Kate Atkinson and Colin Friels.

Nine has unveiled dramas Underbelly: Vanishing Act and After the Verdict as part of its 2022 slate, with the network emphasising its “strong investment” in the genre at its upfronts today.

The series join EQ Media Group’s real estate docu-drama Buying Byron, ITV Studios Australia’s prison ob-doc series Australia Behind Bars, Southern Pictures and Orange Entertainment Co’s Missing Persons Investigation, and The Full Box’s Million Dollar Murders as the new titles announced for next year.

The virtual event included the cast announcement of Screentime’s Underbelly: Vanishing Act, which tells the story of Melissa Caddick, the high-roller who allegedly embezzled over $40 million before disappearing.

The series stars Kate Atkinson as Melissa Caddick, alongside Colin Friels, Tai Hara, Maya Stange, Ursula Mills, and Sophie Bloom.

Underbelly: Vanishing Act is produced by Kerrie Mainwaring and Matt Ford, who is also writing alongside Michael Miller, with Geoff Bennett directing.

Subtext Pictures’ After the Verdict follows four very different Australians who have just finished jury duty on a high-profile murder trial. As they return to normal life, they begin to question their verdict and take matters into their own hands, investigating the murder themselves as they juggle the pressures and impacts on their personal lives.

The cast includes Sullivan Stapleton, Magda Szubanski, and Lincoln Younes.

Working behind the scenes are creators, writers, and executive producers, Ellie Beaumont and Drew Proffitt; writer Romina Accurso; directors Peter Salmon, Lisa Matthews, and Fadia Abboud; producer Jo Rooney; and executive producers Greg Sitch and Nine head of drama, Andy Ryan.

After The Verdict is produced with major production investment from Screen Australia.

Lincoln Younes, Magda Szubanski, and Sullivan Stapleton.

The launch of the two series comes at a time of increased scrutiny for Australian drama on commercial television, given the recent relaxation of local content quotas.

Research published last month from QUT’s Digital Media Research Centre (DMRC) and the University of the Sunshine Coast found a 68 per cent decrease in the commissioning of adult drama from the commercial broadcasters over the last two decades, with the researchers concluding local drama production is in a “perilous state”.

Nine program director Hamish Turner told IF that while the way people consumed drama was changing, he believed Nine was in a fortunate position as a business due to its “strong brands” in the linear, BVOD, and SVOD platforms.

“For us, it’s really about having a different blend of content sitting at that 8.30-8.45 timeslot. It’s really important from a brand perspective that you have that diversity of slate, and drama is key to that,” he said.

“As a broader business, drama is a really important part of the mix and there has been a strong investment into drama, which can be seen by what Stan is doing.

“There’s been a period of flux and change, in which we’ve seen a lot of the SVOD platforms go direct to consumer, and there is a consolidation of assets across the board, but I think what you will see is drama emerging as the winner of this in the long term.”

The programs returning to Nine in 2022 include Married at First Sight, The Block, Celebrity Apprentice, Beauty and the Geek, Australian Ninja Warrior, Lego Masters, Emergency, Paramedics, Travel Guides, Taronga: Who’s Who In the Zoo, RBT, Millionaire Hot Seat, and Space Invaders.

Still to come for the network this year are ITV Studios Australia’s Love Island Australia, Eureka’s Parental Guidance, BBC Studios Australia’s The Weakest Link, and Warner Bros. International Television Production’s Snackmasters, which is based on the BAFTA-nominated UK program format.

Turner said that many of the programs in the slate tapped into the seachange/tree change vibe that had been a byproduct of the pandemic.

“The zeitgeist at the moment is probably COVID making people want to go out and live their best lives,” he said.

“I think quite a few of the shows fit within that space, whether it be the aspirational move, or that people have greater liberty and freedom to not necessarily have to live within a 25 kilometre radius of the city and are now kind of branching out.”

“We’ve seen that happen with the explosion of real estate on the coastal strip and people moving to regional areas because unlike any other time in history, you can work from wherever to achieve what you need to achieve.”

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