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The Newsreader returns: It’s tricky being the silver (sometimes bronze) couple of news

“Good evening, I’m Helen Norville.”

“And I’m Dale Jennings. And you’re watching News at Six.”

It’s 1987 and the power couple at the centre of the ABC drama The Newsreader are riding high.

Sam Reid and Anna Torv as Helen Norville and Dale Jennings in The Newsreader.

Sam Reid and Anna Torv as Helen Norville and Dale Jennings in The Newsreader. Credit: Suppliied

Helen, played by Anna Torv, and Dale, played by Sam Reid, are now the established co-anchors, even though the network’s CEO refers to them as “the silver couple of news”. But as their Melbourne newsroom boss Lindsay (a marvellous William McInnes) reminds them, “sometimes you’re the bronze couple and sometimes you’re dangerously close to polished turd territory.”

But here is where it gets tricky. Even though Helen and Dale’s partnership has continued beyond the news desk, it’s complicated. (And here, dear reader, is where I remind you that spoilers follow, and if you haven’t watched the first season, go and do it now. Everyone else, carry on).

Their relationship is complex, to say the least. He’s attracted to men just as much as he’s attracted to Helen. “I have these feelings, they won’t go away,” said Dale in the final episode of season one. “But neither will my feelings for you.”

It was a heartbreaking revelation that capped off an extraordinary season for The Newsreader, which managed to effortlessly rocket through the big news events of 1986 – Challenger disaster, Halley’s Comet, the Lindy Chamberlain case and the Chernobyl disaster among others – while juggling two ambitious and difficult characters without ever feeling weighed down. It was funny and serious, with a supporting cast whose stories never felt superfluous.

It then scooped the 2021 AACTA Awards: best television drama series, best actress for Torv, best supporting actor for McInnes and best director for Emma Freeman, while Reid was nominated for best actor. The show’s creator Michael Lucas also won an Australian Writers’ Guild Award and the Logies even chimed in with a most outstanding drama award.

The News at Six crew (from left) William McInnes, Chum Ehelepola, John Leary, Anna Torv and Sam Reid.

The News at Six crew (from left) William McInnes, Chum Ehelepola, John Leary, Anna Torv and Sam Reid.

“It was so lovely to be in something that people watched,” says Reid over Zoom from his family’s farm between Canberra and Cooma. “We felt like a slightly different show and we weren’t sure how Australian audiences were going to react to it. So [the reaction] was lovely.”

Why was he not sure how Australian audiences would react?

“We’re dealing with characters who are a bit more on the fringe, on the outside,” says Reid. “It’s about people looking for acceptance, and having to mould themselves to fit into a sort of normalised culture, I suppose. And Helen and Dale, they’re kind of oddballs, but they find a sense of self and acceptance with each other.”

Along with Torv, Reid has been given clearance to promote The Newsreader during the ongoing strikes in the US, and they both stand in solidarity with SAG-AFTRA and WGA. Reid has been helping his dad with calving on the farm and cuts a much more relaxed figure than Dale, who permanently looks uncomfortable in his own skin.

“I just like to lean into the most awkward parts of myself,” says Reid. “It’s actually very cathartic because you know all those really uncomfortable, shame spirals that you go through at home after you go to a party and you speak to someone and say something stupid, and then you think about it? That’s the kind of stuff that I think about with Dale, he’s just stuck in that space and that is a very restrictive space.”

Even Dale’s clothes are designed to make him feel uncomfortable, says Reid, with jackets that are slightly too big or pants just a bit too short. Dale is rarely sighted out of work clothes – the closest he gets is pyjamas, and even they have a collar. “He is a shirt man,” confirms Reid, laughing. “He feels comfortable with a collar at all times.”

Sam Reid and Anna Torv as Dale and Helen. Their relationship is more about an acceptance of one another, says Torv.

Sam Reid and Anna Torv as Dale and Helen. Their relationship is more about an acceptance of one another, says Torv.

Season two of the six-part series picks up a year later, in July 1987, on the eve of the Hawke vs Howard federal election. The bicentenary is looming, Charles and Diana are on their way, while the Hoddle Street massacre and the stockmarket crash are coming.

