To channel the words of Dennis Hopper from Speed: pop quiz, hotshot. What do the following four things have in common? Picnic at Hanging Rock and Wake in Fright are being adapted for TV. Foxtel is becoming more competitive with the likes of Netflix. A lamb advertisement has been roundly praised for diverse representation. The trailer for the second series of Stan’s hilarious sitcom No Activity has hit the net.
The simple answer is that all these things occurred in the last seven days. It’s been a big week of announcements for the Australian TV industry; the biggest for quite a while.
While news of them is still fresh, what better time to acknowledge – before the cruel hand of this depraved swine-filled plane of existence we call “reality” returns to crush our spirits come Monday – that right about now is a rather exciting time for local television. Critics have a reputation for being grouchy sandbaggers, but tonight this one is feeling optimistic. To understand why, let’s take a look at each of the four examples.
The first summons visions of two of the finest Australian films of the 1970s. The former, Picnic at Hanging Rock will come to Foxtel and the latter, Wake in Fright, to be directed by the prolific Kriv Stenders (whose fine work includes Boxing Day and SBS’ The Principal) will premiere on Ten. Both, it is reasonable to assume, will have decent budgets, high-calibre productions values and – gee whiz – more than a little burden of expectation to inspire cast and crew.
As these announcements traveled down the grapevine, you could have set your watch to the inevitable squarks: complaints about unoriginal ideas this and ‘why must we have so many remakes’ that. A rationale entirely apt when it comes to Hollywood movies, which aren’t so much distributed via conveyor belt as distributed via a replica of a sequel to a remake of an adaptation of what was once re-imagined as a conveyor belt.
But, as I’ve argued before, the Australian film and TV industries are a different kettle of fish. They could do with more sequels, not fewer (granted, this is more of a cinema thing; television is altogether pretty good at milking its cows).
Expanding the comparatively rare locally-made worlds general audiences wish to revisit on screens is a good way to: (a) compete with our ever-present deluge of foreign content, (b) generate revenue to compensate for creatively daring projects that are less likely to succeed financially and (c) keep our crews well practised and up-skilled and maintaining a world-class reputation. Maybe also take into account Picnic and Wake in Fright won’t be remakes per se: rather, alternative adaptations of the original material.
The second example concerns Foxtel. It is finally, maybe taking seriously the idea that boxes installed in people’s homes probably have a finite life and that thing called the internet is here to stay. Thus: streaming.
If the cable giant can offer a good VOD interface at a reasonable price, something in the ballpark of Netflix and Stan, that is very exciting news indeed. More viewers should be exposed to the likes of Foxtel’s superb $14 million mystery-drama The Kettering Incident. There’s presumably more where that came from. The amount of money the company is investing in local productions is a whopping $125 million.
Now, for the lamb advertisement. We’re going to have to consider a bit of a silver lining here, especially given the premise of the ad is hitched on highlighting the fact that commercial Australian television is, let’s say, not very diverse. Yes, it’s a bloody commercial. Yes, it ends shamelessly (“the meat doesn’t discriminate”). And yes, the following observation is coming from a white man.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine this ad, a fabulous concoction of gender, ethnicity and differently abled people would have struck such a chord if it were broadcast 50, 30 or maybe even 10 years ago. I’m not for a second saying things have meaningfully changed when it comes to diversity on our screens; any number of credible studies (here’s a recent one) observe the opposite.
But there is some evidence that, while gallingly slow, change may be afoot. The confidence Channel Nine has in Here Comes the Habibs!, for example, the great work ABC is doing in its Indigenous Department (Cleverman, Black Comedy etc) and the unprecedented amount of moolah Screen Australia is investing in female-driven projects. Perhaps real progress can be sensed before it can be seen. At the moment you can practically smell it in the air, this desire to re-calibrate TV’s status quo. A fait accompli? No. Exciting? Shit yeah.
And the fourth point, regarding the announcement of No Activity season two. Well, cammon, have you seen the original series? If not, time to binge. Stan is expanding its local production, and the writing on the wall says good things are happening.
As they say: haters gonna hate. We all know Australian television is far from perfect. But at this point in the week, at this time in the night, from this pair of (square) eyes, it’s looking pretty sweet.