Fran Kelly’s ABC chat show, Frankly, axed after just one season

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ABC chat show Frankly has been cancelled after just one season on-air, according to the public broadcaster.

The show – which aired on Friday nights and was hosted by former Radio National mainstay Fran Kelly – featured conversations with some of Australia’s most famous personalities and promised viewers there would be “no better way to spend your Friday nights”.

Fran Kelly hosted Radio National breakfast for 17 years before chancing her arm as a chat-show host.Credit: James Brickwood

But now viewers will have to settle for an alternative because, as an ABC spokeswoman told this masthead on Tuesday, “Frankly will not be returning this year”.

Throughout its eight episodes, an array of experts and celebrities joined Kelly, 64, for “frank” discussion, including comedians Shaun Micallef and Tim Minchin, Heartbreak High star Chloe Hayden, singing sisters Vika and Linda Bull, and actor Richard Roxburgh. It relied on that star power to propel each episode along, but some critics suggested its main failing was that 30 minutes was simply not long enough to accommodate insightful conversation with three guests.

The series debuted on October 7 last year to a metro audience of 305,000 viewers and a national 7-day audience of 517,000, enough to land it 10th spot on the day, and third amongst the ABC’s offerings – behind the news and Gardening Australia.

The following week, it plummeted to just 220,000 metro and 384,000 national (7-day metro, regional and BVOD audiences combined). From there, though, the show recovered, never again dipping below 400,00 and in its final two episodes topping half a million viewers.

The guests on the first episode of Fran Kelly’s new talk show, Frankly, were astrophysicist Kirsten Banks, Thai cave rescuer Dr Richard Harris and comedian Shaun Micallef. Credit: ABC

When the show finished its commissioned eight-episode run at the end of November, Kelly was optimistic about the chance of a return.

“I’m hoping we’ll be back next year,” she told TV Tonight. “I think it’ll just get better and better. We can see the audience numbers slowly building. They’ve gone up basically every week since week two, and the social media is going gangbusters.”

Kelly claimed she was getting “nothing but positive feedback”, but admitted there were no guarantees. “I’m learning these things are commissioned in seasons,” she said.

When asked about the fate of the show, a spokesperson for the ABC confirmed that it would not return, but declined to give a reason why. Kelly has not responded to requests for comment.

One possible explanation for the broadcaster declining to commission a second season might lie not so much in the overall viewing figures, which are reasonable enough for the timeslot, but rather in the demographics.

On that opening night, just 82,000 viewers nationally were aged 25-54, the demographic that the commercial broadcasters, and their advertising clients, most desperately seek to target.

While the ABC is not in the business of selling advertising, it is grappling with the need for audience renewal. And the very existence of Frankly, with its veteran host, sparked a debate about the broadcaster’s willingness (or otherwise) to give younger talent an opportunity to shine, and potentially connect, with a younger audience.

While that debate saw some commentators – including at this masthead – accused of ageism (including by ABC chair Ita Buttrose), the fact remains that Frankly did not connect with younger audiences. Over the course of its run, it finished inside the top 15 overall on all but one occasion. But with the 25-54 audience, it frequently failed to land inside the top 30.

The decision to quietly drop the show comes nearly two months after Chris Oliver-Taylor was announced as the ABC’s chief content officer – a newly created role that gives him oversight over television content (besides news), as well as radio and online.

Frankly was produced internally by the public broadcaster, similar to shows like Art Works and Compass. The person who commissioned it, ABC director entertainment and specialist (content), Michael Carrington, departed the broadcaster last July.

This masthead revealed in October the broadcaster was considering reducing the amount of money it spends on traditional television and radio broadcasts in an effort to engage younger audiences.

And in November, it announced plans to complete a significant reshuffle, which would see regional and local radio teams moving to the news and investigations unit, while a separate division would remain for commissioning programs from other genres, such as comedy and children’s content.

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