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Michael Jenkins Dies: Australian Writer-Director Behind ‘Heartbreak High’ & ‘Blue Murder’ Was 77

Australian writer-director Michael Jenkins, known for provocative Australian teen drama Heartbreak High, died March 4 following a 2020 diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. He was 77.

His management confirmed his death through his partner Amanda Robson. His friend, Ian Barry, wrote in a tribute that Jenkins passed away with Robson and close family by his side.

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The statement from Jenkins’ management said that his “contributions to the entertainment industry and his legacy as a film-maker and storyteller will be well remembered.”

Known for a gritty and frenetic style of directing, Jenkins was behind some of Australia’s most notable TV series, with his internationally-popular 1990s high school drama Heartbreak High was rebooted for Netflix in 2022. He had initially co-created the series, which helped launch the career of The Mentalist actor Simon Baker, with Ben Gannon for Network Ten in 1994.

He was also behind Blue Murder, the Australian series often held up as one of the country’s best-ever crime dramas. Jenkins directed the two-part miniseries for the ABC in 1995 and then came out of retirement as producer on the 2017 reprisal, Blue Murder: Killer Cop, which was from Endemol Shine Australia.

Jenkins began his career as a reporter before moving into production at Australia’s public broadcaster, the ABC. After a decade as a director, he worked on controversial ABC police corruption drama Scales of Justice in 1983 and then directed Australian musical feature Rebel, which starred Matt Dillon, Debra Byrne and Brown Brown.

He subsequently worked on numerous TV drama series until his career really kicked off with 1993 film The Heartbreak Kid, from which Heartbreak High was spun-off a year later.

Heartbreak High followed a group of Australian teenagers at the multi-cultural Hartley High in the suburbs of Sydney. The show was so popular in the UK that when Network Ten axed it in 1996, BBC2 took on the funding for another 26 episodes before the ABC commissioned further seasons between 1997 and 1999.

In 2000, Netflix struck a deal with Heartbreak High rights holder Fremantle Australia to remake the show for a modern audience and carry all 210 episodes of the original series. The reboot launched in 2022 and won an International Emmy. It was renewed for a second season, which launches on Netflix in April. Jenkins was a script consultant on the reboot.

Jenkins’ output slowed after Heartbreak High though he made headlines in 2007 when he was named director of an Australian film about a gang rape, which drew criticism from then-New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma. Jenkins responded by saying the film would be “an incredibly sympathetic investigation and exploration of these events,” but it was ultimately scrapped.

Tributes have flooded in for Jenkins, with Screen Producers Australia saying his “contributions to the Australian screen industry were extensive,” adding: “Michael’s legacy will live on through audiences enjoying productions he worked on for generations to come.”

Australian actor Adam Zwar, who has created several television comedies, paid tribute to Jenkins a social media message saying: “RIP Michael Jenkins – writer/director of arguably the greatest Oz TV series ever – Blue Murder… He often talked of making a Ned Kelly film, told through the eyes of Joe Byrne. Would’ve loved to have seen that.”

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