Grass Roots: articles

Back on the agenda

Fittingly delayed by ABC politics, a new series of Grass Roots is finally under way. Sacha Molitorisz visits the set.

It's a sizzling weekday afternoon at Mona Vale Beach. A lifeguard watches the waves as girls in bikinis watch boys in wetsuits. A dog barks until a mean-looking bloke with a missing tooth tells him to stop. The mood is relaxed, apart from two men arguing under an umbrella.

"Just wait till you step in it," says one. He's talking about dog… um, business.

"It's the rule, Harry," says the other, intensely.

"Your rule."

"Yeah, it's my rule. And as long as you're deputy mayor, that makes it your rule."

We're on the set of the second series of Grass Roots, the ABC's witty drama about local government, written by Geoffrey Atherden (of Mother and Son fame). Along with a dozen or so extras, the actors in this scene are Geoff Morrell, playing mayor Col Dunkley, and John Clayton, playing deputy mayor Harry Bond. But the man with the missing tooth is no actor. He's Peter Andrikidis, the director.

"It was a crown," he explains, "and it fell out yesterday as I was eating a snag."

Fortunately, the multi-AFI winning Andrikidis doesn't think his broken tooth is an omen. "We're one week into the shoot and it's going pretty well," he says.

The 10 new episodes should air late next year, featuring once more the impressive talents of Sacha Horler, Rhys Muldoon, Chris Haywood, Sandy Gore, Zoe Carides, Tara Morice and Leah Vandenburg. Look out also for Pia Miranda, Rachael Blake, Aaron Pedersen, Mary Coustas, Tina Bursell, Lucy Bell and Russell Dykstra.

So why the long wait? When the eight episodes of series one aired in mid-2000, Grass Roots was a surprise hit, gradually building a large, loyal audience. "It rated better than Changi," whispers one crew member proudly. And it won five AFI Awards. More significantly (ahem), The Guide proclaimed it the best local drama series of 2000.

And then… nothing. As the ABC stumbled and lurched under Jonathan Shier, a second season was not commissioned. Ironic, really, that a show about politics should be delayed by politics.

"In television, if a second series doesn't go within 12 months, you can usually say goodbye to it," says Morrell. "I honestly thought it wasn't happening. And now I think one of the reasons we are is that when Sandra Levy came to the ABC it coincided with the enormous outcry about all the British re-runs, and luckily for us we were the only local production ready to go."

That said, there are benefits to a two-year lay-off. "The delay has given Geoffrey 18 months to write the new series," says Morrell. Andrikidis nods: "Good drama needs about two years before you can turn the cameras on." And with that, the multi-award-winning director turns his attention back to dog poo.

By Sacha Molitorisz
December 03, 2001
Sydney Morning Herald