‘Fireflies’ heats up auds for ABC Down Under

Aussie firefighter drama scores red-hot ratings

Aussies bushfires ravage thousands of acres each summer, destroying homes and claiming the lives of people and animals. Southern Star is tapping into this dramatic milieu with “Fireflies,” a 20-part drama series that launched Feb. 7 with a 90-minute pilot on pubcaster Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Airing at 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, the telepic drew an audience of 1.1 million and the episodes are averaging 800,000 viewers — solid numbers for the net vs. Ten’s “Monk,” Seven’s popular “Better Homes and Gardens” and Nine’s “Gilmore Girls.”

Skein is a good lead-in to long-running British cop program “The Bill,” which is consistently among the ABC’s top three or four shows.

Hugh Marks, chief exec of production house Southern Star Entertainment, is pleased with the figures in a timeslot that he acknowledges is difficult for a drama aimed at families; a large proportion of the ABC’s audience that night is age 65-plus.

Set in the mythical hamlet of Lost River (population 487), it deals with the volunteer fire-fighters and stars Libby Tanner (“All Saints”), Jeremy Sims (“Kangaroo Palace”), John Waters (“All the Rivers Run”), Nadia Townsend (“Farscape”) and Natasha Novak (“Russian Doll.”).

Skein was created by John O’Brien (whose credits include segs of “Water Rats” and “MDA”) and is produced by Southern Star’s John Edwards, co-creator of “Police Rescue” and “The Secret Life of Us.”

Unusually, instead of writers and story editors working on scripts, the nine scribes do their own rewrites — even if that means 10 drafts. That creates a “close-knit team who are more committed to their writing and to one another,” says Edwards.

Southern Star Sales is launching “Fireflies” at the Mip TV mart in Cannes this month. Series has been licensed to the ABC’s Asia-Pacific satellite channel in a non-exclusive deal for English-lingo rights.

It was funded primarily by the ABC and paybox Austar as part of the requirement for pay drama channels to invest 10% of their annual programming budget on local productions, with a small contribution from Southern Star. Austar will sell the pay TV rights to one of the channels on its platform.

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