Among the highlights are two new environmentally-themed series from Craig Reucassel, the former Chaser member who presented two seasons of the hit series War on Waste for the broadcaster.
Fight For Planet A: The Climate Challenge promises to take “a positive approach to how to reduce our carbon footprint, both as individuals and as society”. Like War on Waste, it will extend its reach beyond TV, aiming to “leverage many of the ABC platforms to continue the audience journey”.
Reucassel’s Big Weather (and How to Survive It) will similarly aim to engage audiences across multiple platforms, by asking how extreme weather has shaped Australia as a nation, why such events are becoming more intense and less predictable, and how ordinary Australians can adapt, survive and thrive into the future.
The children’s drama series Itch also has a focus on adapting to climate change, but in this case it’s in the form of a thriller about a young hero who discovers a new element on the periodic table that could be the answer to the world’s energy problems.
Award-winning journalist Sarah Ferguson will present a three-part series on clerical abuse, titled Revelation. In what the ABC claims is a world first, cameras were allowed inside the courtroom to record the trials of “two of the Catholic Church’s most notorious child abusers”. The series will also air interviews with paedophile priests, including one who is still an inmate in a maximum security prison.
Two series will tackle the legacy of the atomic testing program in the Australian outback. From Blackfella Films comes the documentary Maralinga, in which the Indigenous Tjarutja people share their tales of survival after the bomb blast in September 1956.
Peter Duncan, co-creator of Rake, tackles the same subject in the espionage thriller Fallout, starring Ewen Leslie as an Australian Army engineer, James Cromwell as his inept commanding officer, and Jessica De Gouw as a meteorologist who senses the foolproof plan for the test may not be so safe after all.
Meanwhile, Cate Blanchett will star in and produce new original series Stateless, a refugee drama from directors Emma Freeman and Jocelyn Moorhouse. The show also stars Fayssal Bazzi, Asher Keddie and The Handmaid’s Tale‘s Yvonne Strahovski.
There will be a second series of Indigenous outback police drama Mystery Road, a return for the long-form serial The Heights, and Spicks and Specks reunion specials. Rosehaven is back for a fourth season, as is Black Comedy, while Ioan Gruffudd and Ella Newton will return for a third season of Harrow.
Bruce Pascoe’s acclaimed book Dark Emu – which traces the history of Indigenous agriculture, trade and settlement long before Europeans arrived – is being adapted as a documentary series, with Pascoe narrating and presenting.
The documentary The Australian Dream, in which Stan Grant grapples with the meaning of the Adam Goodes racism row, will get a TV premiere and there will also be a documentary on Midnight Oil, the band that did more than any other in Australia to put Indigenous rights and the environment on the national agenda.
And Miriam Margolyes, the 78-year-old beloved actor from the Harry Potter films, will examine what it means to be Australian in a three-part series in which she realises that, five years after becoming a citizen, there is still much to learn about her adopted homeland.
Teetotaller Shaun Micallef will examine our relationship with alcohol in On the Sauce, in which he promises to “get drunk” for the fist time since his university days – purely in the name of research, of course.
And two time-travelling series will look at where we have come from in very different ways. Annabel Crabb will rejoin the Ferrone family as they go Further Back in Time For Dinner, while children’s series Are You Tougher Than Your Ancestors will invite modern-day children to spend 24 hours in the shoes of children “from another era”.
The slate announcement comes as the broadcaster continues to work its way through the implications of an effective funding cut of almost $84 million over three years, announced by the federal government last year.
The funding freeze means the ABC needs to cut $15 million from its budget in 2019-20, about $28 million in 2020-21 and just over $41 million in 2021-22.
ABC managing director David Anderson recently told a Senate estimates hearing the organisation has found about $17 million in savings, but more work needed to be done and that job losses were likely.
Michael Carrington said on Thursday that he could not guarantee programming would be unaffected.
“While we are trying to free up as much money as possible for content, difficult decisions will need to be made around what we stop doing and in which areas,” he said. “It’s too early to say definitively how that might impact our hours or formats but we will need to make decisions based on quality over quantity in the years ahead.”
Karl Quinn is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.