Australian television production companies in the 1990s are the
Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), The Grundy Organisation,
Village Roadshow and Roadshow, Coote and Carroll, Crawfords, The
Beyond International Group, Southern Star, Film Australia, The Seven
Network, and The Australian Children's Television Foundation. Other
production concerns, such as Yoram Gross Film Studios, JNP, and
Gannon Television, are more closely associated with one successful
series and/or a set of spin-offs.
Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)
main public service broadcaster, the ABC has always played a leading
role in local program production, and is arguably the single most
significant force in Australia in one-off television drama, in documentary,
in nature programming and even, perhaps, in children's programming.
The ABC was virtually unrivalled in any category of drama until
the mid-1970s. The period from 1968 until 1975 is often referred
to as the "golden era" of the ABC, the time of long-running and
popular series or acclaimed mini-series like Bellbird, Contrabandits,
Certain Women, Rush, Marion, Ben Hall and Power Without Glory.
Until the late 1980s, the ABC, like other public broadcasters around
the world, was a vertically integrated producer-broadcaster. With
the exception of a few co-productions, mainly with the BBC, all
its production was initiated, financed and produced in-house. In
the 1980s Patrol Boat, 1915, Spring and Fall, Scales of Justice,
Palace of Dreams and Sweet and Sour broke new ground
in Australian television drama and provided an arena for trying
out new writers and attempts at formal or conceptual innovation.
Innovative comedy, such as Mother and Son, strong investigative
journalism, such as the weekly current affairs program, Four
Corners (in production since 1961), and quality drama, continue
to attract critical and audience approval.
In 1986, after
a period of confusion and demoralization in the wake of a major
review--the Dix Report--in the early 1980s, the ABC head of drama,
Sandra Levy, initiated a "revival" in network drama content, the
aim of which was to increase output to at least 100 hours a year.
A decision was made to move more towards the "popular" end of the
drama spectrum and away from what was seen as more esoteric, eccentric
or specialised. At the same time, it was decided that the way to
get quantity, quality and spread was by concentrating on a mixture
of long-running series and mini-series and by eschewing one-offs
which are too expensive when related to the audience they are likely
to attract. And finally, it was also decided that the only way to
increase drama hours was by entering into co-production arrangements
with local producers who could raise cash from the "10BA" tax relief
scheme and other government assistance schemes and from overseas
presales, with the ABC contributing facilities and technical staff
and as little cash as possible.
was immediately successful at least in quantity and audience terms.
Close to 100 hours was achieved by 1988 and there was an immediate
improvement in the ratings for miniseries and series, notably, in
the latter category, the prime-time medical soap GP.
In the period
1988-91 a large number of prestigious mini-series were produced
and broadcast; all were co-produced with local and overseas partners.
Titles from this period include: Act of Betrayal (with TVS),
A Dangerous Life (with HBO in the US and Zenith in the UK),
Eden's Lost (with Central TV), The Leaving of Liverpool (with
the BBC), The Paper Man (with Granada). It is also
the period when GP began to be sold to a number of overseas
buyers although it has never achieved a large success in foreign
markets. And the ABC's most successful situation comedy, both domestically
and overseas, Mother and Son, was also sold during this period.
Since 1992 the
possibilities for financing programs in the British market have
diminished and the ABC has begun to swing back towards the production
of programs fully financed in-house. Examples are Phoenix I and
II, Seven Deadly Sins, The Damnation of Harvey McHugh,
Heartland and Janus. Amongst miniseries in-house titles
are Come in Spinner and True Believers; whereas other parties hold
the major rights to around 20 titles, including Bodysurfer, Brides
of Christ, Children of the Dragon, Frankie's House and The
Leaving of Liverpool, most of which were co-produced with UK
was bought in 1995 by the UK publishing and media conglomerate Pearsons,
the history of the Grundy organisation is predominantly Australian
and its Australian operations remain the single biggest national
contribution to its overall activities. The history of Grundys is
of a radio game show producer in the 1950s which transformed into
a television game show producer for the local market during the
1960s. The 1970s brought considerable expansion as a local drama
producer along with the consolidation of its reputation as a leader
in light entertainment.
