Monday, April 19, 2004

Shock: Paul Watson agrees with Andrew Norton

While I find the term “luvvies” offensive, I don’t disagree with the remainder of these observations on last night’s green-and-gold ribbon Logies protest.

In fact I’d go further, and say that the performers and producers should have been wearing black armbands – not to signify the potential for the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement to decimate quality Australian TV, but to recognise that most Australian TV is already utterly, irredeemably shit.

This is not meant as a cheap shot at our performers and producers (and there are also exceptions in any case, like “Kath and Kim” and “CNNN”). But there is a level of public ignorance, bordering on deliberate misinformation, about how the local content rules work, and how Australian television drama is financed. The ABC and SBS aside, for-Oz-eyes-only TV drama is simply not a viable proposition – what the commercial networks pay for the show does not come anywhere near to covering production costs. As result, overseas sales are part-and-parcel of the whole show, and not (as the public would generally presume) the icing on the cake.

With international pre-sale usually goes some editorial control. This is certainly the case with "Neighbours" (over which the Brits have script veto rights), and is also the case, I’m assuming, with “McLeod's Daughters” – which is financed by the Hallmark empire, of soppy-moments fame.

At some point, these dramas must lose their Australian-ness. As I’ve previously said, I’ve never been able to watch “Neighbours”, because of its very un-Australian (I would have thought) humourlessness (compared to, inter alia “Kath and Kim”). Ditto for “McLeod's Daughters” – a soapy shocker that is reduced to relying on props from the proverbial Gold Coast tourist shop (Drizabones, Akubras) to imprint a veneer of Australian-ness on it.

The result of this unhappy marriage of local content rules, and international co-financing of “Australian” television drama is output of predictable, blanket mediocrity. I say not a single such show is worth saving – death to the lot of them, and long live sustainable, home-grown Aussie narrative.

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