This year the ABC as a whole seemed to step everything up a level. The intensity, the programming selection and deft placement, the commissioning of incredible new product, and the willingness to try new things. The network – now four maturing channels strong, plus the best catch up TV service in Australia (online and in-app) and acres of additional online content – has proven its dynamism and creativity under the leadership of Mark Scott and has managed to reveal its heart as often as its head (along with its funny bone) in 2012.
It was a big year for some programs on the network too, as Rage turned 25, Foreign Correspondent turned 20 and ABC3 turned 3!
What was very telling of both the fortunes of ABC1 and the misfortunes of Channel 10 was that Our Aunty raked in a consistent third place over the last 15 weeks of the ratings year. “Still Number Four” no more.
ABC1’s Monday Night line-up: Australian Story, Four Corners, Media Watch, Q&A – Four big shows, all delivering quality content that are in no way connected yet back each other up perfectly. No more consistent night’s viewing on any network this year.
Outland – 5 gay Science Fiction nerds in a comedy about needing each other. Only on the ABC… and thank goodness someone did it.
7:30 – A shaky start that mid-year found its form in the best way – Leigh Sales was given enough rope and has become one of the most formidable interviewers on television. The new leadership has rebuilt the show as Australia’s premier nightly current affairs program and rightly so.
The Roast – Our very own Colbert/Stewart-flavoured, Australian-written and produced News update, nightly on ABC2.
Planet America – Two political tragics spending an hour each week keeping track of the American Presidential race. John Barron and Chas Licciardello proved getting your wonk on can be cool and educational.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries – Essie Davis offered a very modern Miss Phryne Fisher and nearly a million of us tuned in every Friday night(!) to find out what crime she was to be involved in solving this week. Smart, sassy and straight up enjoyable.
Agony Uncles/Aunts – The simplest of premises deceptively delivered that educated us all on the joys and perils of relationshops, and amused on a grand scale. Adam Zwar, you are a crafty bastard… and the Aunts and Uncles will return in 2013 with their Guide to Life.
Country Town Rescue – Trundle put on quite a show… and in the process gained a couple of new families. The harsh reality of how hard it is to grow a small country town.
Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell – It was ludicrous and that’s exactly why I loved it. The funniest half hour series in 2012.
Myf Warhurst’s Nice – Myf. Nice. Pop culture fun set against a backdrop of childhood wonderment and 80’s formative influence. Nice.
Dumb, Drunk & Racist – Everything that Go Back To Where You Came From S02 could have been and wasn’t. Joe Hildebrand provided the perfect protagonist and antagonist in this look at how other cultures (in this case Indians) view Australia and global typecasting of us as dumb, drunk and racist.
Mabo – A fitting retelling of the life of Eddie Mabo. Jimi Bani and Deborah Mailman perfectly cast.
Laid (S02) – If it couldn’t get weirder in season one, season two delivered a sexual healer in the truest sense. Again the mind of Marieke Hardy surprised and Toby Truslove, Allison Bell and Celia Pacquola gave life to the insanity.
New Tricks – Crime drama only the ABC could import or own, and it shows in the ratings.
The London 2012 Paralympics – Primarily featured on ABC2 (shared with ABC1) the coverage was broad and celebrated our talented Paralympians. Stephanie Brantz held court nightly with Adam Zwar, Lawrence Mooney & Sam Pang and in the process showed the talent of our athletes stretched beyond the sporting arena.
Gruen Sweat/Planet – Wil, Russel & Todd expanded into sporting influence across the Olympics (and often won the timeslot) then delivered a full season of what is without question one of the ABC’s marquee programs as sharp and insightful as always (though their Brown Logie hedges seriously into the copyrighted realm of the Brown Molkie).
ABC2 “Sunday Best” documentaries – Gathered from around the world and across the nation it provided a superb platform for some emerging film makers while maintaining a wide variety of subjects.
The Hamster Wheel (S02) – More Chaser, more comedy, more clips of Ten’s Breakfast than anyone might have wanted to see. The pre-prepared eulogies were a highlight.
Doctor Who (S07) – Not so much a hit for the content of the series as much for the delivery – making the episodes available on iview the minute they finish airing in the UK (circa 5:20am Sunday morning) and still airing it in its spiritual timeslot of Saturday 7:30pm – with a repeat the following Tuesday on ABC2. A record number of views online can’t be wrong! A sign that creative delivery mechanisms will be embraced by a growing cross-platform audience.
Great Southern Land – Australia by the air is a spectacular thing. Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder expand their portfolio into straight documentary in the most visually stunning way.
Rake (S02) – Far too long between drinks but this second swing for Cleaver Greene was everything the first season offered and more.
