08 Aug Cashing in on a Golden Age
TV shows like Game of Thrones and Mad Men may be the leading lights in a new golden age of television but Australian drama is holding its own and punching above its weight, according to a man who has worked on some of our most successful movies and television shows.
Bryce Menzies, partner and entertainment lawyer at Marshalls+Dent Lawyers, says American pay TV channels like HBO and AMC have shown the rest of the world how great television drama can be.
But in a remarkable plot twist of our own, Australian drama has risen to the challenge and now the format rights to Aussie programs like Rake are being sold to America. The US version of SBS’s Wilfred became the highest ranking debut sitcom ever for FX Networks, and Chris Lilley’s Summer Heights High sold to HBO.
Menzies says the achievement is significant considering the size difference between the Australian and American production budgets. Whereas Game of Thrones costs millions an hour to produce, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, which Menzies works on, costs a lot less.
“It just goes to show that it’s not all about money,” Menzies says. “Sometimes it’s about quality. There is a relationship between money and quality – but not always.”
Television has come a long way since the seventies, when movies attracted the biggest budgets and best artists. Now the flow of talent has reversed. The producers of Rake, Peter Duncan and Richard Roxburgh, both worked in feature films before turning their skills to television. Film actor Guy Pearce last year tried his hand at TV, starring in the two Jack Irish telemovies.
Menzies says another key difference between now and the seventies is that people are watching their television on larger and higher quality screens, often surrounded by near-theatre quality speakers.
“People are spending a lot of money on television, and lots of people watch it,” he said. “It should be fantastic. It shouldn’t be dumbed down. TV has lost its cringe factor and the artists are coming back to it.”
Looking forward, Menzies predicts the Australian industry will need to keep working hard. “It’s a constant battle here but when we get an opportunity I think the quality can survive.”
That means, as the television landscape continues to evolve, we’ll have more good drama to look forward to.
“It’s absolutely a golden age of television,” Menzies says. “And Australians are taking part in it.”