Our government punishes success before Australian television even gets there, writes Eden Caceda.
Two weeks ago Australian television series Offspring ended its fifth and most successful season with over a million viewers. As one of the most watched Australian dramas on Network Ten – or, for that matter, any other network –Offspring has become one of Ten’s greatest successes since its debut in 2010.
Centered on neurotic obstetrician Nina Proudman (Asher Keddie) and her crazy family, Offspring finally gained traction in its third season after a few rocky years of low ratings. The series, now syndicated in 11 countries, enjoyed particularly good reviews of its most recent season, which has been considered it’s strongest so far.
However, in news that shocked many viewers, Offspring is likely to have finished its run this season because of a government tax rebate that the series is now ineligible for. Introduced in 2007, The Australian Screen Production Incentive, offered by the federal government to TV and film producers, provides a 20 per cent tax rebate for television series that have not exceeded 65 episodes. Losing the rebate means that Offspring will cost more to produce and contracts with cast members, many of whom are sought-after locally and abroad, will have to be renegotiated.
Popular Australian series such as Rush, Sea Patrol and Dance Academy ended their runs partially as a result of losing the rebate. In such a small market with so few Australian films and television series, it’s unfortunate that financial and legal barriers prevent the continuation of such a successful series. With A Place To Call Home ending at just two seasons and the future of popular Puberty Blues still up in the air, it’s shocking to think that Offspring’s large following and creative excellence alone cannot keep it alive.
At its most basic level, this policy punishes success. The rationale behind the rebate is to encourage the production of Australian film and television projects, helping foster talent by exempting producers from fees they would otherwise face. Once a series exceeds 65 episodes, it is considered a success; it is then regarded as not being in the taxpayer’s interest to continue paying for a presumably economically stable project. This commonly results in the premature ending of Australian shows because they have breached the 65-episode threshold, which presents a major hurdle for Australian television breaking into the international market. Rather than support Australian television’s strides into the international market, this regulation serves to preference long-running American and British series.
Despite Ten and the Offspring producers confirming they are in discussions for another season, it seems as if the series will not return to the screen, with the conclusive final moments of season five indicating the same. Producer John Edwards has openly blamed the tax rebate as a reason for the series being under threat. “At the moment we’re seeing all these short-running series, but I don’t think that’s sustainable,” he told TV Tonight. “I don’t think it’s the most rational way of being. I’d like to be doing a long-running show.”
For a nation with enormous creative potential, it’s a shame to see this regulation adding to the barriers faced by Australia television producers. In the small market current series exist in, there is no reason why the few long-running Australian series that make it should be so harshly punished for their success.
Originally published in Honi Soit, August 19, 2014.