Lowdown (S02) – Anti-hero Alex Burchill doesn’t know when to quit and we’re all the better for it. Adam Zwar & Amanda Brotchie offered a better series the second time around with a great line up of guests. Too close to the media bone not to love, and long live the Karma Bus.
The Strange Calls – Part Odd Couple, part X Files, all quirky. Toby Truslove and Barry Crocker solved all the mysterious and supernatural crimes you didn’t think a sleepy town like Coolum had… until Clive Palmer showed up with his dinosaurs.
Good Game – It’s the best (and only) show about gaming and the associated culture, and hosts Bajo, Hex & reporter Goose continue to show just how good their storytelling is becoming. Kudos to EP Janet Carr for her work with her charges – the results speak for themselves.
A Moody Christmas – It hit every mark of an Aussie family Christmas and delivered some of the most hilariously disturbing images to our screens this year. It also continued to aid the rise of Patrick Brammall’s star (entirely reasonably too).
Jack Irish – Bad Debts/Black Tide – Guy Pearce became Jack Irish and in the process brought two indelibly Australian novels to life. Hopefully more of these to come in late 2013.
Redfern Now – Without question the best drama series on TV in 2012.
Problems – You either got it and thought it was hilarious, or didn’t and thought it was crap. Conceived, filmed, edited and delivered in weeks it’s hilarious sketch comedy and a welcome return for Aunty to the genre.
Dangerous Remedy – Adding to the strong end of year Aussie drama contingent was this dramatised story of Dr Bertram Wainer, a campaigner for safe abortions in Victoria in the 60’s & 70’s. Susie Porter stood on the shoulders of Jeremy Sims and William McInnes.
Devil’s Dust – Anthony Hayes should walk away with an AACTA award quite happily for his star turn as Bernie Banton in this powerful two-part mini series. I gushed over it earlier and it deserves a re-watch this summer. Australian drama at its very best.
The Straits – Stunning drama from Matchbox Pictures that brought us Australia’s own fictitious Top End crime family. The crystal clear aqua waters offset the bloody violence though the story dragged at times. Brian Cox seemed to phone it in, though his on-screen sons Aaron Fa’aoso, Jimi Bani & Firass Dirani all delivered strong performances.
Adam Hills In Gordon Street Tonight – Benefitting resoundly in 2011 from the anti-Ben Elton appeal the show never found the same audience again in 2012 (I blame all that reality TV raping the visual landscape at the same time). It was pacier; there were excellent guests; and Hannah Gadsby was involved in a much smarter way. It just got lost in the noise.
Weekend Breakfast – Did you even realise it was on?
Woodley – It had heart, pathos, some of the best sight gags going around, and so little dialogue if you stumbled across it you may have thought your TV volume was busted. A delightful series from Frank Woodley that showed not everything has to wrap up successfully in a neat little package – least of all relationship storylines and TV shows from superb stand-up comics. The audience just didn’t appreciate the mastery.
Randling – I, like many others, so wanted Andrew Denton’s return to television to be a shout-out-loud success. Instead the panel word game became a punchline for gags about ABC programming. It was fun enough, but seemed to go on forever and while a lot of the teams connected well some very obviously didn’t seem to like sitting next to each other. Then there was the feeling that every one else on the show (even Dave O’Neil) was smarter than you… that’s never good. P.S. Dave O’Neil is awesome.
Photo Finish – Aunty’s first foray into a reality competition was engaging and ably hosted by Andrew Gunsberg, and hit on a rich seam of amateur photographers vicariously watching thinking they’d have done better… but it lacked punch. It was missing a decent pay off too – once the judgement was done the show was over. It was far too polite to be a competition. How very ABC.
ABC News 24 – Too many times this year when a big press conference or breaking news took place, the ABC News 24 link was down and they were unable to broadcast it live. For the network to cut it as a 24/7 news service (admittedly run on the smell of an oily rag’s smell) that needs to happen never, ever again.
Mystery of a Hansom Cab – It was good period drama but it lacked the punch of Downton Abbey. Aunty does good dress up actoring – this one just didn’t meet the Miss Fisher standard.
At this rate, the commercial networks will be seeking to advertise on ABC1 and the multi-channels as more and more people long for quality productions/programming the like we’ve seen across the board this year from the publicly-funded network. I’m sure it now costs more than eight cents a day to cover the ABC’s costs – whatever it is, I’m willing to double my share. Paper Giants 2 was a noted omission from this year’s schedule but is shaping to be a massive event in 2013.
Overall result: A minus. The year that we all started to appreciate what’s been under our noses for years.