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
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.