The ‘gateway horror’ ABC kids show that toppled Bluey at the Logies

August 4 2023

It’s almost cliche for an award winner to take to the stage after hearing their name called out and say something like, “I never imagined this in my wildest dreams”.

But for Nicholas Verso, creator of ABC kids’ program Crazy Fun Park, which won this year’s Logie for Most Outstanding Children’s program, he didn’t need to overplay his humility. Like everyone else, Verso assumed that the enormously popular Bluey would be a shoo-in.

“I know everyone comes up and goes, ‘We didn’t think we were going to win’, but seriously, we were up against Bluey,” he said while accepting the award.

Verso’s kept the same tune a few days after the win. “We seriously didn’t expect to win at all; even my friends were texting me on the night to let me know we were there to make up the numbers,” laughs Verso.

“Bluey is such an iconic Australian success story, so massive on the world stage, and what it does is quite magical, so I was happy for it to win.”

At this point, iconic might be an understatement. Over the last few years, the beloved animated kids’ show about a family of Blue Heelers (Bluey, her sister Bingo, and parents Bandit and Chilli) has become one of Australia’s most significant cultural exports.

Millions of fans, billions of streams, an International Emmy Kids Award, a BAFTA and a Critics’ Choice TV award – but no Logie, at least not this year.

“I think this is a blip on the radar for Bluey, and we were sitting with their producers at the Logies, and they were so incredibly gracious and lovely about it.”

Crazy Fun Park’s success is all the more impressive, given the series’ subject matter and tone make it an outlier in the children’s TV landscape. Premiering on ABC in January, the show centres on a run-down amusement park populated by eccentric young souls who all met their untimely ends from 1979 onwards.

Into this world, two friends stumble, Chester (Henry Strand) and Mapplethorpe (Stacy Clausen), one never to leave. A kid’s show about a creepy theme park that deals with death in the first episode? Sign me up.

“I call it gateway horror because it’s designed for kids who are not quite ready to watch something like Saw or read Stephen King, but they’re interested in the genre,” says Verso.

Citing Round The Twist and Ocean Girl as two of his favourite shows growing up, Verso created Crazy Fun Park with one goal in mind.

“ABC has all this great kids’ programming, but a lot of it was playing quite young, and they wanted to hold on to the viewers, particularly the boys, before they lost them to shows like Stranger Things, Riverdale and Euphoria.″

Off the back of a positive response to Crazy Fun Park, not to mention a Logie win, Verso is hopeful of a second series. But in the same week he should be celebrating, a new Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) report shows a steep decline in local children’s content aired on Australian commercial free-to-air networks.

The ACMA report found that the total amount of Australian children’s content broadcasted in 2022 was 95 hours. This is a significant drop from 605 hours in 2019, before the implementation of the revised ACMA’s Children’s Television Standards framework.

The change followed the former federal government’s 2020 decision to remove longstanding obligations that required commercial broadcasters like Seven, Ten and Nine (which owns this masthead) to air a certain amount of local kids’ content each year. The government is now considering tighter regulation of streaming services, including whether they should be made to meet quotas for local content.

Depressing as they may be, the statistics are unsurprising, according to Crazy Fun Park’s producer, industry veteran Joanna Werner.

“There’s been a huge push within the children’s television sector to get attention to the fact that we’ve got to protect kids’ TV, and the hours are dropping,” says Werner.

“So it wasn’t a shock to me, but I think it’s important that people know.”

Werner is one of Australia’s most experienced producers, having produced both kid’s programs and adult drama for ABC (Dance Academy, The Newsreader), Channel Ten (The Elephant Princess, H20: Just Add Water) and Netflix (Surviving Summer).

“The ABC is predominantly the heartland for children’s TV, though I had real success pitching to Netflix, and right now, we’re all waiting to see what happens with the streamers,” says Werner.

But to safeguard the future of children’s programming, both Verso and Werner agree that commercial broadcasters need to get on board.

“Aside from being crucial for the industry, kids’ TV is such a breeding ground for the amazing talent we have produced in Australia,” explains Werner.

“The Elephant Princess that I produced for Ten featured Liam Hemsworth and Margot Robbie in their first roles, and the BBC has just acquired Crazy Fun Park, so I hope that inspires all the networks to take on more kids’ TV and audiences to tune in.”

Crazy Fun Park is available to stream now on ABC iview.