How Australia’s biggest TV export conquered the world

Bandit, Chilli, Bluey and Bingo in Bluey.  (ABC/BBC Studios)

Bandit, Chilli, Bluey and Bingo in Bluey. (ABC/BBC Studios)

From Teletubbies and Bob the builder to Peppa Pig and Hi Duggee: Once in a blue moon, a preschool show crosses over into the mainstream, becoming instantly recognizable to all ages.

For the pandemic generation, that show is unquestionable Bluey (available on iPlayer and Disney+ in the UK). The first season alone has been streamed 97 million times on BBC iPlayer in the UK. Created, written, directed and produced in-house at Ludo Studio in Brisbane, Australia, it is the biggest Australian TV export since Steve Irwin.

Bluey follows the lives of a family of four suburban Blue Heeler dogs. Bluey is the inexhaustible 6-year-old daughter, Bingo the quieter, more subdued younger sister, while Bandit and Chilli are their devoted, competent but tired parents.

Read more: Bluey S2 is coming on CBeebies

The sisters love to play and their parents willingly encourage them in their wonderful adventures that unfold over short bite-sized episodes. It’s like a preschool Seinfeld: A show about nothing, which is secretly about everything.

Watch a clip from Bluey

Insightful, funny, occasionally deeply moving, along with a growing global audience, the charming show has also won legions of famous fans around the world. Natalie Portman, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all channeled their love of the show into cameos, and Rolling Stone recently listed it as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time.

Created by Joe Brumm, who honed his craft working with Peppa Pig and Charlie and Lola while living in the UK, its first 52-episode series launched on ABC in Australia in 2018.

However, it was the 2020 global shutdown that catalyzed the show’s popularity worldwide.

“Lockdown was a time we had around the writing of the second season,” Bluey’s executive producer Charlie Aspinwall tells Yahoo ahead of the launch of the third season on Disney+.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 2: Joe Brumm (R) poses with the AACTA Award for Best Children's Program in the media room during the 2019 AACTA Awards presented by Foxtel |  Industry Luncheon at The Star on 2 December 2019 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Rocket K/Getty Images for AFI)

Sam Moor (second from right), Charlie Aspinwall and Joe Brumm (R) pose with the AACTA Award for Best Children’s Program at the 2019 AACTA Awards. (Rocket K/Getty Images for AFI)

“We were all home for months, and that included Joe. I’m thinking 30 episodes out of the 52 [in S2] is set at home. They’re like family comedy episodes where it’s just the four of them hanging out at home during lockdown.

“I think it coincided with the audience in the second lockdown all watching these episodes,” he adds. “In Australia it had already taken off, but I think internationally I think that was the moment when it really caught fire.”

Read more: Bluey S3 is coming to Disney+

In 2019, Australian magazine TV Week listed Bluey as one of the 101 Best Australian TV Shows Ever and the accolades haven’t stopped rolling in since. Loved by parents and kids alike, much of the credit for its crossover appeal must go to the positive way it portrays modern parenting.

Dad and Bluey get ready to race while Mom watches and bingo starts the stopwatch.

Dad and Bluey get ready to race while Mom watches and bingo starts the stopwatch. (Ludo Studio)

After years of clueless dummies like Homer Simpson and Daddy Pig, modern dads finally have a worthy role model in Bluey’s dad Bandit. The archaeologist (dogs love to dig up bones, of course) the patriarch is devoted to his wife Chilli and his young family and always finds time for his two girls amid the chaos of his own life, even if he struggles to find the right balance from time to time time.

Both Joe and Charlie were fathers to two young girls when the show was conceived, so the family’s relationship never feels contrived.

“What really resonates with me is the way the parents relate to the children,” says Aspinwall. “They have got their own lives, they are their own people. It’s not just their problems with the kids or entertaining the kids: the parents have their own lives.

After mom is too tired to be an exciting whale, Bluey and Bingo sit on top of dad and continue whale watching on TV.

