Upfronts: ABC highlights

abc.net.au/TV2017

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