The CEO “Little Charlie” (a gloriously slippery performance from a mustachioed Daniel Gillies) wants the news to be more entertaining and has enlisted an Irish comedian, Gerry, to join Helen and Dale on the desk on election night. That doesn’t sit well with Helen or Dale, who is instructed to make sure Helen keeps a lid on her “hissy fits”.

When I catch Torv on the phone, she has been filming in remote South Australia and is on her way to horse and cattle training at an outback station. “I’m just trying to find a park,” she says. “Sorry if I’m a bit distracted.”

Torv is magnetic as the brittle and forthright Helen, whose brashness conceals a soft heart and fragile mental state. When Dale confesses he has feelings for men, Helen’s immediate reaction is to tell him she loves him “just the way you are”.

“There’s a non-judgmental space between them,” says Torv. “And I think that it’s pretty rare to find somebody you have that connection or that feeling with. And that’s what she feels in him, that there’s an allowance to be herself.”

Does she think Helen is in denial about where her relationship with Dale can go?

“I think that’s a tricky question,” says Torv. “Because it’s not what she’s in denial of, it’s what you are willing to accept. And to accept things in another person, as opposed to accepting things in yourself, is a completely different thing.”

The Newsreader creator Michael Lucas as a DJ during his season one cameo.

The Newsreader creator Michael Lucas as a DJ during his season one cameo.

For his part, Reid sees their pairing as one grounded in a love for the job, just as much as their love for each other.

“That’s the most romantic thing between Helen and Dale,” he says. “There was this scene in season one in Darwin and he tries to have a date and he’s trying to have this romantic moment and Helen’s wrapped up in work. And [Dale] says, ‘You want to just do your work, don’t you?’ and [Helen’s] like, ‘Yeah.’ And he’s like, ‘OK.’

“They get each other. It’s like, ‘I know that work is too important for you and I’m not going to take that away from you.’ It’s a very romantic thing.”

For The Newsreader’s creator Michael Lucas, who is an expert at relationship dramas, having been a producer and writer on the rom-com Offspring and the comedy-drama Five Bedrooms, it has been interesting watching how viewers react to Dale and Helen’s relationship.

“At the end of season one, when Dale did that whole big speech, I think a lot of people heard the first bit [of the speech] and in some ways saw it as a coming out,” says Lucas. “And that maybe, season two was going to be Dale just living a queer life. But the reality is that he said he had both instincts in him and then, how OK can Helen be with that.”

Lucas sees Helen and Dale’s relationship as being much more complex than a “lavender marriage”, the old-fashioned Hollywood term for a marriage of convenience that masked the sexuality of one or both partners. Rock Hudson is one of the most famous. He quickly married his agent’s secretary out of fear he was going to be outed by the tabloids.

“They really do love each other,” says Lucas. “They are genuine soulmates in a way, but they’ve got all these complexities about them.

“And we never wanted it to fall into, ‘Oh, it’s just a marriage of convenience’ or anything like that, It’s a lot more complicated. And in television, I’ve written a lot of relationshippy things and you’re always looking to create these couples where they can’t quite be together. But what I love about Helen and Dale is the things that make them great, and their inherent flaws, are just right there in their characters.

“We understand why they love each other, but we also understand why they’re never going to be able to quite be that perfect, golden couple of news. So what do they do? How do they negotiate it? Who’s the loser? Who’s the winner? And ultimately, you know, will it destroy them to try and commit to that?”


Where Helen and Dale go – she’s just exhausted trying to maintain her hard-won position at the top of the pile, while he has to think what he’ll sacrifice to stay there – is, of course, in Lucas’ hands. He already has a third season planned, but that’s as much for the news events, as it is for the continuation of Helen and Dale’s story.

“I’m just super aware that 1989 is such a good year,” he says. “There’s Tiananmen Square, the fall of the Berlin Wall, there’s all these real blockbuster things.”

I’d love to see Dale reporting from Berlin, maybe finding his way to the underground clubs.

“You may not be alone,” says Lucas, laughing. “We’ll see, we’ll see.”

The Newsreader returns on Sunday, September 10, at 8.30pm on the ABC.

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