Move As a Team, Never Move Alone

Press release time! Hang on a second, these aren’t comedies…

Five popular ABC dramas set to return

Tuesday, June 30, 2015 — In good news for lovers of great Australian drama, ABC TV has commissioned new series of the popular series Janet King, Rake, Jack Irish, The Code and The Doctor Blake Mysteries.

Marta Dusseldorp will star in a second series of Janet King; Richard Roxburgh returns to the role of Cleaver Greene for a fourth series of Rake; and Guy Pearce will return in a new six-part series based on the books of top selling crime writer Peter Temple in Jack Irish: The Series.

Craig McLachlan reprises his role as the charming Dr Lucien Blake in a fourth outing of The Doctor Blake Mysteries; and Dan Spielman and Ashley Zuckerman return for a thrilling follow-up series of The Code.

Okay, perhaps the return of Rake is relevant (and welcome) news here. But what makes this worth mentioning in general is the way that the ABC drama department seems to a): be able to create shows that work then b): keep them going.

We now pause our impending beat-up of the ABC’s various comedy departments to acknowledge an inconvenient truth: it’s a shitload easier for a drama series to be sold overseas than it is for a comedy, and once that sweet overseas cash starts coming in the ABC are going to milk it for all it’s worth. The relevant comedy comparison here is the “success” of Please Like Me, aka the only ABC scripted comedy to get a third series since The Librarians in 2010.

(And word is s3 of The Librarians only happened because the ABC wanted to get out of greenlighting a second series of the same production company’s Very Small Business.)

But the other relevant factor here is that while all these dramas have very visible public faces – they’re basically star vehicles, like all successful television – they also have solid production teams behind them. That’s something very few local comedies can claim. Craig McLachlan might be the star of Doctor Blake, but he doesn’t write the episodes; arguably that’s why the show’s lasted so long and also why – for what it is – it doesn’t completely suck.

In Australian comedy though, the star is almost always pulling double duty as the main writer. No surprise then that high profile shows have short runs while the shows we get that do run for months lack star power to bring in audiences (or just to give the show a distinctive voice). Everywhere else in the English-speaking world there’s comedy where a big name is backed up by a solid writing team (ever checked the credits of Inside Amy Schumer?); here only Shaun Micallef seems to work that way – and it’s no surprise he’s one of our most consistently funny performers.

We’re not saying that every comedy show needs a team of writers. We’re saying that in between the two extremes of Australian comedy – shows largely driven by a writer-performer, and sketch or panel shows with a writing team but no real face to bring in the public – there’s a promising middle ground we’re ignoring. Unless you count The Weekly, but if Charlie Pickering’s your role model then there’s not much help we can give you.

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