American television is in a renaissance. Television production house and cable television subscriber HBO set a precedent with shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, Sex and the City, Deadwood etc. that television production, acting, writing and direction had caught up to and surpassed their cinematic partners. In 2012, the fifth season of AMC's Mad Men and the second season of HBO's Game of Thrones are generating levels of praise constantly and consistently positive reactions superseding their cinematic counterparts. Why then is the Australian T.V landscape as desolate as The Road Warrior. Australian audiences are steadily consuming these shows either on DVD and Blu Ray or on steadily is crying out for quality TV. Now let me qualify quality. I would define quality T.V as the first series of Underbelly, and none of the franchised texts beyond that. The Slap, East West 101, Cloudstreet are shows of the highest quality that unfortunately appear sporadically bogged in amongst the depressing repetitious swamp of reality T.V shows.
One the one hand there are hopeful signs with T.V movie productions like Beaconsfield (which was the best Australia television production that I've seen this year - Lachy Hulme was a stand out) and Howzat (a dramatic film/series based on Kerry Packer's life and involvement in the world weries cricket saga in the 70s).
On the other hand, the 'Underbelly affect' promotes further laziness from producers searching for another text strong enough to resonate with the 'true-crime' obsessed Australian television audience - the latest of which is Bike Wars. I'll ask you reading the same question that I've heard echoing in the social media-sphere "what can this show possibly do that the wonderful Sons of Anarchy hasn't done?"
That's the idea of the current television landscape - film something that's successful and wring every possible dollar out of the idea. However it seems like there's a fundamental ignorance of the genesis of a really great and unique idea. The original Underbelly or East West 101 for example, break boundaries because they take the necessary time to cast, write and produce a compelling series, with style. Or when they translate a fantastic text like The Slap or Cloudstreet to the screen with a group of collaborators determined to do fantastic storytelling to the serial medium. And in the examples that I've mentioned - the producers are telling uniquely Australian stories.
So, how do we steer this ship? Well what's something uniquely Australian missing from the dramatic television landscape? Where's the blind spot? Sport.
Sport and particularly the NRL & AFL have such a rabid following that it seems like a no brainer for a T.V or film studio to put together a show based on a football team or club. There are a few examples of course, that have had a small amount of critical success (that's never actually turned into monetary benefit) but the standing exception and yardstick for Australian sporting films is The Club. John Howard and Jack Thompson star in the film about the differences between monetary gain and loyalty via the in-fighting and politics of the Collingwood football club (it was an unnamed club in the Williamson play). It's a classic film that catapulted John Howard into stardom and spawned and anthem for the AFL that is still heard echoing in stadiums today (Up There Cazaly). Moneyball is a recent cinematic example of how a film ABOUT a sporting culture, doesn't necessarily have to feature the sport itself - and yet, it's compelling. Considering a large majority of television production originates in Melbourne it seems like a giant blind spot in the well of potential compelling stories that can be told around the game. Leverage using Friday Night Lights as another example - the relatively simple premise of following a high school football coach in Texas and his players, season after season, was able to address larger cultural issues of the disparity between rich and poor, racism, religion and what those things mean to the sporting culture.
And hell, come back across the border to the NRL and it's exactly the same. If you took half of the content of the stories that have published by the Daily Telegraph about the NRL in the last 3 years you could literally shoot 7 seasons of a drama set in the back rooms of a modern club.
But if the 'modern club becomes problematic' we all know that Australian audiences love a good 'based on a true story' - so just get into every prominent footballers biography and start picking story-lines. The kitsch value alone of the cameos of real life players being played in cameos or individual story-lines would be a great cause for discussion.
What do you guys think? Is this something that you'd be interested in watching? And do you have any suggestions of what eras/codes have the best story-lines?
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.