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Podcast – Michael Lucas: creating, producing and writing The Newsreader

Screenwriter, creator and producer Michael Lucas on making the most of a long development period and paying opportunities forward.

Michael Lucas in The Newsreader.

Michael Lucas as the DJ in episode 2 of The Newsreader (Supplied: ABC)

Find this episode of the Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, SpotifyStitcher or Pocket Casts

It’s been a long journey for The Newsreader to hit screens.

On the latest episode of the Screen Australia podcast, creator Michael Lucas talks about how he first started writing the bones of the idea back in 2014, not long after finishing Party Tricks, the six-part Network Ten series he created. Several years later he approached the ABC - who he was working with while script editing on Rosehaven – with a pilot episode for the 1980s-set series “to gauge their interest”.

He says ABC Executive Producer Brett Sleigh responded to it, “and particularly responded to the idea of using the real stories of the era [and] make the most of ABC’s archives.”

Sleigh recommended pitching the idea to producer Joanna Werner of Werner Film Productions, who produced the 1970s-set drama Riot for the ABC, but it would still be a number of years before The Newsreader would piece together its financing and go into production late 2020.

The new six-part ABC series, which premieres on 15 August, is set in the pressurised world of broadcast television in 1986. In it, the story of ambitious reporter Dale Jennings (Sam Reid) and the station’s notoriously ‘difficult’ star newsreader Helen Norville (Anna Torv) plays out against the backdrop of real events, including Halley’s Comet and the Challenger explosion.

A show that relied heavily on research, Lucas says there were benefits to the long gestation process.

“Actually for me, even though it’s always a bit nerve-wracking and you start to wonder ‘will the show ever get up?’ I think that the extended development time really helped because it meant that I’d do bursts of work on it [and] then you’d have months away from it,” he says.

“[Then when] you get a bit more development funding and come back, you’d just be fresh to it and completely change things and have an objectivity.”

He also credits the writing team, including Jonathan Gavin, Niki Aken, and emerging talent Kim Ho, and those that helped in the plotting and development, such as Debra Oswald, Ian Meadows, Mithila Gupta, Peter Templeman, and Liz Doran.

“Over the years, there’s been lots of sets of eyes on it,” he says, adding that their inputs were “fundamental” to making the series what it is.

In the time between starting The Newsreader and it going to air, Lucas also co-created two seasons of Five Bedrooms (the third season has gone into production) with Christine Bartlett, and throughout the podcast, he talks about that role of creator and paying forward the opportunities that producers like John Edwards and Imogen Banks once gave him. He also discusses working with different broadcasters; early career moves like joining the writing team on Offspring and getting his first feature Not Suitable for Children made; long-time collaborations with directors Peter Templeman and Emma Freeman; and why he’s a ‘morning writer’.

The Newsreader premieres on ABC on 15 August. Watch Five Bedrooms Season 1 on TenPlay now and Season 2 on Paramount+.

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