ABC bolsters drama slate with ‘Significant Others’, ‘Savage River’

Ben O'Toole, Sophia Forrest, Sean Keenan, and Hunter Page-Lochard in 'Barons'.

With the future of Australian TV drama under the microscope, there was always going to be added interest in the ABC’s 2022 slate.

The public broadcaster will deliver in the genre in its 90th year, officially announcing at today’s upfronts new series Significant Others and Savage River.

They join titles Mystery Road: Origin, Troppo, and Barons in a drama line-up that is noticeably larger than what has so far been announced by the commercial free-to-air platforms.

ABC director of entertainment and specialist Michael Carrington told IF the broadcaster was pleased to be able to meet demand in the space.

“It’s something our audiences want and I’m thrilled we’re able to provide it,” he said.

“Drama is a really expensive genre. It takes a lot of effort, resources, craft skills, etc. to build a drama series, as well as a lot of time.

“Obviously we are investing ABC money into major high-quality drama but we’re also able to work with partners, in terms of the state and territory screen agencies, and attract international investment in Australian drama. This is not only creating jobs but is also giving us the ability to do more.”

Nicole Chamoun and Thomas Jane in ‘Troppo’

Created by Tommy Murphy, Significant Others details the aftermath of when Sarah, a single mother of two teenagers, vanishes under the waves during her morning swim. The mystery of her disappearance acts as a catalyst in bringing her fractured family back together, as her siblings Ursula, Den, and Claire join the two children she left behind in a search for answers.

The six-part drama is being produced by Fremantle for the ABC, with Matt Reeder as series producer. Fremantle’s Chris Oliver-Taylor and Justin Davies are executive producing alongside Louise Smith and Sally Riley from the ABC.

Mystery is also at the heart of Aquarius Films’ Savage River, which stars Katherine Langford as Miki Anderson, a young woman that returns to her hometown in rural Victoria after eight years in prison. When a murder rocks the town, Miki immediately becomes the focus of everyone’s suspicion and sets out to prove her innocence, uncovering long-buried secrets.

Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse, the series is being produced by Angie Fielder and Polly Staniford, with Miranda Culley executive producing alongside the ABC’s Rebecca Anderson. Giula Sandler, Belinda Bradley and Franz Docherty will write the episodes, which will be distributed internationally by Dynamic Television.

Katherine Langford.

Drama was flagged as one of two development priorities for a new-look ABC when IF spoke with Carrington earlier this year, with the other being children’s programming.

A steady flow of kids titles have begun production across the past eight months, including Aquarius Films’ Born to Spy, Brindle Films’ adventure drama MaveriX, Fremantle Australia’s children’s comedy-drama The PM’s Daughter, Butter Media’s Built to Survive, Windmill Pictures’ live-action puppet series Beep and Mort, and Werner Films Productions’ Crazy Fun Park.

Next year will also signal the return of The Wonder Gang, Bluey, First Day, Good Game Spawn Point, Playschool, Little J and Big Cuz, Strange Chores, and The Deep.

The slate comes at an uncertain time for Australian children’s television, following the easing of fixed local content quotas on free-to-air commercial networks in January.

Carrington acknowledged the challenges being faced by the independent industry, which he said was “suffering somewhat”.

“Whilst we haven’t seen children’s production companies shutter yet, they are struggling,” he said.

“We’re doing everything we can to support the industry as a whole.

“Children’s is a commitment we’ve had for a long time and when you get it right, you get extraordinary things like Bluey coming to the surface and being a global hit.”

In the comedy stakes, Princess Pictures’ Stories from Oz and Gritsmill Productions’ anthology series Summer Love add fresh blood amidst a slew of returning programs, including Fisk, Aftertaste, Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery, Question Everything, and Tomorrow Tonight.

Written and executive produced by The Chaser’s Chris Taylor and Andrew Hansen, Stories from Oz is a six-part series that aims to breathe new life into some of the country’s most colourful stories by giving them the full musical treatment. Julie Eckersley produces the series, which is directed by Max Miller. Rachel Millar and Nicholas Hayden are the ABC executive producers.

Robyn Butler and Wayne Hope.

Summer Love also comes from some familiar ABC faces, with Wayne Hope and Robyn Butler creating and executive producing the series, which sees eight very different sets of people rent the same beachside holiday house. Eight different writing teams bring eight different stories to life, each connected through the house and through the theme of love. Greg Sitch executive produces with Hope and Butler, alongside Kinetic Content executive producers Chris Coelen and Melissa Myers, and ABC executive producer Todd Abbott.

The broadcaster’s comedy programs have this year been housed on new channel ABC TV Plus, which broadened the scope of the preceding ABC Comedy platform to incorporate factual and arts programming.

Headlining the factual slate for next year is Southern Ocean Live – an exploration of wildlife above and below the sea hosted by Hamish MacDonald and Ann Jones. The pair previously worked together on Northern Pictures’ Reef Live. Jones will also narrate Northern Pictures’ upcoming ABC feature documentary Meet the Penguins.

Sport is a common thread in three of the other commissioned feature documentaries, with Wildbear Entertainment’s A League of Their Own, In Films’ Israel Folau, and Blayke Hoffman and Stranger Than Fiction’s Harley & Katya offering insight into vastly different athletic journeys.

Of the other new factual titles announced, Ithaka: A Fight to Free Julian Assange tells the stories behind the headlines, Rebuilding Mallacoota offers a snapshot of community spirit in rural Australia, Miriam Margolyes Australia Unmasked explores if Aussies still get a fair go, and A Dog’s World sees Tony Armstrong unpack the science behind the special bond between humans and their canine companions.

There will also be new versions of Old People’s Home For 4-Year-Olds, which becomes Old People’s Home for Teenagers, and Further Back In Time For Dinner, with the Ferrone family turning shop proprietors in Back in Time for the Corner Shop.

In the arts, the ABC will build on returning weekly round-up Art Works withTiny Oz, in which Jimmy Rees introduces the amazing artists who bring to life history in miniature; Space 22, which follows Natalie Bassingthwaighte on a quest to discover if art can change lives; and The Exhibitionists, which sees hosts Mandy McElhinney, Bridie Carter, Bessie Holland, and Veronica Milsom shine a spotlight on Australia’s feminist art history. Also new is In Films’ Whiteley on Trial, a two-part exploration into one of Australia’s biggest alleged art frauds.

While there is a bumper line up of new content across the different platforms, Carrington also said the next 12 months would also include time for reflection as the ABC celebrated its 90th year.

“We’ve had an incredible 90 years, so we’ll do a little bit of looking back at the extraordinary events that have taken place,” he said.

“We’re also using the 90th anniversary to look forward and to really embrace the future of our connection with audiences.

“We’ll be consolidating our digital services – mainly ABC iview – but also our social connections on platforms such as YouTube and Facebook.”

“There will be more of the same in the sense we want to be multi-genre and we want to have a rich, diverse slate of content, which I think we have achieved for next year.”