The Librarians: articles


Heidi Arena

Comedy's new chapter: The Librarians

MOST people think of libraries as places full of dusty, unreadable tomes, nerdy types and ... well, silence. There is certainly nothing funny about libraries, is there? However, a darkly witty new ABC comedy, The Librarians, is set to dispel this myth.

The six-part series fills the timeslot vacated by Chris Lilley's Summer Heights High. And to say Lilley's celebrated show is a hard to act to follow is an understatement.

Co-creator, director and producer Wayne Hope, who people may remember from the movie BoyTown, is somewhat philosophical about the darkly funny show's chances of success. He believes younger viewers may drop away, but does think there's a chance of picking up older fans.

Robyn Butler, who is Hope's wife and the co-creator, producer and star of The Librarians adds: "We are so delighted to finally be on telly, we'd be happy going on Sunday at two in the afternoon."

Comparisons between Summer Heights High and The Librarians will be made, though in truth, they have little in common apart from the 9.30pm timeslot. The latter is not, for example, shot in fly-on-the wall mockumentary style.

It's probably as close to a sitcom as Australia is likely to produce these days.

"I don't think we're ever going to make an Everybody Loves Raymond," says Hope, who sees The Librarians more as a "modern" sitcom like, such as My Name Is Earl or Arrested Development.

The six-part show is creating its own buzz, even before it goes to air. Albeit with a rather small yet vitally important section of the community.

"Librarians are very excited about the show. They're constantly ringing up ABC publicity asking, 'When are we on?'," says Butler.

On the Australian Library And Information Association website it lists the show on the events section and described it as "the trials and tribulations of being a librarian".

"That's their words, not ours," says Hope.

The Librarians has also attracted attention from an inner-city Melbourne community who, during the shooting of the show earlier in the year, were none too pleased to find out the fictional Middleton Interactive Learning Centre was not actually a functioning library.

The story of this page-turner revolves around head librarian Frances O'Brien (Butler), a devout, guilt-ridden Catholic who has trouble dealing with the fact her ex-best friend, Christine Grimwood (Roz Hammond), who is facing criminal charges and needs a legitimate job, has come to work at the library.

The genesis for the show can be traced to when Butler and Hammond worked together on Eric Bana's short-lived sketch show, Eric. It was during this time that Butler had developed but never filmed the character of Lynette the Librarian.

She morphed into Frances once Butler and Hope got down to writing. "We had Frances and we had that passive-aggressive strain of hers and I think we found the humour for the series through that," says Hope.

So, who is Frances based on?

"She is based on Wayne," Butler quips.

Says Hope: "Frances can be observed in all walks of life. I happen to mimic her dialogue quite well, but it's a quality both of us p... ourselves at."

"It's the idea of someone who can't say what they mean but who says something atrocious instead, that ends up far worse," says Butler.

The idea for the library as the backdrop was fleshed out once the pair had visited their local library in St Kilda and realised it attracted a cross-section of the community - some of which were there to read books, while others were just there because the library offers free internet.

One of the big misconceptions people have about libraries, says Butler, is that they're quiet places. Certainly, the show proves libraries are nothing if not a hive of activity.

Can The Librarians make libraries cool?

"I think libraries have a long way to go," laughs Hope.

By Stephen Downie October 31, 2007 The Daily Telegraph