From Mabo to The Straits: why is ABC drama failing to fire?

Despite having some great content on offer, Aunty’s drama offerings aren’t exciting audiences like they have in the past. David Knox asks what is going wrong.

What’s happened to Aunty’s drama this year?

They’ve stumped up some terrific content and for some reason it just isn’t resonating on the small screen.

Last year The Slap was a shining example of the broadcaster giving us compelling content but this year the only drama to come close to being a bona fide success, at least in terms of ratings, has been the Essie Davis-led series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (with an honourable mention going to ongoing kids’ series Dance Academy now in its second series with a third on the way).

This is despite the ABC having the most diverse drama slate of any of our broadcasters: original, adaptation, contemporary, period, city, rural, indigenous and kids’ – it’s all there like checkboxes on the ABC Charter.

But producing the content is only half the deed done. It’s also in the ABC Charter to bring the content to as wide an audience as possible.

Was screening the inspiring Mabo on a long weekend really the answer (especially given the 20th anniversary was a week earlier)? It pulled 544,000 viewers.

The Straits, a darkly twisted family saga, may not have always been on the money was still far better than the 461,000 viewers left by series end.

In fairness ABC shows do reach a wider audience when time shifted, ABC2 and iView plays are factored in, but it’s disheartening that so much good content is being lost amid noisy reality show battles elsewhere on our televisions.

Woodley had moments of genius but the ploy to build a family audience at 8pm on Wednesday clearly failed. Laid and Outland were so niche they may have found better audiences on ABC2.

Of course, it’s easy in hindsight to play armchair programmer, and the ABC should never be judged on ratings alone.

Risk, innovation and representation are all equally valid reasons for greenlighting a project.

But if the shows are getting solid reviews yet not attracting eyeballs then maybe the ABC needs to find more creative ways of promoting its content given it has nowhere near the budget of its rival commercial networks.

As I look ahead to Jack Irish, Devil’s Dust, Rake, The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, Doctor Blake Mysteries, Time of Our Lives, Cliffy and the ambitious Redfern Now, I just hope the old adage applies that “if you build it, they will come (to your ABC)”.

David Knox is the editor of TVTonight.com.au


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.