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).
Ahead of her role in the new ABC drama The Newsreader, Anna Torv speaks about growing up on the Gold Coast, social media, regularly basing herself in LA for more than a decade – and coming back home.
By Genevieve Quigley
JULY 11, 2021
In her latest role for the ABC drama The Newsreader, actor Anna Torv
is transported back to 1986 as she portrays a glamorous newsreader with ambitions as big as her shoulder pads. But in real life, Anna’s time travel happened months before filming. Returning from Los Angeles to the Gold Coast in early 2020 as the first waves of COVID-19 were creating worldwide ripples, she was taken back to the mid-’80s.
“I grew up on the Gold Coast: we moved there in ’85 or maybe ’86,” she recalls. “When I got back last year, the country was in a bit of a lockdown, and it was reminiscent of what the Coast was like back then. There were families at the beach and outdoors. People were on bikes with their kids and surfing. It was really quite beautiful.”
Anna, 42, had been calling Los Angeles home, on and off, for more than a decade since scoring a lead role on the popular sci-fi TV series Fringe, which ran from 2008 to 2013. She’d only recently wrapped another job, playing an FBI consultant in the US crime drama Mindhunter, when the call went out for Australians to return home. (more…)
The Newsreader digs behind some of the most iconic stories of our time for an intimate, vital look at an era of great change.
In the maelstrom of a commercial television newsroom in 1986, Dale Jennings (Sam Reid, Anonymous, Belle) is a diligent young reporter, desperate to become a newsreader. Helen Norville (Anna Torv, Fringe, Mindhunter) is a notoriously ‘difficult’ star newsreader determined to build credibility. Paired together over three months, Dale and Helen will cover an extraordinary chain of news events— from the shock of the Challenger explosion, to the hype of Halley’s Comet, to the complexities of the AIDS crisis. From messy beginnings, a deep bond is formed that will upend their lives and transform the very fabric of the nightly news bulletin. This is a story of a grand, unconventional relationship in a world on the cusp of change.
The Newsreader is set in the frantic, busy heart of the of a commercial TV newsroom. Thanks to the dazzling immediacy of satellite images, by 1986, TV had usurped newspapers to become the world’s preferred news source. Leading newsreaders had become national icons. Lions of composure and masculinity, these newsreaders— always stately older men with God-like voices— drew audiences of millions every night. The Newsreader centres on the relationship between two very different characters, both outside the standard, masculine model of a newsreader, both determined to rise to the very top of the commercial news world.
Like Mad Men, the series examines the politics and power structure of one workplace as a way of interrogating an entire era. Like James Brooks’ classic film Broadcast News, the pace will be fast, and the series will embrace both the humorous and the tragic aspects of our characters. Avoiding painting characters as heroes or villains, The Newsreader will build an ensemble that sings with both tension and rapport.
Dale reads every paper cover to cover, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of news archives. But despite all that diligence, Dale doesn’t quite fit the brand. His voice lacks gravitas, he’s slightly stilted on camera… and he seems to be perpetually single. The carefully guarded truth is, Dale is also attracted to men. He’s only acted on this attraction once— with a boy at his school; an affair that was brutally exposed… an affair that Dale has dedicated his life to denying.
He knows that no achievement would reverse that teenage scandal more emphatically than ascending to the position of nightly newsreader.
But for all his hard work, all his dedication, he can’t get an opportunity to step up. He remains in a personal and professional rut. But then, fate throws him together… with newsreader Helen Norville.
She is as glamorous and outgoing as Dale is timid. In a bid to lift ratings, she was recruited in ’84 to sit beside long-time ‘king of news’ Geoff Walters (Robert Taylor, Longmire, Focus), reading some of the ‘lighter’ stories.
Off screen, Helen she has fast developed a ‘reputation’. If Dale is too gentle and passive to cut through, Helen has the opposite problem – she’s just ‘too much’: too emotional, too demanding, too opinionated.
Thrown together in the heat of the newsroom, this unlikely pair will navigate some of the most iconic stories of the time; from the sudden devastation of the Challenger explosion; to the misbegotten hype of Halley’s Comet; to the pageantry of the Fergie and Andrew Royal Wedding. And when their relationship becomes romantic… both of them can feel an unexpected, but palpable career boost. Their romance allays the simmering concern over Dale’s masculinity; and it lends Helen an air of stability, and respectability.
Over time, they become an undeniable duo, a ‘golden couple’ of news. But at what cost…? Over the course of six episodes Dale and Helen will go on a dizzyingly broad and unpredictable arc. Their relationship sits in the cross-hairs of so many of the key changes of the era— the emergence of the gay rights movement, the increased presence of women in the workforce, the rise of materialism, the spread of mass-media. Their personal story will play out alongside some of the most iconic news stories of the era, and The Newsreader will draw on real news archives to evoke the world as it was three decades ago.
ABC and Screen Australia are thrilled to announce production is currently underway in Melbourne on the six-part drama series The Newsreader. Produced by Werner Film Productions (Riot, Dance Academy) and created by Michael Lucas (Five Bedrooms, Offspring), The Newsreader is set in the maelstrom of a commercial television newsroom in 1986.
Starring Anna Torv (Mindhunter, Secret City, Fringe) as Helen Norville, a notoriously difficult star anchor determined to build credibility and Sam Reid (Lambs of God, The Hunting) as Dale Jennings, a diligent young reporter, desperate for a shot at the desk. Together, they’ll cover an extraordinary chain of breaking news including the shock of the Challenger explosion, the misbegotten hype of Halley’s Comet and the global terror of Chernobyl. From messy beginnings, a deep bond is formed that will upend their lives and transform the very fabric of the nightly news bulletin. (more…)