“It’s a hit!”: The TV phenomenon that is Muster Dogs

“It’s a hit!”: The TV phenomenon that is Muster Dogs

News Breakfast host Lisa Millar still thanks her lucky stars she was asked to narrate Muster Dogs in late 2021.

The show became a phenomenon for ABC igniting social media, drawing an audience that made it the most watched ABC Factual series ever.

For Millar, who began her career in 1988, it marks the biggest audience she has ever been involved with.

“Oh, easily! It was just this absolute blindside moment for all of us, because we didn’t really know what we had on our hands. The producers had pulled off a miracle with Series One getting it across the line during COVID. Even just getting the dogs to the participants in the first place,” she tells TV Tonight.

“We were up against Ash Barty at the tennis. But I started straight away getting messages from viewers on my socials, with pictures of their dogs watching the show. There was a lot of chatter, as it was going to air. People were saying, ‘Oh, my God, you should be watching this show on the ABC! Switch over!’

“The next morning when the ratings came out, Michael Boughen, one of the producers with Ambience Entertainment, got a text message from a friend at the commercial (networks) who just said ‘It’s a hit!’

“It’s also gone international on Netflix. I’ve had people just in the last couple of days message me from Texas.”

It was Boughen who was first captivated by working dogs when he made a tree change in 2018. But shaping it into a format, via a competition series took development time with ABC -including through a pandemic.

“He and his wife bought a property in Victoria near his sister’s place. And he went there one day, and he was like, ‘Wow, look at these dogs! How do they do this kind of thing?’” she explains.

“I was brought in right at the last minute to be the narrator. I was not part of the grand plan and I thank my lucky stars every day that happened the way it did. This is why it was a kind of miracle about how well it did.”

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Season One saw five graziers raising kelpie puppies into working dogs in just twelve months, under the watch of seasoned trainer Neil McDonald. Queenslander Frank Finger and his winning dog Annie, have travelled some 30,000km following the show’s roaring success.

“It’s just wonderful to see how their stories have developed. Frank has taken on an ambassador role really, …he and Annie, and Lucifer now Luci sometimes, all over the country. They are rock stars, they turn up at country shows and they are literally mobbed.”

Millar attributes the show’s success to the undeniable puppy factor, but also a post-pandemic world in which dog ownership soared and feelgood TV was on the rise.

“You had all of these things coming together. People getting more pets during COVID lockdown, people looking for kindness and not wanting to be viewing people ripping into each other and being nasty,” she continues.

“Yes, it’s a competition, but everyone’s kind to themselves. I think that is the word that kept coming up, especially about Frank Finger… it’s the authenticity and the kindness.”

She adds, “I think those reasons made it an even happier occurrence.”

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Season Two features five border collies trained by graziers from Tasmania to the Top End. They include three female and two male farmers, again led by Neil McDonald with wife Helen.

Millar has also penned a companion book (spoiler alert, it details the series outcome).

“I took some long service leave to write the book and just jumped on a plane and went round to the different properties and spent some quality time with them. Now I love having them as my text buddies! They’re excited and nervous,” she obseerves.

“As I’ve tried to explain to people, they are not Instagram seekers. They’re not looking to get a commercial deal with someone. They’re not trying to boost their own fame. They took part, kind of reluctantly for a few of them, because they love the industry, and they love the dogs. They wanted to show off how people on the land care for the animals.”

Doubtless, Season Two will be another smash hit for ABC, a broadcaster which once screened sheppdog trials as no-frills TV, presumably to a much humbler audience response.

“I know! I’ve been down that road trying to find the archives of those shows,” Millar laughs.

“I recall they used to be on a weekend and you’d sit there and watch three sheep being put through their paces.

“Sheepdog trials feels like Slow TV!”

Muster Dogs screens 7:30pm Sunday on ABC (all episodes drop on iview).