Shire's Sylvania ways may raise ire

Shire's Sylvania ways may raise ire

Twenty years ago British television audiences were introduced to Sydney's southern suburbs through the seminal documentary Sylvania Waters.

Now, a new generation of Britons is set to become acquainted with a different slice of life in the Sutherland Shire, perhaps even discovering a new Noeline Donaher in the process.

Channel Ten and the production company behind its new ''dramality'' series, The Shire, are marketing the program to British TV networks and opened discussions with Channel 5 - home to other exports Home & Away and Neighbours, which is now in its 26th year on British screens.

Unlike the BBC's fly-on-the wall approach in the early 1990s, which followed Noeline, her boyfriend, Laurie, and their extended family, The Shire will manufacture scenarios for its cast in the hope that they will sate our appetite for voyeurism.

Yet while Australia might have cringed at the boorish behaviour of the Donahers, the hype surrounding the new TV series suggests that is exactly what The Shire will be trading on.

''The Shire is a glimpse behind the curtain into the heart of Australia as you've never seen it before,'' says Ten's media release, which promises it will follow the ''often outrageous lives and loves'' of this ''tribe-like'' community, ensuring they are the ''most talked about'' in the country.


Ten has since tried to play down the show's controversial nature, pointing out that its pre-8pm scheduling means it is unlikely to be offensive, forgetting that in its heyday Big Brother was frequently controversial yet went to air an hour earlier. Like it or not, the sun-kissed The Shire promises to be what the world wants to see. Fresh from the annual TV sales jamboree in Cannes, TV executives say the Australian lifestyle of beaches, tans and a carefree attitude is our greatest televisual commodity.

FremantleMedia Australia chief executive Ian Hogg said: ''That's the image of Australia that people want and that's the kind of stuff they [international broadcasters] are asking us to create.''

Matt Campbell, the managing director of the production company behind The Shire, Shine Australia, said plenty of places were ''still discovering Australia''. Shows like Bondi Rescue and his own company's Wag Nation, which follows the wives and girlfriends of successful sportsmen, have sold well overseas. He denied The Shire would damage Australia's image abroad, saying the show is about ''real aspirations''. ''It's reflective of young people today in Australia. It's being talked about as the real Home & Away. It's a very subjective thing [TV]. Sure it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but then neither is Spicks and Specks.''

Julian Lee

Julian Lee is media writer for The Sydney Morning Herald. He was a former marketing editor for the paper and deputy editor of Fairfax's online opinion and commentary website, The National Times.

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