Ask LH: What Are The Must-Watch Series On Australian TV?

Dear Lifehacker, I've just moved to Australia and am settling in right now, but I've been a reader of Lifehacker for a long time. If you could make a list of the must-watch TV shows on Australian TV, it'd be really helpful to me. Thanks, Prem

G'day Prem,

Glad to oblige (and I suspect our readers will have even more suggestions to offer). To get you up to speed, in terms of free-to-air networks, there are five main players — two government-funded networks and three commercial networks. (The commercial networks vary outside capital cities, but this is the structure that applies to the majority of the population). Each network operates a "main" channel, as well as additional channels — though there's relatively little new Australian programming outside the main channels in each case.

ABC: The "national" broadcaster — government-funded and hence ad-free. As well as the main ABC1 channel, there's ABC2, ABC3 (aimed at kids and teenagers) and ABC News 24.

SBS: The other government-funded broadcaster, which aims to provide programming reflecting modern Australia's multicultural environment. Unlike the ABC, it does run ads. SBS Two focuses on news and documentary content.

Seven: Commercial network. Also runs channels 7Two and 7mate.

Nine: Commercial network. Also runs channels Go! and GEM.

Ten: Commercial network. Also runs channels Eleven and ONE. ONE was originally a sports-focused channel, but that emphasis is currently shifting.

Across the networks, there's lots of imported programming from the US and (to a lesser extent) the UK, plus occasional series from other countries, but the most popular shows in Australia are generally local. (The most popular of all are news and sports broadcasts, but that's a separate discussion.)

In terms of local programming, here's the most obvious contenders:


The biggest mainstream drama series currently is Packed To The Rafters (which runs on Seven on Tuesdays at 8:30pm, though it's currently in recess). Nine's run of Underbelly mini-series has been well-regarded in the past, but is now only an occasional telemovie. If you prefer a quirkier drama, Offspring (returning to Channel Ten in May) is worth checking out.

If your tastes are a bit soapier, both Home & Away (weeknights 7:00pm on Seven) and Neighbours (weeknights 6:30pm on Eleven) have been mainstays of local television since the 1980s, though their continued existence now is in large part due to their success in the UK and other markets as well. That's essentially a polite way of saying that hardly anyone over the age of 18 cares what happens on Neighbours and you'll lose water-cooler credibility if you discuss it.


While imported sitcoms are hugely popular in Australia, it's been tough in recent years to get a successful comedy running. Comedian Chris Lilley has arguably been the most successful with his faux documentaries; his new show Angry Boys begins on the ABC on Wednesday May 11 at 9:00pm, and his previous series Summer Heights High is well worth tracking down on DVD or iTunes. The only other sitcom to make a really notable splash in recent years is Kath & Kim, which is currently being produced as a movie.

There's a bit more activity in terms of comedy panel shows. Spicks and Specks is a highly-rated music quiz (returning to the ABC on Wednesday May 4 at 8:30pm), and Good News Week (Monday 9:30pm on Ten) skewers the week's news. The 7PM Project (weeknights 7pm on Ten) is a news program, but has a definite comedy emphasis.


Most successful international reality formats end up with a local production in Australia, and many have been the biggest hits of recent years. Cooking competition Masterchef is the biggest game in town these days, and returns to Channel 10 on Sunday May 1 (when it finishes its local run of The Biggest Loser). There's also local versions of The Amazing Race (on Seven) and Dancing With The Stars (on Seven), which tend to be water-cooler staples.

What else should Prem be checking out? Tell us in the comments.

Cheers Lifehacker


    Catch up on 'The Gruen Transfer' - three amazing series have already aired on the ABC, with a forth coming later in the year.
    'Winners and Losers' (Seven) has also been surprisingly decent and worth a glance.
    Nine's drama's outside of Underbelly tend to be of poor quality though (and skew old) whilst TEN's 'Rush' is decent if your into the crime/action genre.

