Nine is already very short of new drama needed to meet ABA content rules and regulations and now that The Alice’s
producer and writer, Robyn Sinclair has left the country for some
R&R, there is little hope of seeing a complete serious of The Alice before the year’s end.

Besides the funding questions, detailed in this story on Crikey – ACCC probe Optus and PBL over drama – are there any other reasons why the series based on The Alice, last year’s very popular Australian movie on Nine, is not moving forward?

Funding
is everything of course, but in the absence of a final commitment of
funds, some work would be done assembling producers writers etc.

Surely Nine has allocated the money in its 2005 budget and it is just a matter of tying up lose ends?

The
Nine Network has yet to fully explain why it hasn’t fully committed
funds of its own to the series to get it going and why the hold up is
related to the problems the Optus proposal seem to be having.

Nine
committed to a series for this year late in 2004 after the movie had
blitzed viewers attracting 1.83 million people. That made it the most
watched movie of the year.

So far in 2005, not much in the
way of movement. Nine says still committed, but industry sources say
there have been problems. The movie’s producer and writer for the
series, Robyn Sinclair is bound for Italy and relaxation.

Nine
had put out a story late last night saying that Sinclair was returning
to write the series. That was never on. She was Italy-bound.

The producer of the series, John Wild, (ex Stingers, which Nine canned last year) has gone, apparently replaced by John Edwards.

There’s
now a strong feeling that if it appears this year it will be in the
second half of the year and probably 20 episodes or less.

There are suggestions the scope and location of the production is causing funding concerns.

But Nine needs the series urgently as it will be short on Australian drama content and quota this year if it cannot get up.

Under
the 2005 funding guidelines from the Australian Broadcasting Authority,
there’s a cost for drama estimated at $315,000 an hour (2004,
$308,000). Doing a full series of The Alice of 20 to 30 episodes would cost between $6 and $10 million – expensive.

Nine
can run short of local content and drama this year, but that would
require more to be produced/and or bought in 2006. They just can’t
avoid the costs involved in producing local content and first run drama.

There is a feeling in the producing side of the industry that The Alice
as a series will be expensive. The difference in climate and flora and
soils (and the sky) between Alice Springs and normal production areas
closer to the east coast, mean the series will have to be predominantly
shot in Central Australia.

To try and shoot it near Sydney
or Brisbane or Perth, for example, might invite some critical reaction
and viewer cynicism (remember the Holiday Island Barrier Reef series shot in Melbourne in winter, but supposedly in summer in the 80s?).

That
brings up the question of cost. Having such a remote location will make
for a high cost operation (the movie was low budget simply because it
was an “in and out” shoot, shot very quickly with the studio work and
post production etc done elsewhere).

Then there are the
post-production difficulties and communications of doing a series so
far away from Sydney and the people who will make the final decisions.

Crew
will have to be taken to Alice Springs and accommodated, compared to
shooting around Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne where crews can be hired
and paid no accommodation costs or location allowances.

While McLeod’s Daughters is shot in South Australia near Adelaide, it is much closer to Sydney and post-production facilities than Alice Springs.

The
absence of any news on the Southern Star (which produced the movie last
year for Nine) website about the series is also a giveaway that it is
going slower.

The production was due to start next month, but as such nothing has been posted on the website (in contrast this is what Southern Star put up when the movie got the go-ahead last year).

Finally
it does raise questions about Nine’s management. Posie Graeme Evans is
the head of drama at Nine and in two years she has said ‘yes’ once, to
the telemovie version of The Alice.

Why she and
Robyn Sinclair fell out after that success is one of TV land’s great
mysteries. But it has people wondering if all is well on the third
floor at Willoughby, especially as Nine is very short of new drama to
meet ABA content rules and regulations.