Foxtel looks for relationship drama and more unique content

Tim Minchin and Milly Alcock in 'Upright'.

Tim Minchin and Milly Alcock in ‘Upright’ (Photo credit: Mark Rogers).

Dispelling the notion that Foxtel has cut back on its commitment to Australian drama, the pay TV platform is in the hunt for shows that would not appear anywhere else on Australian screens and for a returning series to fill the gap left by A Place to Call Home.

Foxtel has four dramas in development including Lawyer X: The story of Informer 3838, based on the true story of Nicola Gobbo, the criminal barrister who was a police informant from 1995 until 2009 during Melbourne’s gangland wars.

A Place to Call Home was so loved by older audiences, who are under-served in this market, it would be great to find something that hits that mark,” Carly Heaton, Foxtel executive in charge of drama production, tells IF. “There are a few interesting projects floating around but we haven’t yet got one where we say, ‘We can’t not do that.’

“We always want to do high quality Australian drama that’s not being done anywhere else on any network or SVOD service. Relationship dramas that are not being serviced as much on the free-to-airs could find a place with us.”

Director of content Ross Crowley cites HBO’s Big Little Lies and BBC/HBO’s Years and Years as typifying the scale, scope and ambition of the Australian dramas that Foxtel is seeking.

Carly Heaton.

Crowley, Foxtel executive director of TV Brian Walsh and drama executive Lana Greenhalgh evaluate pitches from producers while Heaton focuses on her EP role. She says the volume of pitches dropped after Penny Win stepped down as head of drama, raising fears among some producers that Foxtel was reducing its investment in drama.

But the number has been rising since Foxtel CEO Patrick Delany reaffirmed in an interview with IF that its commitment had not wavered and it would continue to commission four dramas each year.

Heaton served as an EP on Lingo Pictures’ Upright, which launches on Fox Showcase on Sunday December 1 at 8.30 pm, and See-Saw Films’ The End, which will premiere next year..

Both were co-commissions with the UK’s Sky TV. Created by The Chaser’s Chris Taylor and directed by Matt Saville, Upright follows Tim Minchin and Milly Alcock as misfits who meet by chance in the middle of the desert and form a bond in their quest to get a piano from one side of the country a to the other.

Created and written by Samantha Strauss, The End follows three generations of a family with separate but intersecting obsessions – trying to figure out how to die with dignity, live with none and make it count.

The ensemble cast includes Frances O’Connor, The Crown’s Harriet Walter, Morgan Davies, Ingrid Torelli, Noni Hazlehurst, Robyn Nevin and Luke Arnold, directed by Jessica M Thompson and Jonathan Brough.

Harriet Walter and Frances O’Connor.

“The two shows are very different beasts but what they have in common is they tackle some meaty issues in a very entertaining way and have a comedic edge,” Heaton says. Both are open-ended and Foxtel believes they have the potential to become returning series.

Heaton was impressed with Alcock’s work in Foxtel’s Fighting Season and A Place to Call Home and sees her as a break-out star.

Alcock’s audition for Upright was good without being exceptional but as soon as she did a chemistry read with Minchin she nailed the part.

Collaborating with a production company that is yet to be revealed, Foxtel has held a couple of writers’ rooms for Lawyer X, “trying to breaking the back of this massive narrative,” Heaton says. “We know what we’re looking at now with this amazing, unique individual Nicola Gobbo.”

Pre-production is underway on the final 20 episodes of Fremantle’s Wentworth. A drama development exec before she was promoted to her current role, Heaton has also served as an EP on Fighting Season, both editions of Secret City and The Kettering Incident.