SeaChange: articles

Sigrid and David

Sigrid Thornton and David Wenham.

SeaChange? Give me a break, says creator

The man who brought us SeaChange, the hit ABC television series that helps us escape the everyday anxieties of city life, wants to get away from the show. Andrew Knight is determined to give it a break.

Knight says that though he has been under great pressure to produce more episodes he will not head into a new series.

“I'm going to rest it, definitely,” he said. “We're absolutely not going into a fourth series.”

Knight, the show's executive producer, co-creator and co-writer, is clearly feeling exhausted by the demands of Max Connors, Laura Gibson, Bob Jelly, Meredith, Harold and all the characters of Pearl Bay.

“It's easier to watch them than write them,” Knight said. But he stressed he didn't want to sound too negative about what had been a “delightful” series on which to work. “You live with them too much after a while. It's just a bit hard.”

The talented and witty Melbourne writer says he also did not want SeaChange to become a burden for him like Fast Forward, the comedy sketch series that he helped produce for the Seven Network with partner Steve Vizard.

“Look, in America, a successful show like ER may do 30 hours a year, but it will have teams of 20 writers working on it at any time,” he said. “The trouble with this here in Australia is that there is mainly Deb (Cox, the show's co-creator) and myself, and the two or three other writers we work with.

“Given that the episodes tend to be philosophically driven as opposed to plot driven, they're actually damned hard to write. Sometimes we get it horribly wrong and, well, I don't know, it's just very hard to keep that tone for a long time.”

SeaChange, now on episode 34, is halfway through its third series. It first went to air at 7.30pm on Sunday from May 10, 1998. In one of television's most competitive timeslots, long dominated by Nine's 60 Minutes, it quickly drew an unprecedented audience to the ABC.

The show, now seen as one of the beacons for Jonathan Shier's new-look ABC, was commissioned and promoted by the corporation's former head of drama, Sue Masters. She recently left the ABC to become Network Ten's new drama chief.

The second series last year attracted an average audience of more than two million viewers, winning its timeslot and, on August 15, 1999, drawing a then record ABC TV audience of 2,174,000.

“For years I was trapped in sketch comedy and other things, but I'm damned if I'm going to do that again,” Knight told me. “I just want to take my brain in another direction.”

The show's slowness to take off overseas, had, he admits, been disappointing. There were early problems with distribution but, following his company's link with the British group Granada, he expected a sale “fairly soon”. Overseas markets had become difficult for Australian production companies because of costs and the local programming restrictions placed on foreign shows.

“I can't see how you can survive in Australia if you want to make slightly better quality productions here,” Knight said. “It costs, say, $450,000 an hour to make a good program. A network will pay you on average $100,000 less than that. You then have to find $100,000 from the rest of the world. You can't get that from the Government or AFC (Australian Film Commission) or anything.”

Although ready to call a halt to the series, he looks on the progress of SeaChange as “serendipity”.

“ I mean, you can get good scripts and an appalling cast, or you can get a great cast and appalling scripts,” he said. “Or you can get the wrong producer… which we certainly didn't have on this. It's just everything worked and we just seemed to get it by sheer luck. It all happened within a four-month space.

“We were commissioned and Deb and I wrote in the blather and we got (producer) Sally Ayre-Smith on, and then we started casting. And all this fabulous thing followed… Tom Long is now famous and will kick on; John Howard is a national treasure; Will (McInnes) is just getting offered everything; David (Wenham) is already a star; and Sigrid has a window available in October 2020.”

Knight says the writing became a labor of love shared with Deb Cox. And, yes, he has had his favorite characters.

“I actually like Laura. I love writing Bob Jelly. Love writing for Will… Tom… and Kevin. Like all of them. Deb tends to do more of Phrani and Karen. We probably both do Meredith. It's split and half the time we're writing across each other anyway.”

The third series of SeaChange, Pearl Bay's first touch of winter, was mainly written by Cox and Knight at Byron Bay. Knight was also busy there setting up the mini-series My Brother Jack for Network Ten. He likes the sense of melancholy the seasonal change has brought to SeaChange.

“I think the cast may have had a position about it,” he said, amused.

“Especially when I wrote, ‘Max emerges from the water…' But, see, I was in a very warm room typing.

“I wanted… I have a place down at Aireys Inlet, and I just love winter down there, and I love the different feel that it has. Everything closes down in winter. It's that Jacques Tati ‘Holiday' (Monsieur Hulot's Holiday) film where just everything closes down at the end. I just like that sense.”

By Brian Courtis
October 29, 2000
The Age