He’s produced some of the most critically-acclaimed dramas in the country –The Slap, The Devil’s Playground, Glitch, The Family Law, Wanted– but Nowhere Boys is Tony Ayres’ only Kid’s TV show.
Now in its third season on ABC ME, the series was created when ABC made a call-out for programmes to appeal to teenage males.
Thrown in with its adventure, magic and emotion, Ayres has ensured the series is also reflective of the changing face of Australia.
“One of the reasons we have to value Children’s TV so much is because it has such a deep impact on its audience. The way in which the audience for the show has responded to the work has been really satisfying,” he tells TV Tonight.
“For me now that’s the main pleasure of being able to do work in Children’s TV. I think back to when I was a kid ….all those shows that really gave me a sense of who I was and where I fit in the world -or didn’t fit in.”
Whilst picking up one of the show’s many accolades at the International Emmys, Ayres recalls hearing about the importance of diversity in Kid’s TV.
“It had an impact on us and it made us think. We really want a diverse cast in Season Three. So, one of the boys is into show tunes,” he continues.
“We’re hinting to sexuality and if we get to Season Four we’ll get to play that out a bit more as well, which I think is very exciting.
“His best friend is a girl who is very boyish and very fluid in her sexual identification. I think that that’s really important.
“One of the boys is Indigenous and one has dyslexia.”
Ayres believes the push in Diversity on screen has been led by Reality TV, which casts for “talent rather than exclusion.”
“We when we used to talk about Diversity 10 or even 20 years ago it felt like a bit of a pain in the arse, that you were ticking a box. But nowadays when you put a diverse cast together it actually feels like the real world!” he says.
“What I think we notice more now is when you have an all-white Anglo cast.
“You don’t look at this group and think ‘Oh they’ve made deliberate politically-correct choices.’ They just look like a bunch of kids you would see in a school anywhere in Australia.”
“When you’re trying to reboot you have to have a point of difference.”
The cast for Season Three welcomes Joe Klocek, Kamil Ellis, Jordie Race-Coldrey, William McKenna and “Nowhere Girl” Luca Sardelis. Like UK series Skins, it has had to reboot its principal cast with original cast members farewelled in a recent Nowhere Boys film.
“We couldn’t get the boys for a whole series,” Ayres admits.
“I mean basically after two seasons they were all moving onto big new projects.
“But we had a window where they were available. And also we felt if we couldn’t get them for Season Three then we wanted to end their story, so it just didn’t finish.
“When you’re trying to reboot you have to have a point of difference.
“So it’s taken a different angle on the mythology: rather than them being in a universe where they were never born, they’re actually in a universe where there isn’t anyone else. They’re the only people left in the world. So it’s kind of like a kid’s own Walking Dead!”
In Nowhere Boys: Two Moons Rising Luke (Kamil Ellis) arrives at Bremin High, and all appears to be tiresomely ordinary, but he soon finds himself thrust into a new gang, in an eerily empty wasteland, forced to figure out how to save the town.
“This season is a spookier and creepier, especially as it develops and you realise that there is a force that is kind of out to get them,” says Ayres.
“The idea of the show is it looks at the intersection between magic and science. And I think that’s what gives it it’s ‘nerd appeal.’ It looks at the idea that maybe magic is just science that hasn’t been discovered yet.
“We love the crazy mix of adventure, comedy and mystery and the heart that the show has.
“We just try to tell the story from the point of being a kid. The kids have to solve the problems because there aren’t adults to solve them for them.”
“The key for us is to never talk down to the audience”
Ayres is so busy overseeing Nowhere Boys, Glitch, Wanted that he didn’t have time to write or direct any episodes this season. But the team he has gathered includes many ‘non-traditional’ Children’s TV writers and directors, together with “the unsung hero of the show” visual effects specialist, John Francis.
“We just make the things that we think will are cool. And we have a great relationship with the ABC. They just come in and say ‘This is fine but this is not… This is going to be difficult in terms of our editorial policy.’ So we just try to do the things that we would respond to -imagining ourselves as kids but also as adults what we respond to.
“The key for us is to never talk down to the audience, to make it intriguing, to have a sense of adventure and to have the pleasure of magic within the budget constraints that we that we have.
“And hopefully you know we touch upon emotions as well.
“So all of those things are the keys to the kingdom.”
Nowhere Boys airs 6:20pm Friday on ABC ME.