    Another one I've been following is "Rake" showing on the ABC at 8:30 on Monday nights - blackly comic genius. This might be worth hitting JB hi fi for, though, as the series is near the end of its run.
    I'll also second the mention of Chris Lilley's upcoming "angry boys". This will be great if you are under 35 or are older and still able to laugh at stuff that U35's laugh at.
    GEM is great for movies.

    Good list, you forgot about Talkin' 'Bout Your Generation, comedy panel show 7:30 Tuesdays on Ten.

      D'oh! That's doubly embarrassing given it's set for Series Link on my iQ.

        While I like the content of TAYG, I've never liked the way its filmed - it always seems to feel like its trying to look too polished and Americanised. GNW (and to a lesser extent Spicks and Specks) does a far better job of capturing the studio audience atmosphere and making you feel as though you're a part of the action and actually watching it in person - though in part this could be due to director using regular audience shots and breaking fourth wall by allowing cameras, booms and lighting to be readily seen in wide shots.

    You also forgot Australia's Funniest Home Videos and Hey Hey it's Saturday...

    Apparently for a vast number of Australians these are shows worth investing time to watch every week (or time) they're on!

    For the life of me, I can't work out why though...

    The best in my opinion would be
    "Q&A", political discussion weekly on ABC but I don't know what day, (Wednesday maybe?) I watch on iView when I have time.
    "The Gruen Transfer" is fun.
    The Chaser guys are worth catching when they have a series running, (although they're getting a bit long in the tooth for me, I think it'd still be refreshing for someone who hasn't seen them before).
    Does Ten still do the "Thank God You're Here" series? That's worth a look.
    "Rockwiz" Saturday nights on SBS is a bit Quirky

      Of the shows you mention, Hey Hey! and Thank God You're Here (which moved from Ten to Seven, incidentally) aren't actively in production. I suspect Seven would like more of the latter, but the team are working on other projects. Hey Hey! has a vocal fanbase, but I'd rate its chances of reappearing as fairly low -- it costs too much to justify the ratings it gets.
      Q&A is on Monday nights.

      Q&A is on Mondays at 8.30, but that's focused on Australian politics, so it'd only be recommended if Prem wants to get up to speed on that stuff.

    Don't forget Good News Week on monday nights on Ten.

      We didn't; it's in the Comedy section.

    East West 101. The 3rd season is starting on the 20th of April at 9pm on SBS. The first two seasons are great as well. Very good drama.

    Rake is a very good dramedy featuring Richard Roxburgh too. Both shows must watch.

    Except for current shows - like 7pm project & GNW it still a better option to grab the show online after it's initial airing. The ABC currently has the best online catchup service in OZ right now with iView. Otherwise most shows are available online long before they're shown here in OZ.


    Prisoner - an oldie but a goodie.
    Currently has cult status.

    Secret Life of Us on DVD

    Chris Lilly yes!

    At the Movies - great film reviews from Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton - ABC1 10pm Wednesday

    A full series of Underbelly is scheduled to return, set in the 1920's called Razor.

    The Jesters (on Movie Extra, so not free-to-air) is a hilarious sitcom based on what might happen behind the scenes in a show like "The Chaser's War on Everything". Very well written and incredibly funny.

    I'll second the recommendation of Rake as well.

    Look out for the upcoming adaption of 'The Slap', coming soon to abc. Top Aussie cast, although I can't remember the new title for it.

    I'd like to plug Hungry Beast on the ABC, wednesday at 9.

    Adam Hills in Gordon Street Tonight also deserves a mention and I also love Media Watch, both of which you can find on the ABC.

    I really cannot wait for Angry Boys.

    Going to be a very short list if you're looking for decent content that actually originates in this country. The vast majority of the schedules are filled with American or British shows. With the honourable exceptions of Underbelly and (the now defunct) Chasers War - it's a never-ending parade of poor localised versions of US and UK shows (Biggest Loser, Masterchef, Australian Idol etc) and advertorial disguised as current affairs. As always in these matters, you can do yourself a favour by cutting out the middle-men and Interneting your entertainment ...

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