Crime pays – at least that’s what the makers of three new local, commercial network crime series are hoping, observes Pip Bulbeck.

Police dramas are the genre of the moment, with no less than three locally produced crime-related series airing on the commercial networks in the back end of the 2008 ratings year and more in development.

The Seven Network’s City Homicide is enjoying a strong run it in its second season with timeslot winning audiences of 1.6 million a week, and is currently the top-rating drama on air. Earlier last month the Nine Network launched its 13-part CSI: Miami lookalike drama, The Strip, set on the Gold Coast and produced by Knapman Wylde, while Network Ten is looking to Southern Star John Edwards to deliver another audience puller with Rush, set in a Victorian police critical incident response unit.

Meanwhile SBS has commissioned a second series of East West 101, and Nine has given the green light to a prequel of its runaway success of the year, Underbelly.

One of the newest, Network Ten’s Rush, is an edgy, slightly dark, high-energy take on what happens inside a high-pressure Tactical Response Unit that deals with anything from counter-terrorism to suicide attempts. Shot in Melbourne, it has a look and feel similar to the Bourne movies, but has evolved from one of producer John Edwards’ early successes, Police Rescue.

Buoyed by the success of Seven’s City Homicide last year and short of drama after the US writers strike earlier in the year, Ten’s chief programming officer David Mott approached Edwards and Southern Star to revisit a pilot for a show then called Rapid Response, which Edwards had made a few years earlier off the back of Police Rescue. Like Police Rescue and unlike many procedural dramas, where the storylines are based on reactions in response to something that’s already happened, each episode of Rush deals with incidents that unfold in real time.

The Rush TRU team, headed by actors Catherine McClements, Callan Mulvey and Rodger Corser, are trained in counter-terrorism, advanced weaponry, explosives, bush survival, hand-to hand combat, navigation, advanced driving and rope work as well as the psychology of negotiation in hostage situations. They are about a ‘less lethal’ response to any incident likely to escalate out of hand.

Ten and Edwards scored something of a coup in casting Mulvey and Corser. Both signed to the series before they became hot public due to their starring roles in Underbelly.

Technically, the look of Rush is very new and visually very sharp, says Edwards, with director of photography, Bruce Young having worked with Edwards on Dangerous – his first ever TV series. Melbourne as a backdrop also provides a lot of the atmosphere of the series.

Edwards says aside from the support given to the production by Film Victoria, Melbourne is a great city in which to work. “It’s very alive and dynamic.”

He is making Rush in tandem with another, very different, one-hour drama, Tangle, in Melbourne, allowing a flow across productions of crew and personnel.

Commissioned by premium drama channel Showcase, Tangle is a relationship drama that Edwards describes as an evolution of his hit series, Secret Life of Us and Love My Way. It started shooting in early September and is set to air on Showcase from December.

With two one-hour dramas in production and more in development, Southern Star John Edwards appears to be in a purple patch. But the full slate is more a reflection of the state of Australian TV drama, says Edwards. The fact that TV production is going so well should surprise no one, as the networks are at the back end of a three-year cycle to fulfil all their local drama quota requirements. And Edwards says some are certainly playing catch up with their commissions.

What’s encouraging with this cycle, he says, is the confidence that the networks have in the product being delivered to them.

“There’s a general belief at the networks that Australian drama is working and it will continue to work better,” he says. That, combined with the new tax offsets available to producers, is allowing larger production budgets, and longer shooting schedules that drive better production values and better pre-sales from distributors as well.

This article appeared in IF #114 October 2008

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