The new season of The Newsreader is (finally) upon us as Dale (Sam Reid) and Helen (Anna Torv) are back in ABC’s award-winning behind-the-scenes drama.
It’s now 1987 for the team at the fictional News at Six, picking up about 15 months after the conclusion of Season 1.
During filming of the series last year, TV Tonight sat down with creator Michael Lucas and producer Joanna Werner to get the breaking news.
So Season 2 is a year on from when we last saw the characters?
ML: We come in on the Hawke-Howard election night in 1987.
JW: We recreate the Tally Room, because back then you had the proper, big Tally Room and all the live results coming in with the massive board. So yeah, we’ve recreated that. Michael wrote the first script and it’s fantastic, because it’s very funny. The thing I love about the show is that we go through such different heights and emotional depths. It’s got its procedural news element and that’s also really funny. Episode One traverses those styles really well.
Given we’re going into 1988, Australia’s Bicentennial forms a part of the show. It’s a different side of the Bicentenary than might have been shown on television when we were watching in ’88. We’re able to show more perspectives than were present at that time.
“There was just as much rich material”
ML: As with the first season, you have these events that are very specific to certain dates, like in the first season Russell Street (bombing) and Chernobyl. But for example, the AIDS episode in the first season was an obviously an ongoing story that could have been anywhere. This season, we do have some some big specific events, the stock market crash is one, but then other ones, like the heroin crisis… I have a little bit of leeway to put that story at an appropriate time for our cast of characters. So it’s always a balance of really Date-Specific things with a couple of broader arc ’80s news stories.
I was a little bit worried coming into it, because there was such a run in 1986 of incredible stories. But actually 1987, giving myself leeway to just tip over into ’88, meant that there was just as much rich material.
Is everybody back in the cast?
JW: Yes. We fell in love with our characters so much in the first season and we’re thrilled that we were able to get them all back. We’ve got some new characters being introduced this series.
ML: We started developing this before the first season came out.
JW: We introduce Kay (Phillipa Northeast) who is Geoff & Evelyn’s daughter. She was in London in the first series, pursuing fashion, and she comes back bringing an interesting story that throws Geoff & Evelyn’s life into turmoil.
“Channel Seven was bought and sold and Christopher Skase was on the scene”
ML: We now have a new CEO (Daniel Gillies) in the world of the show. Obviously going into the stock market crash and everything, it was such a big time for media takeovers. Channel Seven was bought and sold and Christopher Skase was on the scene and all that.
JW: Those people were real personalities and wanted to be personalities. Kerry Packer would ring the news desk and tell them what to say and things like that.
ML: In season one we had a disembodied CEO. You just heard them referring to ‘upstairs’ and the ‘CEO’, but this time we go into his house, and he makes a big impact.
JW: There’s a new character called Jerry (Rory Fleck Byrne), who is host of a variety show. We meet him in the first episode at his show but also on the panel in the Tally Room.
ML: There’s this sort of tradition where often variety talk hosts are expats. Even in in the US there’s James Corden and John Oliver. Here we had Don Lane and then prior to him, we had Dave Allen. So something felt right about him coming from Ireland. We were also incredibly lucky that Rory can sing and dance really well.
So we’ve had the great experience of him coming into the country and then just studying Don Lane, Graham Kennedy, Bert Newton… and he really fell in love with them.
JW: We really felt like The Newsreader needed a bit of razzle dazzle. An all-singing, all-dancing number!
ML: Hunter Page-Lochard also plays a fictional character, whose name is Lynus. He is one of the organisers of the protests for the Bicentennial. He’s heavily based on real figures behind those protests, and he’s really great. I’m really excited for people to see it.
What can you say about the relationship between Dale and Helen this season?
ML: It’s complicated!
JW: It’s always going to be a really complicated relationship between Helen and Dale. I think we can say that in episode one they are the golden couple of news.
“They’re in TV Week all the time”
Their faces are on every billboard, they’re the number one news rating team across the country. They’re in TV Week all the time!
ML: But personally it’s a bit more complicated than that and they’re still trying to navigate it. But the public is starting to ask, ‘When are you gonna get married? When’s that gonna happen?’
Did you contemplate the rise of current affairs shows from that era at all?
ML: It was just sort of beginning then. Geoff Walters, who is played by Robert Taylor, was deposed from the newsroom at the end of Season One. And in Season Two, he is reborn at 6:30pm on a rival network.
JW: He hosts his own show called The Walters Affair.
ML: You might see some parallels with real shows that were beginning in that era.
JW: That’s when Hinch started, wasn’t it?
ML: So yes, we are starting to branch into the world of current affairs via his character.
“It’s sort of the next step once those TV journalists become brands themselves”
It’s sort of the next step once those TV journalists become brands themselves. At the moment, I’m reading Mike Willesee’s memoir.
JW: We’ve read a lot of journalists memoirs, and we got also got directed to quite a few from journalists themselves.
ML: They love to give you their memoirs!
I’m hoping we see more from Marg Downey as Evelyn.
JW: When we did the read through, you just felt like applauding every line that she said. She’s such a fantastic performer and she puts so much into every line. She gets a really nice storyline in this season.
ML: At the read-through I remember she delivered her first line and everyone sitting around kind of burst out laughing, but it was because it was so exciting to finally hear that character speak in that tone again. Marg was looking around wondering what was going on. But it was just the joy of hearing her!
The show has also been a big success in the UK?
JW: It’s gone very well in the UK. When it launched on BBC Two it was their biggest Sunday night drama in nearly five years, which was fantastic, and it’s just built from there. So we’ve had really fantastic ratings and a really great response from audience and press over there. They were calling it ‘the surprise hit of the year,’ which is very lovely to hear. It’s going really well in other territories as well, but it particularly made a big hit in the UK.
“By the end of the series, you’ve maybe travelled somewhere that you didn’t expect at the start”
ML: They got the option to binge it because it was on iPlayer. That was interesting, just seeing how it plays differently… because by the end of the series, you’ve maybe travelled somewhere that you didn’t expect at the start. People seemed to really respond to that.
JW: But we loved the way it came out when everyone was in lockdown. It made Sunday night viewing fun. Certainly from our perspective, it created a little bit of event television, when we all needed a bit of an event. So yeah, it was it was a nice way to roll it out.
The Newsreader returns 8:30pm Sunday on ABC.