any particular link to any one network, Grundys has built up a substantial
catalogue of game shows like Celebrity Squares, Wheel of Fortune,
Family Feud, Price is Right, Blankety Blanks and Sale of
the Century (now in its fifteenth year of production) as well
as highly successful drama programs like Young Doctors, Number
96, The Restless Years, Prisoner, Sons and Daughters and its
flagship soap, which celebrated ten years of production in 1994,
a breakthrough success with Neighbours both in Australia
and in Britain from the mid-1980s. While that platform was the base
on which a number of Grundys and other Australian serials and series
were sold into the British market, it also was the impetus to develop
the key globalising strategy which Reg Grundy, founder and chairman,
dubbed "parochial internationalism." Grundys sets up wholly-owned
local production companies to make programs that feature local people
and are made by local Grundy staff who are nationals of the country
in which the program is made.
By the mid-1990s,
Grundys was producing about 50 hours of television a week worldwide.
It sells into over 70 countries worldwide, employs around 1200 people
in production and administration functions, and claims to be the
second largest television light entertainment producer in the world,
and, until its takeover by Pearson, one of the world's largest independent
production organisations. While Europe as a whole generates more
production throughput for the organisation, Australia remains the
largest single country for production operations.
at Grundys have included that they have remained committed to innocuous
formats (games and quiz) and safe drama renditions. However, programs
like Prisoner and the New Zealand soap opera Shortland
Street were risky and innovative for their time and places of
production, while a program like Man O Man represents an
equally risky strategy in light entertainment.
and Roadshow, Coote and Carroll
Roadshow group of companies has been unique in Australia. First
established in the 1950s as a drive-in theater operator, it is now
the only completely integrated audiovisual entertainment company,
having involvement in studio management, production of both film
and television, film distribution and exhibition, television distribution,
video distribution and movie theme park management. The conglomerate
is also moving into multimedia development and exhibition holdings
in south east Asia. Its approach to internationalisation is also
unique in that the main thrust of its strategy is to attract offshore
productions to its Warner Roadshow Movieworld Studios near the Gold
Coast in southeast Queensland.
were kicked off in 1988/9 by housing two off-shore television productions
for the Hollywood studio Paramount. These were Dolphin Bay
and Mission: Impossible. It is estimated that an hour of
series drama can be made here at a cost about 30% lower than a comparable
hour made in Hollywood.
the studio has attracted part or whole production of several feature
films, a mixture of Australian and overseas productions, including
The Delinquents, Blood Oath, Until the End of the World and
Fortress. It has also hosted a number of U.S. series, most
of which haven't been shown in Australia, including Animal Park,
Savage Sea and a new production of Skippy. In 1992-3
it housed the major U.S. series Time Trax, which, unlike
Mission: Impossible, used a considerable number of Australian
creative personnel, including directors and post-production people.
It is, however, conceived, scripted in and entirely controlled from
Village Roadshow had a satellite production company, Roadshow Coote
and Carroll (RCC), an outstanding boutique producer of mid-range
budget television such as GP and Brides of Christ.
RCC has been critically and culturally successful both locally and
internationally, but it was not economically significant in the
context of the whole conglomerate. This is because the huge investment
in the studios depends totally on the success of Village Roadshow
Pictures in attracting production to them. RCC is a very small organisation
with very little fixed infrastructure and finally broke away from
the parent company in 1995 so that its principal Matt Carroll could
pursue wholly independent projects.
scale and philosophy of RCC were at the opposite end of the spectrum
from its parent company. Founded in 1984, it has chalked up an impressive
list of television drama--True Believers, Barlow and Chambers:
A Long Way From Home, The Paper Man, Brides of Christ and
Frankie's House, as well as the long running ABC series GP.
