Dr Ann O'Neill in a scene from the new season of the TV series You Can't Ask That.
Dr Ann O'Neill in a scene from the new season of the TV series You Can't Ask That.

The Aussie doco series winning fans around the world

THE ABC has produced some of Australia's highest quality dramas and nature documentaries over the years, but its most-sold format may surprise you.

The quietly achieving You Can't Ask That holds the title of the national broadcaster's most successful export.

"There have been a heap of overseas versions in Italy, Spain, Israel - where it just won their version of the Logies - French Canadian, German, French and a Dutch series is going to air right now," co-director and producer Kirk Docker tells The Guide.

"It's quite funny seeing the topics they choose. They all slightly tweak it."

The Logie-nominated series asks groups of misunderstood, judged or marginalised Australians the awkward, inappropriate or uncomfortable questions you've always wanted to know the answers to, but have been too afraid to ask.

"Aaron (Smith, my co-director) and I worked on Hungry Beast together and I did a segment on there where we vox popped people and asked universal questions. We knew there was something about having real, direct conversations with people about their lives and combining them together to tell a larger story," Docker tells The Guide.

You Cant' Ask That directors and producers Kirk Docker and Aaron Smith.
You Cant' Ask That directors and producers Kirk Docker and Aaron Smith. ABC-TV

"We were trying to take that further and we were really taken by ask me anything (AMA) threads on Reddit. We knew there was something in this honest answering of the questions from the public. We'd been honing that for four or five years before we started making You Can't Ask That.

"Initially people thought each episode was a guide to each group, but that's not what we're trying to do. We find eight people who have that label and ask them about what it's like to live in their shoes. It's about lived experiences; the answers aren't right or wrong. They can have the same label but look how differently they think. Sometimes they contradict each other.

"Our upcoming episode on intersex people is a good example. It's such a big word that encompasses 40 different variations. How do you do it justice?"

You Can't Ask That co-director and producer Kirk Docker. This is what interview subjects see when they sit down for the documentary series.
You Can't Ask That co-director and producer Kirk Docker. This is what interview subjects see when they sit down for the documentary series. ABC-TV

Now in its fourth season, the documentary series is tackling some of its most challenging subjects yet including alcoholics and survivors of domestic and family violence.

"That was a particularly hard episode to put together because of the nature of reporting on domestic violence and defamation," he says.

"We had more than a dozen people we could have easily put on the show but because of legal reasons we had to pass on some of them.

"In the lead-up we were frustrated because it's hard to tell the truth of this story, but I think it's one of our strongest pieces to date.

"Each season needs light topics, darker topics and surprising topics."

Jacey Salmon and Dan McConnell in a scene from the carnies and show people episode of You Can't Ask That.
Jacey Salmon and Dan McConnell in a scene from the carnies and show people episode of You Can't Ask That. ABC-TV

An episode on carnies and show people was inspired by the gypsy communities featured in the Italian version.

"We hadn't done a lot of stuff with rural people, so we wanted to get a few more of those voices," Docker says. "They're always travelling, so none of them knew the show because they don't really watch TV.

"We had to fly into places where they were setting up a show. They're always working and on the road, so they were almost the hardest group to film."

Season four of You Can't Ask That premieres on Wednesday at 9pm on ABC-TV.


New childcare places to curb shortage in CQ mining town

Premium Content New childcare places to curb shortage in CQ mining town

A generous benefactor has boosted kindergarten and childcare options

Fiery Premier sinks elbow into opponent

Premium Content Fiery Premier sinks elbow into opponent

Qld election debate: Premier pins hopes on coronavirus record