Foxtel gets ready to green light three Aussie dramas

Brian Walsh.

Belying fears that Foxtel would cut back on local commissions following the Federal Government’s media reforms, the pay TV platform expects to have three Australian dramas in production next year.

Two are intended to be returning series: a fresh take on the crime genre to replace Wentworth, the other a family drama to fill the gap left by A Place to Call Home.

Brian Walsh, who heads the Foxtel Originals division that was created in a restructure in August orchestrated by group CEO Patrick Delany, today reaffirmed the company’s commitment to drama, factual and lifestyle programming after the government halved the obligation on pay drama channels to invest 10 per cent of their annual revenues on local content.

“The new quota system will provide some confidence to the production sector but by no means does it indicate that that is the limit to which we are investing in local production,” he tells IF.

“We will invest in local production to the extent where it makes the most commercial sense for our business and for our customers. With more direct-to-consumer platforms entering the market it’s a significant point of difference for Foxtel.”

Of his new position, the former executive director of TV said: “My passion is telling Australian stories in many forms, from scripted dramas to lifestyle, factual and sport and every creative endeavour.

“This role is an extension of what I’ve been doing for the company for the last 25 years. It liberates me to build up the portfolio which Foxtel needs more than ever as our international supply of content drops, with the Hollywood studios increasingly going direct to consumer. This is a new growth opportunity for Foxtel.”

Foxtel has nine dramas in varying stages of development including Fremantle’s Lawyer X: The Story of Informer 3838, an eight-part series based on Nicola Gobbo, the criminal barrister who was a police informant during Melbourne’s gangland wars.

Unlike the Nine Network’s Informer 3838 produced by Screentime, Walsh said this production will be a rich and complex character study and talks are underway with a top talent to play the lead.

‘The End’ (Photo credit: Foxtel).

US cable network Showtime has acquired The End, the eight-part drama co-commissioned by Foxtel and Sky UK, created by Samantha Strauss for See-Saw Films. The series directed by Jessica M Thompson and Jonathan Brough, starring Frances O’Connor as Dr Kate Brennan, a senior registrar specialising in palliative care, with Harriet Walter as her mother Edie, will premiere in a primetime Sunday slot in the US.

If it’s well received, a second series is on the cards. Walsh decided to postpone the Australian premiere until next February, reasoning it would be insensitive to screen a show set in a retirement village, which deals with the issue of the right to die with dignity, during the pandemic.

Season 3 of Scott Ryan’s Mr Inbetween starts shooting in a few weeks, produced by Jungle Entertainment, Blue-Tongue Films and Pariah Productions for Foxtel and Disney’s FX.

Sundance Now in the US and Sky UK were so pleased with their audiences’ responses to Upright, a renewal of  Lingo Pictures’ comedy-drama starring, co-written and executive produced by Tim Minchin is virtually assured.

“I think Tim Minchin is an exceptional talent and we’re really excited to get him back on screen for another series,” Walsh said.

Zoe Terakes in ‘Wentworth.’

The successor to Wentworth will have a big ensemble cast spearheaded by two or three big names, augmented by new talent, and will look at crime in a way which has not been seen in Australia before.

Foxtel is talking to Screen Queensland, Screen NSW and Film Victoria to determine where to set the show, with pre production starting before the end of this year.

The 2021 Lifestyle line-up includes series 13 of Beyond Productions’ Selling Houses Australia, a new property series starring Deborah Hutton and series 8 of Fremantle’s Grand Designs Australia. Foxtel also is hatching plans for shows that deal with enhancing mental and physical wellness.

At a presentation for advertisers last week, Foxtel chief commercial and content officer Amanda Laing stressed that local productions account for 14 of the 20 most watched first-run shows across the platform.

The premiere of series 12 of Endemol Shine Australia’s Gogglebox Australia delivered an audience of 428,000, the biggest launch for the series since season 8, and it’s the most watched show on the platform this year. In addition to another edition of Gogglebox next year, there will be a celebrity version, mirroring a popular UK show.

The Wentworth series 8 launch drew 368,000 viewers, the biggest since the debut of season 4 in 2016. The Fremantle-produced show is the No. 2 ranked series on the platform and the most watched title on VOD. The concluding series 9 will premiere in May.

Perry Mason delivered a cumulative audience of 279,000, ranking as the No. 1 new drama and No. 3 across the platform.

Quoting OzTAM data, Laing said that in the 2020 financial year Foxtel was Australia’s #1 BVOD service with 28.7 per cent, ahead of the ABC (23.4 per cent), Nine (16.8 per cent), Seven (13.9 per cent), SBS (9.9 per cent) and Network 10 (7.3 per cent).