Gruen on ABC 2015 show line up, amid ongoing speculation about funding cuts

The ABC has confirmed much of its 2015 programming line up with many popular franchises, including Gruen, The Checkout, Utopia, Please Like Me, Redfern Now and Redesign My Brain set to return in various guises.

The public broadcaster has forgone the usual Upfront presentation this year following funding cuts, with reports yesterday suggesting the ABC could see a further $200m-$300m cut over the next five years.

Despite the prospect of the cuts director of TV Richard Finlayson said it was “business as usual” from the content side announcing a new comedy show for Charlie Pickering, a two part documentary by reporter Sarah Ferguson, an eight part drama called Hiding, a new comedy for Shaun Micallef in which he plays a former prime minister struggling with being out of power and a potentially controversial documentary Lest We Forget, What? which examines the ANZAC myth, among a raft of new program initiatives.

“On the whole for us in 2015, it is business as usual as the home of great Australian stories,” said Finlayson. “There is still uncertainty over funding but we are working really hard to ensure that any cuts really have a very limited impact on content.”

Asked about programs not returning in 2015 Finlayson confirmed that 7.30 would return, describing it as a key part of the nightly schedule, but refused to be drawn on speculation that the state bulletins on Fridays would be be axed.

“All that is still being worked out and once we get clarity on budget cuts there will be announcements on programming,” said Finlayson. “7.30 is still front and centre of our nightly schedule. News and 7.30 are the foundation of that nightly schedule.”

Other programs not mentioned in today’s announcement include Annabel Crabb’s cooking show with politicians Kitchen Cabinet, comedian Tom Ballard’s Reality Check which struggled in the ratings this year, and Soul Mates which features the Bondi Hipsters and currently airing on ABC2.

Finlayson noted that some of these programs were still on-air at present, adding: “Annabel is on-air at the moment we will wait and see how the rest of the series goes and then we’ll make decisions about that next year.

“We also haven’t made a call on (Reality Check) we’ll return to that in the new year.”

On the ABC2 show Soul Mates Finlayson indicated the public broadcaster saw it as a “key property” in terms of driving digital growth and would be open to renewing it based on its performance in its early weeks.

“We are big fans of Soul Mates and you’ll notice we put a lot of effort into marketing that program,” he said. “We are really excited about its potential to reach new audiences for the ABC. It is a really key property as far as a digital strategy goes and we are really happy with the performance so far and we will talk to the boys once we go have got through the series and see where we go to from here.”

In the media and marketing space Finlayson said he was pleased about the return of both Gruen and The Checkout.

Gruen has been subject to much speculation about its future after it did not air in 2014 but the ABC TV boss explained that part of the reason for that decision was driven by host Wil Anderson’s US comedy commitments.

“We are really delighted to see Wil Anderson coming back,” he said. “He was keen to go and further his comedy career in the US and while we would love to keep him on-air we are obviously really supportive of him – he is a key talent for the ABC – we can’t wait to have him back and in the Gruen Franchise.

“As far as The Checkout is concerned it is one of the network’s favourite shows because it’s pure public broadcasting, nobody but the ABC could do a program like that. It is loved by audiences young and old and depending on your perspective it performs a great service and it is really entertaining.”

Charlie Pickering to get a new show, Click to enlarge

Charlie Pickering to get a new show, Click to enlarge

Other comedy programs include Micallef’s new comedy The Ex-PM, Sammy J & Randy in Ricketts Lane featuring the comedian and his puppet, and a new 20 episode comedy featuring former The Project host Charlie Pickering.

The ABC has also continued its commitment to documentaries and serious programming with a new two part documentary hosted by investigative journalist Sarah Ferguson called No excuses! With Sarah Ferguson, which will see her immersed in a women’s refuge to shine a light on the hidden world of domestic violence.

No Excuses with Sarah Ferguson, Click to enlarge

No Excuses with Sarah Ferguson, Click to enlarge

The decision to give Ferguson her own show comes after strong run on the ABC’s 7.30 program as a fill in her for Leigh Sales. Asked if the ABC felt pressure to find her own program Finlayson said:  “The only pressure we felt is that we really wanted to use Sarah’s incredible talents as best we can. We asked her to have a think about what she wanted to do and she came up with this incredible concept.

“It required a high degree of immersion and involvement from her.”

Other documentaries series airing on the ABC in 2015 include: Inside Labor a documentary in the style of Labor in Power and The Howard Years looking at the Rudd/Gillard years in office; a three part documentary on the Australian involvement on the war in AfghanistanMaking Australia great: Inside our longest Boom hosted by political commentator George Megalogenis; and Watch This Space a show about the public spaces that all Australia share hosted by David Wenham and Linda Gregoriou.

The ABC has also signalled its intention to have extensive coverage of the ANZAC’s ahead of the Centenary of the Gallipoli landings announcing The Whalers, Australia’s Great Warhorse a documentary on the first convoys of the ANZAC Expeditionary Forces, The Waves of Anzac Cove hosted by actor Sam Neil which will look at the ANZAC exploits of a century and Vietnam ANZACs looking at the experience of Brian Cleaver, a national service conscript whose number came out of the lottery barrel was sent to Vietnam to serve his country.

Lest We Forget, What? Click to enlarge.

Lest We Forget, What? Click to enlarge.

It will also feature a one hour documentary called Lest We Forget, What? The blurb for the program questions states that program look at the way ANZAC Day is used “increasingly used to define our nation’s very essence be the remembrance of a sepia-tinted pastiche of vague anecdotes about the ANZAC spirit”.

Asked if the program might be used as a lightening rod for critics of the ABC who could be upset about a show which critically reviews the legacy of ANZAC diggers, Finlayson said: “When we selected the WWI slate we wanted a range of content from spiky and provocative right through to warm and commemorative.  Lest We Forget, What? asks some important questions about the place that ANZAC holds in our national life and imagination.”

Nic Christensen 


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