Our television networks are required to show a certain amount of Australian content each year and also an Australian drama quota (calculated over a three year period using a complex points system). While many viewers have complained about the decrease in Australian TV drama over the past decade, official Australian Communications and Media Authority statistics claim that drama levels have remained steady. So who’s right?

It depends on how you define drama. Channel Nine, for example, is expected to meet its ACMA quota this year by screening late night episodes of the sketch comedy program, Comedy Inc.

In 1995 the ACMA standard on Australian drama was amended to include sketch comedy programs. That means that all sketch programs on all networks since 1995 have been counting towards Australian drama quotas. According to an ACMA spokesman Australian drama has never been narrowly defined and nor should it be. But is there any meaningful sense in which sketch comedy could be considered drama?

  • Network marketing for Australian drama programs have never included sketch comedy programs
  • In over 40 years of the Australian Logie Awards, sketch comedy has never been included as Australian drama
  • Enquiries at the Nine Network revealed Head of Drama, Sandra Levy does not handle sketch comedy. Comedy Inc is handled by Andrew Blackwell
  • When asked at Channel 10 why their sketch comedy programs were not handled by Sue Masters (Head of Drama), I was told that sketch comedy programs are not drama and are therefore handled by Tim Clucas. Sue Masters only handled Australian drama.

Even though this sketch comedy amendment came in over ten years ago, previously none of the networks have needed to rely on comedy to fulfil their Australian drama quota. For example, the Seven Network in 2005 achieved their quota by screening Home and Away, Blue Heelers, All Saints and Headland. Even Channel 9 had programs such as McLeod’s Daughters and The Alice to fulfil its requirements. Comedy Inc would have been a bonus in 2005.

But with The Alice now gone and no new Australian drama appearing to be in the pipeline except a limited run Bryan Brown series called Two Twisted, the Nine Network is expected to use the loophole to include Comedy Inc in their Australian drama quota.

Peter Fray

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