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Sunday: The Newsreader - (BBC2, 9pm & 9.55pm)

The soap Neighbours will broadcast its final episode this week after 37 years on air, so we should expect to see plenty of highlights reminding us of its heyday, when it became a British obsession.

Or, if you want a different take on Australia in the 1980s, you could tune into this new drama from Down Under, which launches with a double bill.

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The series is set in a commercial television newsroom in 1986, where newsreader Helen Norville (Anna Torv) has gained a reputation for being difficult. She finds she is often overlooked by her chauvinistic colleagues despite her obvious talent, but she’s determined to prove her credentials as a serious journalist.

Helen Norville and Dale JenningsHelen Norville and Dale Jennings
Helen Norville and Dale Jennings

Meanwhile, junior reporter Dale Jennings (Sam Reid) is hoping to one day work his way up to being a star anchor himself. When they are paired up, they find their personal and private lives begin to intertwine as they cover some of the decade’s biggest stories.

The show has been such a hit in its native Australia, it’s led to some speculation about which real-life TV star the fictional Norville is based on. However, actress Torv, whose previous credits include Fringe and Mindhunter, believes that if her character sounds like any of the decade’s real newsreaders, there’s a simple explanation.

She told The Guardian: “I did a couple of sessions with a beautiful person they’d brought in to teach the newsreading, but what I learned is that the phrasing, and all that kind of stuff, comes purely through the autocue. The way you speak as a newsreader is because you can’t see the next word.”

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She adds: “Back in the day, like in the 80s, these guys would just go and get wasted at lunch. Absolutely rolling drunk. Then get their makeup put on, come back in and then just go: ‘Good … evening … I’m … Helen Norville. Welcome to News … at Six.’”

Hopefully, her character won’t be getting too tipsy in this opening double bill, as she’s got some big headlines to deal with as well as a new colleague.

In the first episode, Helen and Dale form a fragile new alliance as they prepare to cover their first story together – the launch of the space shuttle Challenger. In theory, it’s a straightforward assignment, but then events take a dramatic turn.

In the second edition, the big story on air is the approach of Halley’s Comet, but behind the scenes, the talk is of veteran newsreader Geoff, who is under pressure to step away from the desk.

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That means there’s a vacancy at the top – and Dale manages to get a big break that could give his career a boost at just the right time. However, as Helen is plagued by severe mood swings that leave her a wreck, he also feels compelled to help his support his new ally.

He finds that the closer he gets to Helen, the further he is thrust into the spotlight, and while he may want to be on TV, he doesn’t necessarily want to compromise his privacy.

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