Mercado on TV: Scrublands a compelling new drama on the platform with most Aussie content


Remembering drama pioneer James Davern and how Studio 10 could have been saved

Scrublands (Stan) is a compelling new Aussie drama that starts with a viewer warning for what is about to happen. A Catholic priest, Byron Swift (Jay Ryan), opens fire on his congregation and one year later, journalist Martin Scarsden (Luke Arnold) visits to see how the locals are coping. Before long, the truth about the shock shooting begins to emerge.

Directed by Wolf Creek’s Greg McLean, Scrublands has a great cast including Bella Heathcote, Victoria Thaine, Adam Zwar, and Scott Major.

Stan commissions more local drama than any other streamer, and most of it is excellent. So given there is now controversy about which apps should appear first on smart TVs, how about giving prominence to those networks and streamers with the most Aussie content?

Jay Ryan in Scrublands
Top: Luke Arnold

Scrublands is just four hours long, but back in the day, Aussie drama screened all year round on every network. One of the most enduring was A Country Practice (1981-1994, Seven) and in sad news this week, creator James Davern passed away. Thankfully, he leaves behind 1,008 hours of Wandin Valley that will live on forever.

James Davern cut his teeth on Bellbird (1967-1977, ABC), another rural soap that was hugely popular. Terrified that this made them too commercial, Aunty fiddled with its format and timeslot in an effort to kill it off. It worked, and in its absence, Davern cleverly reworked the format with a focus on medical and social issues.

His pilot script, then called In General Practice, was deemed not artistic enough and only came third in a Writer’s Guild contest. It went to Ten who sat on it and then turned it down. Davern talked Seven into it, but they weren’t expecting big things from it and screened it during the non-ratings period in summer.

A Country Practice turned into a huge hit because it was a show all the family could watch. There was comedy, drama, cute animals and important issues that needed to be canvassed. So wide was its appeal, Bob Hawke even appeared as himself, with the PM popping into Wandin Valley to assure them that it would always stay nuclear-free. 

A Country Practice

During the pandemic, A Country Practice found a whole new audience on 7plus, but none of this would have happened without the talent and determination of James Davern. Vale.

Also leaving us soon is Studio 10, axed just after it celebrated 10 years on air. The network said it was due to “changing audience habits” but let’s get real – its demise was entirely avoidable.

When it began, Studio 10 provided a lively alternative to Seven and Nine’s morning shows. With a revolving panel of five hosts and a studio audience, it was fun and unpredictable. But with all that income from the infomercials, 10 got greedy.

Originally airing from 8.30am to 11am, 10 stretched it out from 8am to 12 noon. Now known as the “telethon”, ego and exhaustion kicked in and by the time it was reduced to a two-hour show from 10am, nobody was watching anymore.

What a shame Studio 10 wasn’t moved to a midday slot where it would have been the only live show at that time. It could have provided an alternative to Seven and Nine’s midday offerings, which are usually terrible telemovies or reality repeats.

Studio 10 will no doubt be replaced by more repeats or some American filler, not to mention yet another news bulletin, this time at 3.30pm. Seriously, could TV be any more unimaginative?

Read more Mercado on TV here.

Welcome to TV Gold: Mediaweek’s weekly TV podcast

Listen now on your favourite podcast platform for 30 minutes of TV reviews and recommendations every week from Mediaweek’s Mercado on TV columnist Andrew Mercado and editor-in-chief James Manning.
We want your comments, feedback and questions – [email protected].

This week: Scrublands, The Killer, Robbie Williams, 007: Road to a Million

Stan has another Australian Original hit on its hands with Scrublands based on the novel by Chris Hammer. Also this week The Killer (Netflix, movie), 007: Road to a Million (Prime) and Robbie Williams (Netflix). A couple of quick mentions too for the movie NYAD with Jodie Foster and Annette Benning (Netflix) and the documentary The Lost City of Melbourne (SBS).

Listen online here, or on your favourite podcast platform.


Scrublands director Greg McLean and cast Luke Arnold, Bella Heathcote and Jay Ryan

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