The ABC has commissioned a second series of its ground-breaking indigenous drama Redfern Now, with legendary English television writer Jimmy McGovern once again on board as story producer.
The broadcaster has not publicly confirmed the commission yet, but federal funding body Screen Australia announced on Monday that Redfern Now season two was among three projects in which it was investing $5.5 million. The other two are the feature films My Mistress and Son of a Gun.
ABC director of television Kim Dalton spoke to Fairfax last month about the strategy that had brought Redfern Now to the screen. It was part of a deliberate move, he said, to get indigenous storytelling into prime time.
“Some things happen organically and extremely slowly, but I think it’s absolutely the role of publicly funded institutions like the ABC to bite the bullet and do something to hurry the process along,” he said.
The six episodes of Redfern Now were written, directed and produced by indigenous Australians, with McGovern acting as story producer to help shape the stories selected in late 2010 into compelling dramatic scripts.
The cast is mostly indigenous too, with some of the country’s most high-profile Aboriginal actors – Deborah Mailman, Leah Purcell and The Sapphires‘ Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell among them – in starring roles. Directors include Rachel Perkins (Bran Nue Dae) and Wayne Blair (The Sapphires).
Despite its obvious attributes, Dalton and his indigenous department head, Sally Riley, were cautious ahead of the series launch on November 1, perhaps because the ABC’s last attempt to take an indigenous drama into prime time was a ratings disappointment. The Straits debuted in March with an audience of 600,000, but had dropped below 400,000 by the end of its run.
Redfern Now screens in the same slot, Thursdays at 8.30pm, that The Straits did – a slot most recently occupied by Rake, a show that regularly pulled in about 800,000 viewers.
Ahead of its debut, Riley was keen to dampen expectations that Redfern Now could match that figure. “This is new territory for us,” she said. “It’s hard to know what to expect in terms of viewers.”
In the event, the show debuted to excellent figures, winning its timeslot with 721,000 viewers (five-city overnight audience) and finishing as 12th most-watched show on the night. The second episode was watched by 644,000 and finished 11th.
The second season of Redfern Now will be joined next year by another drama series, The Gods of Wheat Street. Also in the works is a narrative comedy series set in an Alice Springs radio station and a sketch comedy series, both for ABC2.
Meanwhile, the other projects funded by Screen Australia on Monday are My Mistress, about a teenager “suffering from grief after his father’s suicide who seeks help from a local French S&M mistress in an attempt to reconnect with his life” (written by Gerard Lee, a frequent collaborator of Jane Campion, and to be directed by Stephen Lance), and Son of a Gun, a “psychological thriller about a young man sent to prison who becomes the apprentice to public enemy No. 1” (written and directed by Julius Avery).
Both are feature debuts for their directors.