Many of its projects have been co-produced with the ABC. It is a
marriage made in heaven: the expertise of RCC combined with the
reputation of the facilities-rich ABC.
budget productions which cost about A$1.2 million an hour were typically
financed one quarter through Australian presale (usually the ABC),
one quarter FFC investment, one third U.K. presale, and about one
sixth other investors (including the ABC).
of Christ exemplifies this. It rated 30 in Australia making
it, in ratings terms, the most successful drama ever broadcast by
the ABC. The repeats did almost as well (it had a third run on the
Ten network) and it sold well on video. It also received uniform
critical approval. In the UK, it also rated extremely well on Channel
4, gaining an audience of 6 million. Apart from Brenda Fricker (and
an Irish orchestra playing the soundtrack music), all other aspects
of the program were Australian. While its theme and mode of telling
remained unambiguously Australian and the idiom and cultural feel
of it were very local, its story of moral upheavals in the Catholic
Church in the 1960s, set against the wider changes that were occurring,
was recognisable enough in other places for it to gain wide acceptance
of Christ, however, was an expensive miniseries set up when
the European television market was still buoyant. The changed European
environment has since meant that RCC now orients itself towards
cheaper 13, 26 and 39 part series. While continuing with GP they
also developed Law of the Land for the Nine Network.
a track record of more than 50 years, Crawfords is one of the oldest
production companies in Australia, and in its time, the most respected.
Before starting in television in 1954, it was Australia's most important
producer of radio serials.
the first 30 years of its existence as a television production company,
Crawfords occupied a central place in Australian television. It
pioneered popular police shows like Homicide, Division 4, Matlock
Police in the 1960s and early 1970s; it made an early entry
into soap opera with the long-running serial, The Box (1974);
in 1976 it innovated again with the second world war serial, The
Sullivans, which ran for 520 episodes and raised long-form drama
to new heights of production values and cultural authenticity; and
Crawfords was one of the earliest production companies to see the
potential of 10BA as a vehicle for high quality mini-series with
All The Rivers Run (1982). The company sailed through the
early to mid-1980s on the back of productions like the glamorous
Carson's Law and Cop Shop, another successful police
serial, and further 10BA miniseries. Much of the Crawfords catalogue
has great staying power; for example, both The Sullivans and
All the Rivers Run continue to perform well around the world.
company has always had its own extensive production facilities,
unlike many a newer production company. In the more postfordist
times that came in the late 1980s, the necessity to keep the facilities
occupied became something of an albatross for Crawfords and recent
further investment in new studios may have been ill-advised given
the constant pressure of keeping the existing facilities occupied.
This was the height of the company's prosperity of recent times;
The Flying Doctors was making excellent overseas sales (it
was voted most popular drama in the Netherlands in 1992) and the
Crawfords catalogue had been sold to the Kirch Group and to other
territories with a view to the company diversifying into co-productions
with overseas partners, game shows, sitcoms and telemovies.
results of this strategy include the popular and ground-breaking
multicultural sitcom, Acropolis Now, the game show Cluedo,
produced in association with Zenith Productions of the United Kimgdom;
a co-produced package of six telemovies, called The Feds, with pre-sales
to the Nine Network, TVNZ and a U.K. distribution guarantee; and
the children's series, Half way Across the Galaxy and Turn
Left, a 1991 co-production with one of the Kirch subsidiaries,
Beta-Taurus. The series became one of the most popular children's
television programs on British television.
the success of some of these programs, the cancellation of The
Flying Doctors by the Nine Network in 1992, when it was still
doing well in overseas markets, was a severe blow. It had a temporary
stay of execution in 1993 when Crawfords were given a chance to
revamp it as RFDS (for Royal Flying Doctor Service). The
changes, though thoroughgoing, were not enough to save it, and without
the fallback of "volume television" like that produced by Grundys,
the viability of Crawfords has been questioned, at least temporarily.
