The Secret Life of Us: articles

Masters touch for new dramas

WHEN drama executive Sue Masters left Jonathan Shier's ABC in frustration last year, it was the Ten network's considerable gain.

Now viewers are about to see the fruits of her labour. The combination of the SeaChange creator's skills, Ten's $30 million drama budget and its new commitment to local content is set to change the television landscape.

Network Ten executives have admitted privately that while they love the Big Brother phenomenon which is likely to roll over into spin-offs such as Celebrity Big Brother, they don't want to become known as the Big Brother network. The credibility of a quality drama series is crucial.

Ten's new direction makes the ABC's management and production crisis look even worse.

As well as undergoing another restructure, the ABC is still searching for a head of drama after Shier appointee Tony Virgo quit suddenly.

The independent production sector is also complaining that the new ABC management team is impossible to work with.

Mr Shier's latest appointment, drama executive Sandra Levy, said yesterday there were several projects under consideration, but none had yet been commissioned.

John Doyle's series Changi, officially commissioned by the Shier team recently, had been in development at the ABC for years, as had telemovie Road to Coorain and other running series.

Ten's chief executive officer John McAlpine is surprisingly candid about his network's record on quality local drama it's appalling.

"To be perfectly honest, we haven't had a very good track record in Australian drama," Mr McAlpine admitted at this week's Melbourne launch of Ten's hip new drama series The Secret Life of Us.

"You have to go as far back as Number 96 and The Box to find anything lasting. We've relied very heavily on US imports like Seinfeld and Mad About You, but those guys have lost the plot and they're not making anything we want anymore."

Next month, Ten will screen the first of its new jewels, The Secret Life of Us, an urban drama set in Melbourne's trendy St Kilda which has a similar feel to the hit British drama This Life.

"This is the best product in drama we have ever produced," McAlpine says. "This is great Australian drama."

Masters inherited The Secret Life of Us when she arrived at Ten and is now responsible for the 22-part drama series.

"What impresses me about it is the freshness and veracity of the writing," Masters said yesterday.

"John Edwards and Amanda Higgs are very script-literate producers. It isn't just about cops and lawyers.

"They wanted to make a series about moral ambiguity, a series about a desperate bunch of people who become a family. I do think it's going to be addictive and highly compelling viewing."

By Amanda Meade
May 19, 2001
The Australian