A century ago, on August 4 1914, Britain declared war on the central powers of Europe sending Australia to war for the first time.
A century later the anniversary will send the television networks of Australia into a battle to provide the best, most comprehensive – and vitally – highest rating commemoration of “the defining event of the twentieth century.”
That is the description provided by Steve Liebmann in The History Channel’s launch video for their ‘H100 – We Remember’ campaign, an 18 month programming initiative which he is set to anchor.
The History Channel – often dubbed “the Hitler channel” by satirists – was always likely to go strong in coverage of the Great War, and so they will, with plans in place for the next four years of WWI programming plus the roll-out of an expansive online experience as part of the H100 campaign.
Hitler still ranks high in their focus as their coverage begins on Monday night with the acclaimed six-part docudrama miniseries The World Wars. This impressive series combines extensive and lavish recreations with interviews with contemporary leaders such as Colin Powell, John McCain, Donald Rumsfeld, John Major, Mario Monti and David Miliband. The World Wars’ point of difference is the recreations focus, investigating the journey of Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Charles de Gaulle, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Hideki Tojo, Douglas MacArthur, George Patton and yes, Adolf Hitler, from their experiences between 1914 and 1918 to their prosecution of World War II.
The History Channel will also feature the Australian produced documentary series The Memorial in November, in the lead-up to Remembrance Day, focusing on The Australian War Memorial in Canberra. They will also run three series hosted by celebrated amateur historian Tony Robinson: Tour of Duty, which was shot in Australia, ANZAC Battlefields and Changed Forever.
The History Channel will be the strongest voice on the theme of the war broadcasting in Australia, though the 24 hour news channels will provide extended coverage of the memorial events as they happen around the world. Sadly the local BBC networks are not reflecting the extensive attention their parent will be providing in the United Kingdom.
By contrast, the commercial free-to-air networks will mark the anniversary through their usual tactic – ratings battles – as none plan much in the way of memorial coverage.
Seven will perhaps argue that their Monday debut of The Amazing Race: Australia vs New Zealand celebrates the ANZAC spirit. Nine could posit that The Block Glasshouse is a metaphor for the inherent tension in empire building. While Ten have gone so far as to slate that rarest of things, a documentary hour on Monday night in prime time, only to cunningly choose a David Attenborough nature series over anything historical or timely.
For the rest of the week its reality shows and movies, with Seven getting closest to a war reference with a James Bond movie, Goldeneye on Friday, and Nine with The Expendables on Wednesday.
The remembrance offerings are no better on the public broadcasters on the day of the centenary. The ABC have oddly chosen to show a documentary relating to the Iraq war late on Monday night, though ABC News24 will be running a three hour commemoration special. SBS have nothing programmed for Monday, but have scheduled the start of their new series 14 Diaries of The Great War for Friday, a four part series that retells the war solely from the viewpoint of the most vivid diaries, letters, postcards and telegrams from the period. SBS also aired Churchill’s First World War last Friday.
The ABC will make up for lost ground on Sunday with the debut of ANZAC Girls, a six part series based on the book The Other Anzacs by Peter Rees, focusing on five military nurses from Cairo to Gallipoli and on to the Western Front.
In doing so they trump the commercial networks who are all biding their time for their battle over Gallipoli dramatisation, set to centre around the centenary of that battle next year.
Nine have commissioned the comprehensive 8 part series Gallipoli from John Edwards which they are already promoting heavily. Foxtel are in production on the four part Deadline Gallipoli series starring Sam Worthington, examining the journalists who covered the conflict, also due next year.
Not to be outdone, Seven have invested in Russell Crowe’s directorial debut The Water Diviner, which is due to hit cinemas next year. Until then, our cinemas are also lacking, with no hint of war themed movies, new or old, this week. Those seeking a cinematic experience will have to turn to their DVD and Blu-ray collections. The options are plentiful and of a high quality, with Gallipoli, All Quiet on the Western Front, Lawrence of Arabia, Paths of Glory, Beneath Hill 60 and The African Queen among the best, just don’t expect any of them on TV this week. If they did that they’d have no time to air Water for Elephants (Wednesday night on Ten).