Like a Highway at Night

Having had this article drawn to our attention, we can’t seem to look away.

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.

That’s an interesting way to put “the only way the ABC will pay for your show is if you get somebody overseas to pay for your show”, but hey, we don’t work in television production. It’s just good to have it on the record that being “too local” is in no way an obstacle to getting money from overseas networks looking for programming they can show to audiences who know next to nothing about Australia.

“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,”

Which sounds great if the international financing people are just handing out money willy-nilly and are happy to fund exactly the kind of shows the ABC wants to make with zero input into the show itself. Let’s hope that’s what’s happening! Because otherwise what this means is that the scripted comedy output from the ABC now relies on the approval of overseas funding bodies, which doesn’t sound ideal.

And speaking of things that don’t sound ideal:

For calendar 2019 he commissioned six full-length series

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.

So the “ambitious agenda” laid out in this article is… “less comedy on the ABC in 2020”? With (let’s split the difference) half those shows being returning series? Get Krack!n‘s definitely not coming back, and Diary of an Uber Driver is a drama (right?) so we’re looking at the possibility of third series of Squinters, a fourth series of Rosehaven, or a jaw-dropping fifth series of Utopia? Suddenly the idea of bringing back Sando seems like a breath of fresh air. Especially as 2021 is already booked solid with the return of The Letdown and the as yet unseen Frayed.

Also, we’re shit at maths, but when you only have five slots a year and half of them are going to returning shows, does this add up?

As well as executive producing scripted comedy production for the network the executive has 30-50 projects in development at any one time

If co-developments are the future and overseas funding bodies are happy to fund Australian shows so long as they’re “good enough”, why is the amount of scripted comedy on the ABC falling from six series to five? Why not double the amount of overseas funding and make (okay, less than) double the shows? If there’s at least 30 shows in development and the overseas money is there, what’s the problem?

As we’ve already mentioned, we don’t work in television production. But we have watched a lot of Australian comedy, and at a guess we suspect the real problem with all this is that international money just isn’t interested in seriously funding decent Australian comedy.

It’s been established wisdom since the dawn of time that – unlike drama – comedy doesn’t travel well. It’s not hard to figure out why: if someone has to explain a joke to you its not funny, and unless you’re immersed in a culture you’re not going to understand the references being made.

If you’re making American comedy, this isn’t a problem: your culture has been exported around the world for decades. If you’re making Australian comedy… half the time Americans can’t even understand what you’re saying. Even the UK isn’t all that interested: Australia is at the bottom of a culture well, where we know heaps about other countries and they know next to nothing about us. You probably know the UK has a new Prime Minister; do you honestly think anyone there who’s not an ex-pat knows who our PM is? Does America even know we have a PM?

So you get shows like The Letdown, which are barely Australian (so as not to confuse overseas audiences) and barely comedy (because overseas audiences won’t get the jokes) but are funded by Netflix. Expect another hilarious look at being kinda bummed out about your shitty baby in 2021.

At the extreme, it’s possible that this “show us the international money” approach to approving local comedy pretty much guarantees that anyone Australian with any kind of uniquely Australian voice is going to be locked out of the Australian market for being too Australian. Which you’d think might be a problem for an organisation called The Australian Broadcasting Corporation but no, it just means you’re not good enough:

“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.”

Just not the shows that have anything funny to say about Australia.

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