Beyond International Group
young company among leading Australian television producers, the
Beyond International Group (BIG) began in 1984 when the public service
broadcaster, the ABC, axed Towards 2000, a four year old
popular science and technology program, because it was becoming
too expensive. An independent production company was set up and
the new program, Beyond 2000 was sold to the Seven Network
in 1984 and then the Ten Network in 1993.
has progressed into a highly focused boutique production and distribution
house whose corporate portfolio also includes merchandising, music
publishing, corporate video and separate media production groups
in the US and New Zealand. It is a public unlisted company with
approximately 200 employees, almost half of whom work on the production
of Beyond 2000. Its international profile is by necessity
as well as design. They concentrate on combining a training in solid
craft skills and serious information programming with entrepreneurial
the mid-1980s, what became Beyond International produced in differing
formats, participated in international co-productions and became
involved in distribution domestically and internationally, but its
resounding success is the Beyond 2000 format which, since
1985, has been sold in over 90 countries, has been dubbed in 10
languages and has an international audience reach of 50 million.
has also involved itself in predominantly European co-production
partnerships. In 1989, Beyond and the BBC embarked upon the co-produced
Climate in Crisis and then the four part series Great
Wall of Iron, a documentary about the Chinese military. Beyond
has also ventured into the production of drama series, mini-series
and children's programming, with somewhat less success. The children's
series Bright Sparks typifies the Beyond International strategy--animated
robots take journeys around the world exploring science and technology.
Chances, an adult drama series featuring nudity and outlandish
storylines, was a failure. Its forays into local feature filmmaking
virtually began and ceased with The Crossing in 1989. The
failure of this film led the company to emphasise the more stable
activity of distribution, and the distribution arm which began operation
in 1990 became, along with Southern Star Distribution, one of two
significant Australia-owned independent international distributors.
Star is a lean, diversified operation with an integrated approach
to production and distribution through film, television and video,
and merchandising. Like most front-running independents, this enables
Southern Star to balance higher against lower risk ventures. After
a management buyout of the Taft-Hardie Group (whose major shareholders
included the Great American Broadcasting Co. and James Hardie Industries)
in 1988 by Neil Balnaves, Southern Star reorganised into six operating
units including a distribution arm; a Los Angeles-based animation
unit responsible for programs such as Berenstein Bears and
Peter Pan and the Pirates made for the Fox Network;
a video and audio tape duplication division; a merchandising arm
handling BBC, Colombia Tri-Star and Paramount material; and a home
Star Entertainment is a broad corporate umbrella for established
independent producers: Errol Sullivan/Southern Star Sullivan, Hal
McElroy/Southern Star McElroy and Sandra Levy and John Edwards/Southern
Star Xanadu. The production arms run as partnerships with Southern
Star meeting all running costs, producer and staff salaries, finance
and administration as well as publicity. McElroy and McElroy's Last
Frontier (1986) was a model for programs that travelled internationally
and promoted growth across the company through video release and
a 22-hour series spin-off.
good deal of Southern Star's major co-productions have been with
the ABC and the BBC, including Four Minute Mile (1988), Children
of the Dragon (1991) and Police Rescue (1990). The
Police Rescue pilot was originally made for the BBC. The program
is a co-production between Southern Star Xanadu and the ABC, with
pre-sale to the BBC, who makes a substantial contribution to the
current $7 million budget. For their initial financial contribution
to the series in 1990, the BBC maintained script, director and cast
control. The program is driven by its ongoing success in Australia
and its success has been built on a recognised format, a variation
of the cop show, but with a 1990s balance between action and personal
storylining, that showcases the natural and built environment of
Sydney, and the star profile of Gary Sweet.
