Real life on screen for 2013

The crew from Spicks and Specks - A Very Specky Christmas.
The crew from Spicks and Specks - A Very Specky Christmas.

Bolstered by the success this year of Howzat!, Beaconsfield and Underground, the free-to-air television networks are backing based-on-fact Australian dramas as the cornerstone of next year's schedules.

The ABC and Nine launched their line-ups for next year last week, after Seven, Ten and SBS did so in October. There's much to like in the new programs, though undoubtedly many of them will fail to deliver on their promises. With that caveat, here is a guide to what looks like some of the best and most interesting stuff on the box next year.

Australian drama and comedy

A Place to Call Home (Seven) stars Marta Dusseldorp in a drama mystery set in 1950s rural Australia.

Mrs Biggs (Seven) looks at the relationship between Charmian and Ronnie ''the great train robber'' Biggs, including the four years they spent in Australia.

Nine continues to dabble in telemovie territory with its stab at the Schapelle Corby story; still no word on who will play the lead in Schapelle.

Kerry Packer is busier than ever, with two new series lined up for next year. In the ABC's Magazine Wars, he is again played by Rob Carlton. No word on who will play him in Nine's Power Games: The Packer-Murdoch Story, set in the period 1960-1975, but you would have to fancy Lachy Hulme to reprise the role he so dominated in Howzat!

The Time of Our Lives (ABC) reunites The Secret Life of Us stars Stephen Curry and Claudia Karvan with the series co-creator Amanda Higgs and writer Judi McCrossin in a multi-generational family drama series. William McInnes, Justine Clarke and Shane Jacobson also star.

Serangoon Road (ABC) is an Australia-Singapore co-production set in the 1960s with Don Hany as an Australian who gets roped into becoming a private investigator by his neighbour (Joan Chen).

Fairfax writer Peter FitzSimons's book is the basis for the eight-part drama Batavia (Ten), about the 1629 wreck off the WA coast.

Fresh from Wayne Hope and Robyn Butler (The Librarians) is Upper Middle Bogan, a comedy about a doctor who discovers she is adopted and is horrified to find her birth family is … suburban! Chris Lilley is back too, with a project shrouded in his usual secrecy. Both are on the ABC.

Imported drama and comedy

Mr Selfridge (Seven) is set in 1909 and stars Jeremy Piven (Entourage's Ari Gold) as the American founder of the high-end London department store. It's written by BBC costume-drama veteran Andrew Davies and co-stars Australia's Frances O'Connor as the shopkeeper's wife.

Nine's Parade's End looks to have a touch of the Downton about it, with Benedict Cumberbatch (the star of Sherlock) as a man torn between the woman he loves but dare not touch (Australian Adelaide Clemens) and his wife (Rebecca Hall), a woman quite happy to touch whomever she pleases. It's set in London around World War I and is written by Tom Stoppard and has class written all over it in big embossed gold letters.

A fresh take on two English crime classics are both slated for Ten, with Ripper Street revisiting the London of 1889 dominated by Jack the Ripper and Elementary casting Jonny Lee Miller in an updated set-in-America take on Sherlock Holmes. The early word on both is good, as is Better Man (SBS), a four-part miniseries about Van Nguyen, a Vietnamese-Australian executed in Singapore in 2005 for drug smuggling. Khoa Do, brother of comedian Anh Do, writes and directs.


Nine is clearly working its way through the senses. First came The Voice. Now it's The Taste, a British cooking contest in which Nigella Lawson and Anthony Bourdain are among the four judges who taste everything blind. We can't wait for The Stench in 2014.

Nine is also jumping on the cake-baking bandwagon, arguably a year or two after it peaked, with The Great Australian Bake Off, to be hosted by Shane ''I'm in everything'' Jacobson and Anna Gare. My Kitchen Rules is back on Seven and MasterChef on Ten. The Professionals looks set to breathe new life into the franchise with legendary British chef Marco Pierre White attempting to turn 18 ''good'' chefs into one ''exceptional'' chef. Heat, stir, reduce. Matt Preston is co-pilot.

Ten's Recipe to Riches will attempt to take branded entertainment mainstream as Woolies underwrites a program in which contestants showcase their home recipes.

Reality, factual, light entertainment

The ABC is reviving Spicks and Specks to plug what has become a big hole for them on Wednesday nights.

It won't be the biggest ratings hit of the year but SBS has one of the most interesting shows, with a sequel to its Once upon a Time in Cabramatta documentary series. This time it's the Lebanese-Australian community of Punchbowl under the microscope, with a spin-off online documentary set to examine the Cronulla Riots as a companion piece.

Formal Wars (Seven) looks at the school formal industry, worth $3 billion a year we are told.

Keith Urban is back in the musical hot seat but with American Idol on Ten. His empty chair on The Voice (Nine) will be filled by Ricky Martin.

This story Real life on screen for 2013 first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.