Shaun Micallef back as ABC announces 2024 lineup

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Shaun Micallef will return to the ABC in 2024 with a new show, so far known only as Shaun Micallef’s Unnamed Project, his first for the broadcaster since calling time on Mad As Hell, after 15 seasons, in 2022.

Micallef guaranteed the new show “will not feature cooking, home renovations, marriage, singing, sport, RBT units, dogs, wilderness survival, quiz questions, news clips, stock footage, wearing masks, border security, amazing races, Lego, sitting on a panel or being marooned on an island in your underwear”.

Shaun Micallef is returning to air on the ABC.Credit: ABC

The best-defined-by-what-it-isn’t show was revealed at the ABC upfront on Thursday, in which the national broadcaster unveiled its programming lineup for 2024.

Also returning are drama series Total Control and The Newsreader and comedy Fisk (for third seasons) and crime drama Troppo and reality offering Muster Dogs (for second seasons). A local spin-off of British crime drama Death In Paradise, set in the fictional town of Dolphin Cove and called Return to Paradise, is a co-production between the ABC and BBC.

Comedy offerings include White Fever, about an Asian-Australian woman with an unhealthy obsession with white men, and Austin, which stars Love on the Spectrum’s Michael Theo in his first scripted role, as the Australian son that English children’s author Julian Hartswood (Ben Miller) didn’t know he had.

Ra Chapman and Chris Pang in White Fever.Credit: ABC

After 10 seasons as one of Foxtel’s key assets, Grand Designs Australia will be reborn with a new host, architecture professor Anthony Burke, who will also co-host the new (homegrown) spin-off renovation show Grand Designs Transformations with interior designer Yasmin Ghoniem. That will bring to four the number of shows from the Grand Designs franchise in the ABC stable.

Grand Designs Transformations  Anthony Burke and Yasmine Ghoniem.Credit: ABC

Despite challenges in the ratings, Q+A will return in the same time slot, 9.35pm Mondays, with Patricia Karvelas hosting.

Chris Oliver-Taylor, who oversaw a sweeping review of the ABC’s offerings and operations soon after being appointed chief content officer in March, describes the lineup as one of “consolidation”, and said it was likely there would be considerably more new commissions for 2025 than in next year’s slate.

He points to a new drama about the scheming and intrigue behind the election campaign for an imam at a Sydney mosque as the kind of programming he’s especially excited by.

The ABC hopes new drama Ladies in Black, staring Debi Mazar, Miranda Otto and Jessica De Gouw, will have broad appeal.Credit: ABC

“House of Gods is something completely surprising and never seen before on Australian TV, and I think that’s what the ABC should do,” he says.

Ladies in Black, inspired by Bruce Beresford’s 2018 movie and set in a department store in the 1960s, is a more typical heartland ABC drama, though with American actress Debbie Mazar (Younger) and Australians Miranda Otto and Jessica de Gouw spearheading, the hope is that it might also appeal more widely.

Broadening the ABC audience is critical, Oliver-Taylor says. In July, the Australian Financial Review reported internal ABC documents showed that 80 per cent of the audience for its flagship 7pm news bulletin was aged 55 or over, and just 8 per cent were under 40. “I would like our average age to be 40-plus,” he says.

“We currently have two-and-a-half million active weekly users on iview but we have almost 6 million average monthly users,” he says. “The question is how do we get people coming into iview more regularly.”

ABC-TV is no longer a linear broadcaster with a catch-up service, Oliver-Taylor says. Fifteen years after iview was launched, the balance has irrevocably shifted towards on-demand viewing.

“Australians are the greatest streamers per capita in the world, so we know it’s not a technology barrier for our audience to use ABC iview,” he says.

Overnight audience numbers are no longer much use as an indicator of a program’s success, he notes. Typically a drama will find its audience over 28 days, but the long tail could extend well beyond that for some shows.

“And that’s one of the questions we have to work out in 2024, what is our measure of success over a timespan. It’s not overnight, we know that, so is it 28 days or is it a longer time period? Because we’ve got to make decisions about did it or didn’t it work and do we want to go [commission a new season] again.”

Typically for a drama, the expectation will be a figure of around 1 million viewers, he says.

The target is for 80 per cent of shows to hit that mark. But it is also important to leave room for bold failures, Oliver-Taylor says, to back shows that are innovative, edgy, or provide a space for new talent to develop.

“Public broadcasters have to take risks,” he says.

“We have to compete to some degree in a huge competitive landscape, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We just need to make sure that we never forget our public broadcaster obligations as well.”

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