1993 the Southern Star Group was responsible for a new successful
long-running series, Blue Heelers, set around a country police
station in Victoria. The general feel of the program is very much
A Country Practice revisited and this seems to be succeeding
with audiences all over again and it is in 1994 the highest rating
Australian drama across all channels.
a government-owned enterprise which is expected to generate up to
two thirds of its own revenue, Film Australia started life in 1911
as a production unit within the Federal Government, before becoming
a government-owned film production company in 1945. In the period
after 1945 it nurtured the documentary tradition, and a significant
number of film-makers who went on the play important roles in the
film and television industries, were trained there. In 1976 the
Commonwealth Film Unit became a branch of the Australian Film Commission
and took on its present name, Film Australia. In 1987, it was made
a government-owned business enterprise working under the stricture
to become partly self-sufficient from government.
mission to produce films and programs 'in the national interest'
continues and this is represented by the government's continuing
to fund Film Australia under the so-called National Interest Program
(NIP). This program is the core of Film Australia's business, and
the reason for it being a government owned company. Both Mini-Dragons
and The Race to Save the Planet used NIP money.
of NIP projects, The Girl From Tomorrow, a fantasy science
fiction children's series, is one of Film Australia's most successful
exports and many countries which bought it also bought the sequel,
Tomorrow's End. The pre-school children's series Johnson
and Friends has sold exceptionally well and in addition has
become an international marketing phenomenon. Film Australia also
does well with the nature programs like Koalas - The Bare Facts,
and the series Great National Parks. Other good sales have
come from documentaries with an environmental or scientific angle
like After the Warming, The Loneliest Mountain, Mini Dragons
and Roads to Xanadu.
Of The World was a 1992 seven-part documentary series which
dealt with the life of a teacher in each of the contributing countries,
Australia, Canada, the US, Korea and Poland. As a result of the
Teachers of the World co-production, some of the partners
came together again to produce a special documentary series called
Family to celebrate the Year of the Family in 1994.
Australia's success lies in part in its specialisation in those
program categories with greatest international currency--nature,
environmental and science documentaries and children's programming--and
it has had the foresight to focus on the burgeoning markets of Asia
with product that doesn't confront too many cultural hurdles. In
addition it is blessed with good facilities and the safety net of
Seven and Nine Networks were the two original commercial broadcasters
in Australia and until the late 1980s enjoyed stable ownership and
management, which allowed them to build up a high degree of programming
expertise and audience loyalty. One of Seven's greatest strengths
has been its commitment to drama, whereas the Nine Network has been
stronger in news and current affairs and sport, which are far less
its traditional emphasis on drama, the Seven Network was well positioned
to take advantage of 10BA and during the 1980s produced a number
of high quality miniseries with local and overseas partners. Series
and serials sold by Seven on behalf of itself and the independent
producers involved include Rafferty's Rules, Skirts and A Country
Practice. Some of the programs from the 1980s which were sold
that way (and which still sell today) were Land of Hope and The
Fremantle Conspiracy, Jackaroo, Sword of Honour and Melba.
of the most successful programs of the early 1990s were Home
and Away (still in production after seven years) and Hey
Dad (which ran for seven years until 1994). The first is produced
in-house by the Seven Network, the second produced by Gary Reilly
and Associates and sold jointly by them and the Network through
and Away was developed in-house as an immediate response to
the success of Neighbours on the Ten Network. Ironically
the latter had originally begun on Seven in 1985 but after indifferent
ratings they let it go. When it achieved such success on Ten, Seven
realised the potential for youth-oriented soap. Home and Away
has gone on to achieve great popularity in both Australia, where
it outrates its rival Neighbours, and in the United Kingdom,
where in 1994 it was achieving audiences of 12 million for ITV versus
14 million for Neighbours.
the mid 1990s, the Seven Network seemed well positioned to continue
its strong record in commissioning and producing programs with strong
export potential. The free-to-air service is flourishing, and Seven
is exploring new markets in Asia and Eastern Europe which, while
not lucrative in the short term, have great potential in the future.
