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Adventures in the (small) screen trade

Posted on Thursday, March 12, 2009 in TV

The cover of the UK and US DVD case.

Since I last wrote this intro, I co-created and co-wrote (with my good friend Tony Morphett) Rain Shadow, a six-part drama series for the ABC which went to air in late 2007. It starred Rachel Ward and relative newcomer, the sensational Victoria Thaine, as two vets in drought-stricken rural Australia. Click on the pic on the left to see a trailer. It rated its socks off but bad timing (Rachel had already committed to directing her own movie) meant a sequel would have been on air until two years after the original so it was decided not to go ahead with it.  We got the news just as we were plotting the second series (which would have been a ripper, naturally).  But that’s TV. If it’s any consolation to her many fans, Rachel’s movie Finding Kate is top notch stuff.
This is the fourth TV show I’ve either created or co-created but the reason I got into TV in the first place – to write sitcom – seems further away than ever. And as long as the Government allows the commercial networks to claim drama content “points” for unwatchable fifth-rate sketch comedies, it’s not going to get any closer. That said,  Chris Lilley (Summer Heights High, We Can Be Heroes) is a bona fide genius and The Hollowmen is really very good (even if it is quite a lot like the British Thick Of It).  The new Mick Molloy project sounds awfully like 30 Rock but one shouldn’t pre-judge.  It just amazes me that Australia – whose citizens are naturally, instinctively and genuinely funny – can only produce an average of one watchable sitcom a year.
Sitcom defines our culture in a way that our steady output of worthy but endlessly dreary films about drug addicts can never do. It speaks to us in a language we can understand about things that matter to us. It makes us laugh at ourselves and the arseholes who make life more difficult than it should be.
And what do we get? Re-runs of Benny Hill and Some Mothers, locally made tawdry catch-phrase skit-com and, occasionally, imported works of exquisite genius like Extras and Arrested Development (if you can find it).
Yes there’s Kath And Kim hugely successful but – oddly enough – firmly rooted in sketch comedy. The other big success Thank God You’re Here had its roots in that other Australian comedic strength, improv. But in terms of pure sitcom, it’s funny to think that the much derided Hey Dad! was pulling audiences of 1.7 million when it was cancelled. What they’d give for those ratings now.
I am still writing and pitching sitcoms and somebody out there is still reading them and sending them back.  But as sitcoms drift ever further off my radar, I’m writing my first movie script and my first documentary … or I would be if I wasn’t writing this.
JT – March 09

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