Rick Kalowski sets out an ambitious agenda for ABC comedy

Rick Kalowski.

ABC head of comedy Rick Kalowski has a ready answer when producers complain they can’t get a show funded because they have been unable to land an international financier or co-producer.

“If you can’t co-finance your scripted show internationally it’s not because it’s too local, it’s because it’s not good enough,” he tells IF.

“There is so much hunger out there for scripted content that if you can’t finance it, it’s not a conspiracy. Many good Australian producers have had a lot of success selling their shows internationally.”

Most ABC scripted comedies are now co-financed internationally by streaming platforms or cable broadcasters such as Sky TV. “One of the few good things about the budget cuts in the past few years is that they have forced us to think internationally about our financing,” he says.

“Since I started in September 2013, I, along with my boss Sally Riley and many others, have done a huge amount of work and travel to drive international financing of our shows. And, like Sally, I have encouraged writers and producers not to bring us only what they thought were ‘ABC-type’ shows.”

Asked to specify the kinds of scripted comedy series the ABC is looking for, Kalowski cites two key types. One is ‘instantly embraceable’ concepts from well-known on or behind the camera talent, suited for ABC’s Wednesday 8.30 pm /9 pm slots, such as Rosehaven and Utopia.

Mandy McElhinney and Ernie Dingo in ‘Squinters.’

The other is newer, talent-driven shows, like Please Like Me and the first season of The Letdown, that he sees as “so distinctive that, at the right price, we can’t not do it,’ for Wednesdays at 9.30 pm or the ABC Comedy multi-channel.

For calendar 2019 he commissioned six full-length series in addition to short-form content such as Sarah’s Channel, which just had its own panel at San Diego Comic-Con, a first for any fully Australian series, and comedy podcasts.

Series 3 of What Horse?/Guesswork TV’s Rosehaven kicked off the year, followed by the second series of each of Guesswork’s Get Krack!n, Giant Dwarf’s The Letdown and Jungle Entertainment’s Squinters.

Next comes series 4 of Working Dog’s Utopia, which premieres at 9 pm on August 21, followed by Frayed, a co-production between Sharon Horgan and Clelia Mountford’s Merman Television and Kevin Whyte’s Guesswork TV for the ABC and the UK’s Sky.

Next year he is aiming for a slate of five full-length series, all of which are in negotiation or being financed. He expects between one and three will be renewals.

If Frayed, which stars UK-based Australian comedian Sarah Kendall as a wealthy London housewife who retreats to her Newcastle hometown after her husband dies in bed with a prostitute, resonates as strongly as he hopes, he is keen to do another season, but that would probably be for early 2021.


Utopia fans can expect the new series to be “full of hilarious rage at the way that government nonsense-speak and corporate bullshit have ruined people’s lives,” he says.

Series 2 of The Letdown, which will soon launch on Netflix worldwide outside Australia, recorded the highest VPM (Video Player Measurement) figures for an Australian scripted comedy on the ABC’s iview since that tracking started in 2016.

Kalowski is keen to collaborate again with creators/writers/producers Sarah Scheller and Alison Bell but another series of The Letdown isn’t likely until the year after next.

Get Krack!n creators Kate McCartney and Kate McClennan slammed the door on another series by symbolically burning the set but another project for the ABC is brewing.

A fan of Ronny Chieng, he would like to work with the comic talent again when Chieng’s schedule permits, either a second season of Ronny Chieng: International Student or a new project.

As well as executive producing scripted comedy production for the network the executive has 30-50 projects in development at any one time and he has regular discussions with international co-financiers.

“The range of stuff we are doing is very diverse in character and the quality is, I think, exceptionally high,” he concludes. “Our international reputation has never been stronger and we’ve had a lot of success with co-productions and co-financing with the US, and, excitingly now, the UK is starting to open up too.”