If you had to imagine a composite character who could walk across all of the programs planned for 2015 and not look out of place, it would be an ANZAC veteran with a hammer in one hand and a cookbook in the other, on his way to a wedding with a complete stranger.
2015 is going to be a year of jaw-dropping television, in both good and bad ways. The centenary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli will kick the year off with a range of high concept dramas and documentaries chronicling the ‘birth of a nation’. However the rest of the year will focus on favourite and unusual Reality TV formats that supposedly reveal who we’ve grown up to be.
DISTRIBUTOR: Nine Network
Every Australian television network has commissioned programs to commemorate the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops on the shores of the Gallipoli peninsula a hundred years ago this April 25. Seven is promoting Gallipoli: The Power of Ten, a factual series hosted by decorated solider Ben Roberts-Smith that investigates the endeavours of the men who won Victoria Crosses there. Meantime Showtime is producing a high budget drama starring Sam Worthington as one of the correspondents who covered the war. However my vote goes to Channel Nine’s definitively named Gallipoli. This detailed drama series will tell the story of a 17-year-old boy who lied about his age to follow his big brother into the Great War. Not surprisingly it’s stacked with soap stars but it’s also co-written by one of Australia’s most respected historians, Les Carlyon. It could go either way, but I’m hoping it will be a real look at that legendary battle which doesn’t stray into the ridiculous, drama-driven errors that marred ANZAC Girls.
PROGRAM: Lest We Forget What?
And just in case I don’t get my wish, there’s always the ABC’s version of Mythbusters for ANZAC Day. Hosted by Kate Aubusson, Lest We Forget What? will attempt to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the celebration of the ANZAC myth. There will be many voices in the media encouraging us to look on 1915 as the ‘birth of a nation’ and swaddle its events in sepia-tinted clichés. This, despite the numerous leading historians who point out that World War One intensified our identity as British subjects. I’m looking forward to a clearer picture because, like Jesus, I’m a firm believer that you can’t go forward unless you take a serious look at your past. Only the sick realise they need a doctor, right?
PROGRAM: The Peter Brock Story
DISTRIBUTOR: Network TEN
Nostalgia isn’t confined to nation building, though. There are other dramas planned for 2015 that have the chance to perpetuate unhelpful myths. High on my agenda is Seven’s Catching Milat, promoted as, “an Underbelly-style drama” about the hunt for one of Australia’s most notorious serial killers. This could be yet another opportunity to divide the world into ‘basically good’ and ‘really, really bad’ people, a dichotomy the Bible rejects. However my greatest concerns are reserved for Network TEN’s The Peter Brock Story. ‘Brocky’ was a celebrated motor racing star who came to epitomize the man’s man in the 1970s and 80s. However he falls incredibly short of God’s ideal, having philandered his way through two marriages and a 28-year de facto relationship. Milat and Brock will look very different on the small screen because the latter’s legendary driving washes away a lot of criticism – and ‘Peter Perfect’ didn’t kill anyone, right? But the same unquestioning, all-absolving self-confidence drove both. In short, will we perpetuate the Australian myth that God only loves a good bloke?
… and Reality bust
PROGRAM: Kitchen Revolution
DISTRIBUTOR: The Seven Network
The unexpected offspring of My Kitchen Rules and House Rules, with a few genes borrowed from Recipe to Riches. Seven is the juggernaut to beat in Australian television and the last five years’ success has been built on successful reality formats that have allowed Australians to become famous cooks or renovators. In Kitchen Revolution they’ll be given the chance to first renovate a restaurant and then road test their culinary talents by cooking for the viewers. Reality TV so real you can taste it – and buy it, it seems. You’ll also be able to purchase the tools and cooking implements the contestants use, meaning Seven will be turning into a shopping channel five nights a week. The industry-speak for this sort of programming prostitution is ‘highly integrated’ television. Maybe ‘greed is good’ would work better.
DISTRIBUTOR: Network TEN
Reality TV is favoured by networks not just because of its supposed insights into what we’re really like, but because it’s basically cheap. TEN is hoping it’s local version of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here will win some ratings, and what’s more likely to create awkward television than C-grade celebs struggling for limelight? But Reality almost hits rock bottom with its international import Gogglebox. Producers place remote cameras in the lounge rooms of a collection of everyday Australians and watch them… watching television. Successful in Britain, it’s another format that relies very heavily on viewers enjoying just how silly other people are. But, when you think about it, they’re at least watching something they enjoy. We’re the ones watching them.
PROGRAM: Married At First Sight
DISTRIBUTOR: The Nine Network
And finally we arrive at the bottom of 2015’s barrel. Imagine a program that brings complete strangers together and marries them on the spot, just to see what happens. Welcome to Married At First Sight. Nine is billing this as ‘the most controversial social experiment’ of all time, and I wish I could agree. Reality TV master John de Mol (Big Brother, The Voice, Deal or No Deal) is currently developing Chains of Love where contestants are locked together with manacles, and has aired ideas of couples conceiving children for television. However Nine’s determination to reduce marriage from a life-long commitment to a TV season’s stunt would be truly disturbing … if it weren’t so indicative of the Australian viewing public. Already 6% of divorces are happening in the first year and a further 33% in the first five. We really don’t need programming that encourages people to take marriage less seriously.
Have you picked the gap in this year’s programming – or at least the shows the networks really want you to anticipate? There is very little thought for the future in 2015. Shaun Micallef is heading off to India to investigate what Hindus has to say about eternal matters in Stairway To Heaven, but it’s unlikely to be serious given the host and the fact that Hinduism doesn’t believe in Heaven. The ABC drama Glitch will see six people return from the dead to a small country town, but since they have no memories of their deaths it’s clear they won’t have much to say about what comes next. In a world where death is more certain than birth – think about it – we’ll be perpetuating our determination to focus on anything but where we are headed.