A fog machine is quietly pumping “atmos” — the stale smell of cigarettes and a smoky haziness — through an extensive office set. Desks housing typewriters, push-button telephones and overflowing ashtrays are piled with papers and folders. Counters are stacked with newspapers, street directories and phone books. Fax machines whir in a space defined by wood-veneer panelling, dull-brown colours and a scuffed floor.
This is a commercial TV-station newsroom, but not as anyone today might recognise it.
Constructed in a disused chemical factory in Melbourne’s industrial inner west, the expansive workplace is the “hero” set for the six-part ABC drama, The Newsreader.
And in the fictional world of the News at Six team created by writer and producer Michael Lucas, it’s 1986. This is the year that space shuttle Challenger disintegrated, that Lindy Chamberlain was released from prison and the Chernobyl nuclear plant erupted. There was a bomb attack on Melbourne’s Russell St police headquarters and excitement about Halley’s Comet.
In January 2021, filming under strict COVID-19 restrictions, series director Emma Freeman oversees work on episode five in which alerts about an explosion in Russell St hit the newsroom. This coincides with co-news anchor Helen Norville (Anna Torv) giving an office tour to Val (Maude Davey), the mother of reporter and aspiring newsreader Dale Jennings (Sam Reid).