Seven is also exploring pay television and other broadband services
and it is safe to predict that it will remain a force in the Australian
entertainment industry at the turn of the millennium.
is a significant player in world children's television. Most major
children's programs made in Australia recently have enjoyed international
sales success and critical acclaim for Australian programs is a
structure of regulation and production in Australia for children
has strengths which in some respects are unmatched elsewhere in
the world. Within the general liberalisation of broadcasting regulation
seen in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, the only mandated regulations
that continued from the old ABT were those for Australian content
and children, so that in the new regime, the most detailed imposed
regulations pertain to children.
Australian Children's Television Foundation (ACTF) dominates the
field of Australian children's television. A body established as
a result of both federal and Victorian government support and incorporated
in 1982, the ACTF produces, commissions and distributes children's
television programming as well as acting as a kind of think-tank
and clearing house for children's television advocacy. ACTF has
produced more than 115 hours of programming which has been screened
in more than 90 countries, and it has received many international
awards. Lift Off, Round the Twist and Round the Twist 2 were
all high-profile ACTF series which were very popular in the UK and
Sky Traders has sold into a diverse range of territories.
Australia-based Barron Films concentrates on quality children/family
television series as well as social realist films and adult television
drama, having made Falcon Island, Clowning Around, and
Ship to Shore. Yoram Gross Film Studios, an established specialist
producer of animated children's films, has crossed successfully
to television with the production and distribution of a 26-part
television series based on its Blinky Bill films. Jonathan
Shiff/Westbridge has specialised in children's television since
1988, its biggest production being the $3 million series Ocean
Girl which sold to Disney in the United States and to the BBC
for a record sum for a children's series in the United Kingdom.
Roger Mirams/Pacific Productions, a Sydney-based producer of children's
programming since the 1950s, shot the $8 million Mission Top
Secret in seven countries. Pacific Productions made South
Pacific Adventures in 1990 and Media World Features, another
company involved in animated features, made a mini-series based
on their animated film The Silver Brumby.
International produces Deepwater Haven, a children's drama
series with a curious mix of French and New Zealand actors, in Auckland.
Millennium Productions made Miraculous Mellops, a fantasy
science fiction family series, and Warner Roadshow has produced
The Adventures of Skippy and Animal Park.
Productions established its reputation almost solely on its long-running
and well-regarded series, A Country Practice. The program
ran as one of the major Seven Network dramas from 1981 to 1993,
before being bought by the Ten Network in 1994. Despite a reworked
format and setting, the new series on Ten failed; JNP has yet to
produce anything as remotely successful.
JNP, Gannon Television/View Films has built its name on one major
television product, Heartbreak High, a youth-oriented series
noted for its high production values and its treatment of youth
issues. The series suffered from scheduling changes imposed by the
Ten Network, but has picked up important sales in the lucrative
markets of the United Kingdom, France and Germany to the extent
that the series is now produced on the basis of these sales, without
any current Australian network deal. In addition to several feature
films, View Films has also produced two television mini-series,
Shout! The Story of Johnny O'Keefe (1985) for the Seven Network
and Shadow of the Cobra (1988) for Zenith in the UK, the
BBC and the Seven Network.
"Film Funder (Film Finance Corp.) Under Review,
Oz Edgy." Variety (Los Angeles), 27 April 1992.
Don. "Aussies Target U.S. for Partners, Growth." Variety
(Los Angeles), 16 January 1995.
Mike. "TV Travelling Well to Europe." Variety (Los
Angeles), 31 October 1994.
"Lean Times for Drama Down Under." Variety (Los
Angeles), 23 March 1992.
"Local Programs Give Aussie Nine Its Shine." Variety
(Los Angeles), 27 April 1992.
Irwin. "Crocodile Dundee's Aussie Pack Invades British Television."
Television-Radio Age (New York), 23 November 1987.
Blake. "Looking Up Down Under [Special Report: Australia]."
Variety (Los Angeles), 26 April 1993.
New Global Order: Site Purchase Instills Faith in Global TV's Future."
Variety (Los Angeles), 31 October 1994.