Hollywooditis is ravaging Australian television
There seems to be a new disease sweeping the Australian acting fraternity and it presents problems for local series television drama. The disease is Hollywooditis. Among its causes are cultural cringe, the understandable feeling that success in America represents greater success than at home; financial remuneration, a chance of cracking a big payday; a wider variety of work on offer in the US, which cannot be argued; and the chance of a fix of that most potent drug, true fame.
Blinkered to the multitude of wannabes sleeping on their friends’ couches or eking out meagre existences in roach-filled LA apartments, our performers prefer to concentrate on being the next Chris Hemsworth, Sam Worthington or Cate Blanchett.
And who can blame them?
Most are young. And youth is the time for ambition and confidence. But what does this mean for casting long-running series? It means we may have to cut our creative cloth to the new landscape.
When creating a long-running series, you establish a core set of characters and, if you are successful, you make the nation fall in love with them. And for a long-running love affair, that character mix should remain relatively stable from season to season. In the past you signed your cast to three-year contracts, hoping success would make them remain even after that period. One relied on the motto, “when you’re on a good thing, stick to it”. Not now. Just try and get a charismatic newby with embryonic star potential to commit for more than a year these days. Overall, you’re whistling Dixie.
And should you manage to do so, forget any life for the character after three years. It’s thanks for the experience and see you later. This is not an accusation or a complaint, simply a statement of fact.
So what does this mean for long-running series?
Concepts will have to have shorter lives upfront to lock in the best cast possible or, if wanting a longer shelf life, need to be constructed to move character focus without unsettling the audience. Were I creating Packed to the Rafters now, I doubt I would have used the word ‘packed’ in the title. It certainly exacerbates the current problem created by the actors playing the Rafters children heading for La La Land en masse.
As I don’t see the overall problem going away any time soon, I am adjusting my way of constructing new shows at the core, buffering up front against this ‘desertion’ factor to ensure series longevity. Whether this new casting situation will have a good or bad effect on our television remains to be seen. The challenge may lead to a better product. All I know is it is changing the way the game is played.
Bevan Lee is the creator of Packed to the Rafters and Winners and Losers. He is currently writing a new series for Seven, A Place to Call Home.
- This piece first appeared in the April issue of Encore. Subscribe to the print edition here or download the iPad edition here.