The Year That Was… #6: Drama makes a comeback

The year 2006 brought on all sorts of doom and gloom about TV drama production; ABC didn’t have money to make any, Seven had axed Blue Heelers after 12 years of loyal service, Ten had some luck with telemovies but Tripping Over didn’t fare so well, and their only ongoing production was the veteran soap Neighbours, and Nine had only McLeod’s Daughters as the main project on its drama slate.

However, the corner was turned this year as a number of new projects came to fruition and one old-timer got a new coat of paint.

The big newcomers this year were City Homicide (pictured, above) and Sea Patrol – with these shows headlining the crucial battle between arch rivals Seven and Nine, both shows were given huge budgets, lots of live action, and both also promised familiar faces – Shane Bourne, Noni Hazelhurst, Nadine Garner, Aaron Pedersen and Damien Richardson on City Homicide, and Lisa McCune, Ian Stenlake, Josh Lawson, Kristian Schmid and Jay Ryan on Sea Patrol.

Both programs earned strong ratings figures, though City Homicide was perhaps more consistent than its Nine rival however both series have been renewed for 2008.

ABC did manage to get some dramas to air during this year; the rural/farming drama Rain Shadow, the 1998 waterfront crisis in Bastard Boys and the historical Curtin starring William McInnes.

The year also saw an increased drama presence on SBS with a number of productions aired this year – all of which put new emphasis onto familiar themes. The Circuit put an outback and indigenous perspective onto legal drama but its 9.30 Sunday timeslot probably meant most viewers stayed oblivious to it.

Saturday evenings saw the much lighter drama of Kick (pictured, left) an eight-part series based in Melbourne’s multicultural suburb of Brunswick and featuring a diverse range of characters and cultures, though little is made of either. Hard to believe that Kick came from the same city that gives us the mono-cultural and sanitised Neighbours.

A late entry to SBS’ schedule this year was the Sydney-based East West 101, from the producers of ABC’s former series Wildside. Like with Kick, East West 101 was based in an area with a strong multicultural mix and covers the tensions that can come with that sort of diversity whether it be in the community or in the police force that is entrusted to protect it.

While all these new projects were seeing the light of day, one old-stager Neighbours was also in the spotlight. Ratings for the suburban soap have dropped in recent years in the wake of the high-profile battle between current affairs shows Today Tonight and A Current Affair in the same timeslot. With a healthy injection of funds to flow on from the show’s shift in the UK from BBC to Channel 5 – in a deal worth around $A700m over ten years – the show’s producers decided this year was the time to give the series a much-needed revamp to boost its profile in its home country.

A two-month teaser campaign on Ten promised ‘a change is coming’ and when the red-letter day, 23 July, arrived there were certainly changes but probably not as significant as the publicity had perhaps indicated. Sure there was a new family moving into Ramsay Street, there were some new sets and some more location filming, and the signature tune was re-worked, as was the iconic Neighbours logo, but apart from these rather superficial changes, there was little else to notice. Producers have been at pains to point out, however, that the revival of Neighbours is a work in progress and now with a new executive producer (Susan Bower) in charge, the changes are set to continue. Neighbours‘ ratings did take a spike when 23 July came and went, but soon settled back to familiar territory around the 600-700k mark – not a desirable position for a prime-time Aussie-made production but it still rates well in its desired demographic and gives Ten valuable drama content points.

Ten this year also gave us Murder In The Outback – The Joanne Lees Story which traced the mystery surrounding the murder of British tourist Peter Falconio, told from the perspective of his partner Joanne Lees.

Meanwhile at Seven, their drama content was well kept up by Home And Away and All Saints. Both series earning great results this year which considering the age of both programs (Home And Away is now up to its twentieth anniversary, and All Saints is up to ten years) is an amazing effort.

The Nine Network’s long-running McLeod’s Daughters limped through 2007 as producers may have struggled to find a way to keep finding long-lost ‘daughters’ to replace outgoing cast members. The series suffered a ratings drop this year, and Nine has already announced that the 2008 series will be its last.

The drama on our screens wasn’t just on the free-to-air networks either. This year Foxtel came up with more of Love My Way starring Claudia Karvan, new series Dangerous, the adults-only drama Satisfaction and the award winning telemovie The King: The Graham Kennedy Story (pictured) starring Stephen Curry.

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