The Magic Formula of Biopics

Australian audiences love a good biopic. We’ve been glued to the screens over the stories of Kerry Packer, Ita Buttrose, Rupert Murdoch, Nene King, Gina Rinehart, INXS and now Peter Allen. But what is it about these nostalgic telemovies which bring us back for more?

Peter Allen

There has rarely been a biopic in recent years which has not dominated water cooler conversations across the country. We marvelled as Ita defied glass ceilings. We barracked for Kerry as he brought his cricket dream to the silver screen. And just last week we were all captivated by Joel Jackson’s remarkable portrayal of Peter Allen.

But why do these telemovies continue to hit home runs? Surely, these are some of the most difficult shows to create. We have such strong memories of the original legends that the actors’ jobs must be near impossible. We often lived through the stories that are being told so all historical milestones must be closely followed. Yet with all this pressure they continue to enrapture the nation.

It comes down to three N’s : Nostalgia, Narrative and News.

Nostalgia marketing is incredibly popular at the moment because it works. When a resource is scarce, we look for sure bets that will most likely pay dividends. This is most often discussed in relation to monetary spend, but it is just as relevant to time. These telemovies are free-to-air so the only monetary investment they require is paying your electricity bill. But they predominantly require a significant time and emotional investment to get through the four or five hour story.

Because these stories are so well-known and so culture-defining, there is a pretty high chance that audiences will enjoy it – so they tune in. Not to mention that it allows audiences to go ‘back to a simpler time’ which always promotes happiness no matter what age you are!

While the first N got you to tune in, the second N – narrative – keeps you with the show over the multiple instalments.

There aren’t many other entertainment forms that could get such great engagement despite audiences already knowing the ending. We all knew that Peter Allen would become an international superstar and sell out Radio City Music Hall, but it didn’t stop us from tuning in. Why? Because of the half-lifelike, half-Hollywood Cinderella transformation.

Everybody’s dreams are big and there is nothing more inspirational than watching someone undergo their own Cinderella transformation and exceed their wildest imagination. It is a strongly relatable story and something which resonates across the board whether you were a fan of the star or have only just learnt their name. After all, Peter Allen was just a boy from the bush who conquered the entire world.

And that brings us to the final N . . . news.

The celebrity figures that inspire these biopics are chosen for a reason. They were incredibly newsworthy figures. And this interest is only reignited when they are returning to the screen (albeit played by someone else). This genre is incredibly newsworthy as stories dominate our television screens, radios and internet browsers in the lead up to the television milestones. We reminisce about the important impact they have had on the world. We delve behind the camera as the lead actors and actresses intensely embody these famous figures. How they mimicked their speaking pattern. How they researched their characters.

Each one of these moments brings the show straight back into the limelight building anticipation and that difficult ‘must-see’ quality.

Telemovie biopics aren’t going anywhere soon because they have this magical combination which has proven successful across many entertainment forms. Movies. Television Shows. Musicals. Theatre. Any show with these three qualities is all but sure of success.

Up next is the story of Australian entertainment identity Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum. (Did you notice Samuel Johnson’s cameo appearance in the Peter Allen story as the Count Down host? Just another little subtle bit of promotion . . .)