“Nina Proudman: what a mad bitch!” TV critic Ruth Ritchie opened her Writing Great TV commentary with her usual no holds barred approach. She was referring, of course, to the highly popular television character portrayed by Logie award winner Asher Keddie in Channel 10’s Offspring.
Joining Ritchie on the panel were Offspring writer Debra Oswald and Christopher Lee, the writer of the television mini-series Paper Giants: The Birth Of Cleo and Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War’.
The two veteran writers – working in the industry for two decades – have been described as the scripting masterminds whose television series have revolutionised the nature of Australian television, carving out a new era for local televised content.
Oswald’s high rating Offspring returned to screens last week for its fourth season, but when asked if she could have pitched the show ten years ago, she revealed that “we pitched if four years before it was wanted. We pitched it to all of the networks and everyone said no.”
So why has it taken so long for captivating ‘dramedy’ – the crowd-pleasing mix of drama and comedy – to claim its space on a television landscape historically dominated by action-driven cop, legal and hospital shows?
“A large part of it is the post-HBO revolution,” said Lee. He believes that the US network responsible for the production of The Sopranos and Mad Men has influenced Australian producers. “The producers in Australia had a look at this and thought we can do that.”
He also attributed the high popularity of shows like Offspring to the shift in audience tastes. “The audience itself has become better educated in drama and understands the nuances of better writing and better directing,” he said.
Oswald added that this had in turn put pressure on writing teams to continuously generate fresh, captivating content. “Audiences being more savvy about television does make the job sometimes more difficult… now there’s a million blogs and Facebook pages with people saying what they think is going to happen.”
Both writers see the exploration of three key themes – life, death and sex, along with a touch of humour – as underpinning the most successful television shows. Ritchie pointed to the fact that ”we’re getting really good Australian humour seeping into dramatic writing.”
Oswald said that Nina Proudman’s multi-dimensional life of work, family and romance is what keeps audiences watching. “I think that’s like real life and it’s fun to watch.”
“When you sit and watch Offspring, you’ll be likely to laugh, likely to be moved and more likely to have sex with your partner.”