There are just a handful of independent production companies with three or more half-hour series currently on U.S. television. One of them could surprise you: It’s Australian indie Jungle Entertainment, owned by CEO Jason Burrows, director Trent O’Donnell, writer Phil Lloyd and COO Chloe Rickard.
They are behind CBS All Access’ first original comedy series No Activity, Fox’s family comedy The Moodys and FX’s half-hour comedy-drama Mr. Inbetween. Additionally, a series by O’Donnell and Lloyd became Comedy Central’s 2014 Review. All four shows have run multiple seasons; three are American versions of the Jungle team’s Australian series, and one, Mr. Inbetween, is the actual Australian series airing on FX in the U.S.
The Moodys and Mr. Inbetween were recently renewed for another season. A third season of No Activity also in the works; it has already been written. While not formally greenlighted, the latter show was gearing up for production when the pandemic stopped everything, and the hope is to get a new start date soon.
Jungle, whose portfolio to date includes 12 comedy and drama series and documentaries, is currently prepping two more of its Australian formats for American adaptations: drama Bad Mothers and comedy Squinters. They also are looking to begin producing series for the U.S. market in Australia — shows they originate as well as shows from American creators and producers — offering creative input in addition to attractive tax Australian incentives, lower production costs and a safe environment for filming during COVID-19. The company has two projects currently in production in Australia: drama Wakefield for Australia’s ABC network, and feature documentary The Democracy Project (working title), which also will air as a two-part TV special on ABC.
The company’s U.S. expansion started 7-8 years ago when Comedy Central picked up a remake of Lloyd and O’Donnell’s Review with Myles Barlow. On the heels of that buy, the duo decided to take a trip to Hollywood.
“We really just came over to test the waters and we were unsure about how our material would be received and whether this sensibility and the comic tone would translate,” O’Donnell said. In addition to Review, at the time they also had made A Moody Christmas in Australia and brought a tape of that with them. “We got a great response, we were invited into every room that we’d showed the show to. That initial trip was the thing that opened our eyes a little bit to the possibility.”
Added Lloyd: “It was a really fun trip, that first one out to L.A. Review had just been picked up to be remade by Comedy Central, and so it was at that same time we said well, if they like Review, maybe they’d like some other stuff, too, and so that’s when we brought out A Moody Christmas. Yeah, we were definitely surprised that we got such a great response.”
The Jungle team’s success in the U.S. flies in the face of the notion that comedy does not travel well because it’s too specific.
“I actually think it’s more universal than we give it credit for. I think that the stereotype of what one country finds funny and what another country finds funny is somewhat dated, and I don’t think a lot of those things are actually truthful anymore,” O’Donnell said. “So, I think there’s going to be more of it as more great international shows come through.”
What sets Jungle apart is that its principals include creatives in Lloyd and O’Donnell, and in a number of cases, the company’s involvement in remakes continues after the format sale.
O’Donnell, creator of the Australian No Activity, developed the CBS All Access version with the original’s star Patrick Brammall (who reprises his role in the U.S. adaptation) and also has directed all American episodes. He and Lloyd brought A Moody Christmas to the U.S. and wrote the first script for the American version and O’Donnell directs. (He has directed multiple episodes of a number of U.S. comedy series including The Good Place, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and New Girl.)
“Generally, our best-selling tool has been the Australian version of the show that we’ve made, and when we’ve managed to sell the formats, it tends to be that as much as we’re selling the format, we’re also selling the voices behind them,” Lloyd said. “We’re not as much in the business of making a format and sort of just pushing it out off a cliff into other territories as much as being able to be creatively involved.”
Jungle is in active development on U.S. versions of Bad Mothers and Squinters. Drama Bad Mothers, which Jungle co-produced with Filthy Prods. — the company behind Australian drama Filthy Rich, which is being remade by Fox — starred Melissa George. It aired on Channel Nine in Australia and was acquired by Sundance Now in the U.S. The show centers on a group of everyday moms and their schoolyard challenges, complicated by a murder.
Squinters, co-created by O’Donnell and starring Kristen Schaal, revolves around co-workers carpooling to work together. It has a similar production model to No Activity, O’Donnell said.
While Jungle made a name for itself originally as a comedy producer, its current slate is split pretty evenly between comedy and drama. And while all of the company’s series to date have been for Australian outlets before they are sold internationally in different territories, including the U.S., as a finished product or a format, the company also is exploring producing series for a global streaming platform.
“It’s one of our goals. We’re in very heavy development on a couple of dramas that [going to a streamer] is the exact development strategy we’d like to see,” Rickard said.
With Australia able to largely contain the coronavirus outbreak in the country, Jungle is filming Wakefield and The Democracy Project. Season 3 of Mr. Inbetween, co-produced with Blue Tongue Films and Pariah Productions, is expected to go next in front of the camera.
“Mr. Inbetween is shot in Australia and set in Australia, but I think one of the next things you start to see is American shows shot in Australia but set in the U.S.,” Rickard said. “I think it’s an exciting time to be exploring all of those avenues right now. It seems that networks and studios are both so far more open to that way of production, which for us is kind of perfect right now. We do have quite a good price point in comparison to the U.S., both with the exchange rate and also our production, which is generally a bit cheaper here.”
With a large portion of TV production in the U.S. still grounded by the pandemic, “we hope to continue with shows like Mr. Inbetween where we can make them in Australia for the rest of the world, and we’re also really open to exploring making U.S. shows in Australia with U.S. partners if we can be making them more quickly than the market over there.”
Added Burrows: “At the moment we’ve got new film and TV production incentives that add up to 30% of qualifying Australian expenditure. We’ve got a very competitive exchange rate now. We’ve got very, very low COVID-19 cases in New South Wales. We’ve also got very film-friendly regulations, and we have world-class infrastructure, studios and talent. We’ve got more talent home now than we’ve ever had, obviously, because COVID has been so terrible in a number of territories, including the U.S.”
Jungle has put together a booklet outlining its production services for American studios and production companies. “Obviously, being creative producers, and writer, director, creators, we can be involved on a case-by-case basis, but we can also go the production services company as required,” Rickard said. “That’s something that we’re more actively promoting now.”
While many successful overseas production companies are quickly snapped up, the Jungle team has no current plans to pursue an acquisition by a major studio.
“We enjoy our independence in that we can work with different partners who are passionate about different projects of ours,” Burrows said. “It would need to be with a partner who really has the same values as us. We wouldn’t want to be one of these companies that needs to produce a certain number of shows within 24 months no matter what the quality of those shows might be. It’s very important to us, the type of shows that we make, and that they do stand out, that they’re adding something different to the global content landscape, and that we enjoy making them. We’ve certainly seen a lot of indies fall to that where they’re certainly under that pressure to make shows that maybe they’re not passionate about. We certainly will never put ourselves in that position.”