After mom is too tired to be an exciting whale, Bluey and Bingo sit on top of dad and continue whale watching on TV. (Ludo Studio)

“It means that parents can relate to these characters themselves, and also the kids can relate to the kids, and also recognize that the adults in the series are like their parents, and do things that adults do.

“What we have created is hopefully a very good role model.”

The show is set in suburban Australia, in the middle of the same urban sprawl in Brisbane where the show is made under one roof. This adds to the homegrown warmth generated by the series and somehow, by making the show super-localized in one place, it adds to the universality of its appeal.

“I think it makes it feel really, authentically Australia,” explains Sam Moor, the former BBC chief who now produces Bluey.

“Everything is made here in Brisbane, so the art directors draw inspiration from what they see outside: the houses, the architecture, the flora and fauna. It makes it feel like a really real show.”

Finding a way to talk to Bingo without leaving her room, Bluey writes a letter to Bingo asking for Gloria's bottle.

Finding a way to talk to Bingo without leaving her room, Bluey writes a letter to Bingo asking for Gloria’s bottle. (Ludo Studio)

This authenticity also extends to the universal dilemmas faced by parents around the world, regardless of continent.

“I think we always try to make every episode about something,” Aspinwall says of the upcoming third season, “and every episode has to be about something we haven’t done before.”

Read more: Bluey celebrates the Queen’s platinum jubilee

An upcoming episode explores the heightened drama of modern “pass-the-parcel.” Anyone who has hosted, or attended, a children’s party in recent years will know that “pass-the-parcel” has evolved to be more rewarding for the participants: each team comes with a small gift or token, and they most concerned parents also make sure that each child gets something.

IN Bluey However, the father of the neighbor Lucky is old and plays in his own way with only one gift in the middle.

Bluey and Bingo decide who gets Gloria (the toy).  Bingo suggests that Gloria sleep over in Bluey's bedroom first.

Bluey and Bingo decide who gets Gloria (the toy). Bingo suggests that Gloria sleep over in Bluey’s bedroom first. (Ludo Studio)

“I’m really excited to just see how it’s received by audiences in the UK because it kind of blew up here,” laughs Moor.

“It’s just a really great insight into kids’ parties and what people are doing now.”

“Often we choose a difficult dilemma that parents have around parenting, where you just don’t know what the right answer is,” adds Aspinwall. “And that’s often where a great episode comes from.”

The creatives also quote ‘Rain’ (Bluey builds a dam in the front yard) and ‘fairtyale’ (an 80s set) as episodes to watch out for in S3.

“I think we’re always trying to make it bigger and better,” Aspinwall says. “We always challenge ourselves, so we try not to do the same ideas again. There are some new episodes in series three that are really sensational, and some of them are a bit longer too. There are some pretty surprising episodes.”

Photo Show: Bluey uses a newspaper, her toys and her hands to stem the flow of rainwater, but it's not enough!

Bluey uses a newspaper, the toys and his hands to stem the flow of rainwater. (Ludo Studios)

Can “bigger and better” mean one Bluey is the movie on the horizon?

Both producers laugh at the idea when we bring it up, but a wry smile suggests it has been discussed.

“Well, we always talk about it,” Aspinwall admits.

“You just have to think of an idea, so if the question is asked then … maybe,” adds Moor.

“We’ve just reached the Everest of another 52 episodes, so we’re feeling a bit tired of that,” Aspinwall admits.

“I’m ready for more!” Stick chips in.

“Maybe one day,” Aspinwall concludes. – It would have been exciting, yes.

With movies from Paw Patrol, Peppa Pigand Octonauts all published in recent years, a Bluey the film seems inevitable as the family of blue heels continue their march towards global dominance.

Bluey S3 lands on Disney+ from 10 August. Series two of Bluey had its free-to-air premiere in the UK on CBeebies and BBC iPlayer on Monday 1 August.

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