Staying home on New Year’s Eve? Here’s how to watch the Sydney fireworks – and what else is on TV

The annual ABC countdown will look a little different this year. Here’s your Australian viewing guide – featuring sparkles, sports, family films and more

The Great Gatsby on Network Ten is one a few films you might want to tune into; New Years Eve on Channel Seven is one you’ll want to avoid.
The Great Gatsby on Network 10 is one of a few films you might want to tune into; New Years Eve on Channel Seven is one you’ll want to avoid. Photograph: Supplied by LMK
The Great Gatsby on Network 10 is one of a few films you might want to tune into; New Years Eve on Channel Seven is one you’ll want to avoid. Photograph: Supplied by LMK
Luke Buckmaster

Last modified on Wed 30 Dec 2020 22.26 EST

People have long argued the best seats from which to watch the New Year’s Eve fireworks are the ones in front of your TV – and this year, that adage is particularly on message. Due to pandemic-related health measures, traditional fireworks displays around the country are being cancelled or pared back – and in Sydney, home to Australia’s most picturesque NYE bashes, people will be prevented from entering the city without a permit.

Where TV broadcasts usually flick between footage of fireworks around the country (and the world), this year we’ll be seeing a lot of empty spaces – and a lot of live crosses to empty spaces too. The broadcasts are still happening, though, and there’s plenty to keep you entertained before then as well.

Here’s a guide to what’s on TV tonight for everyone who’s staying in: from fireworks fans and families to sports lovers and beyond.

Fireworks and NYE concerts

The biggest and best program to capture what may well turn out to be the smallest and worst NYE celebration in recent memory is set to take place on the ABC. Kicking off at 8.30pm, a family-friendly variety show will be hosted by Rove McManus, Kiki Masella and Chenelle Carr, featuring highlights from fireworks displays gone by. Hosted by Zan Rowe and Charlie Pickering, New Year’s Eve 2020: We Are One starts at 9:10pm, and will include performances from Paul Kelly, Amy Shark, the DMA’s, Odette, Ben Lee and more, performing at the Sydney Opera House and Melbourne’s Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Countdown To Midnight starts 11:45pm, with Jeremy Fernandez and Linda Marigliano in Sydney welcoming in the New Year in front of … no crowd.

On Network 10, John Foreman’s Aussie Pops Orchestra New Year’s Eve Gala begins at 7:30pm. It’s a family friendly affair with performances from artists such as Marcia Hines and Marina Prior. At around this time I will be drinking my first cocktail of the evening, a safe distance away from both children and opera singers.

For a musical extravaganza that has nothing to do with New Year’s Eve, SBS is screening Martin Scorsese’s great concert documentary The Last Waltz at 11pm.

2020 recaps

At 7:30pm, ahead of We Are One, ABC will screen a repeat of The Yearly with Charlie Pickering, in which the host recaps, in his words, “the year that jumped out from behind a bush and yelled ‘Surprise!’”

This has a more Australian focus than the equivalent program on Netflix, the mockumentary Death to 2020 from the folks behind Black Mirror, though they cover many of the same subjects – including the Black Summer bushfires, Black Lives Matter protests, the defeat of Donald Trump and the pandemic.

While Death to 2020 is on another level – with higher production values and big-name actors including Samuel L Jackson, Lisa Kudrow and Hugh Grant – the creators of both shows understand they are walking a tightrope: making us giggle without undermining the serious horror which befell a year now widely associated with the words “dumpster fire”.

Sports

If fireworks and loud music are your thing on New Year’s Eve, that’s exactly what the Big Bash League aims to provide. The Adelaide Strikers take on the Perth Scorchers in cricket’s shortest and most explosive format (7:15pm; Channel Seven, Kayo and Fox Sports), but Thursday night’s must-watch sporting event has to be the A-League F3 derby clash between Central Coast Mariners and Newcastle Jets (7:05pm, Fox Sports), given the Mariners’ previous form for hugely entertaining NYE fixtures in Gosford.

It’s the two-year anniversary of their now infamous match against Perth Glory at Central Coast Stadium, a picturesque ground with giant inflatable sauce bottles at one end and, on this occasion, limited fans because a large section had been fenced off to protect a native seabird that nested there. The game was suspended for 40 minutes after one of the goal posts snapped in half. Eventually a replacement was wheeled on to the pitch, before officials realised that, due to Fifa rules, a second, exact replica was needed for the other end too.

During the interminable wait for the match to restart, TV cameras panned across the stands, unexpectedly focusing on a local youth holding a (replica) rifle, complete with a scope and sniper stand. The half-time analysis of the actual game was succinct – “fucking dogshit”, said expert pundit Daniel McBreen, who didn’t realise his mic was on – before a glorious finale saw fireworks burst into the night sky prematurely, with the match still being played out on the pitch. Perth won 4-1, but that was far from the story of the night. Perhaps there’ll be more entertainment in store this evening? – Mike Hytner

New Year’s Eve movies

Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in perennial NYE favourite When Harry Met Sally, which is streaming on Stan.
Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in perennial NYE favourite When Harry Met Sally, which is streaming on Stan. Photograph: Allstar/COLUMBIA PICTURES

If you feel like watching a themed film instead of the fireworks, at 11pm Channel Seven are screening the horrible 2011 movie New Year’s Eve, most of which I have erased from my memory. More entertaining than that is reading Peter Bradshaw’s review, which drops turns of phrase such as “dead-eyed performances” and “a towering inferno of awfulness”.

Network 10 is broadcasting Baz Luhrmann’s glittery, fireworky extravaganza The Great Gatsby from 10pm, which should take you right up to the fireworks at midnight – or you can turn to the streaming platforms. My favourite NYE movies include the brilliant and bone-chilling 1968 classic Rosemary’s Baby (available to rent on Google Play and AppleTV), which includes a New Year’s Eve party scene and a devil worshiper cheerfully proclaiming “the year one” in a very “Lucifer has returned” sort of way.

If watching the birth of Satan’s spawn isn’t your idea of a good night in, maybe When Harry Met Sally is more your jam. A New Year’s Eve party is the setting for a memorable scene in Nora Ephron’s beloved 1989 romantic comedy, available on Stan.

Family viewing

For those in the market for a recent family-friendly film, there’s Pixar’s charmingly metaphysical adventure movie Soul, about a jazz singer determined to come back to the land of the living after unexpectedly dying (it’s more cheerful than it sounds!) – now on Disney+. Two more recent family movies worth catching up on: A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (available on Binge) and The Call of the Wild (available on Disney+).

If you’re looking for kid-friendly classics, why not ensure the entire family is across the films of Studio Ghibli, the best animation production company in the world. Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro, Pom Poko and Princess Mononoke are all available to watch on Netflix right now.