City life finds killer success
14 November 2007
The cast of Australia’s newest police drama were keen to impress and the viewers responded in their millions
Daniel MacPherson has every reason to be feeling chilled out and relaxed. No sooner had he landed at Melbourne airport last week, after the longest holiday of his life, he was picked up and whisked off to the Victorian Racing Club launch.
He then lived it up at the Melbourne Cup carnival working as a host for the VRC and Myer, drinking champagne from 9am each day and eating every canape under the sun.
“The carnival was spectacular, but I’m glad for my health that it’s now in the past,” says the actor, who has had roles on Neighbours, The Bill, Tripping Over and hosted The X-Factor.
MacPherson, 27, had spent a month in Hawaii “sleeping, drinking, reading and surfing” after completing an autumn and winter shoot for City Homicide, the breakout drama of the year in which he plays detective Simon Joyner.
“I not only deserved the break but I needed it,” McPherson says. “It was the most gruelling shoot I’ve ever done. The subject matter is death and grief and you’re in a whole range of deep, dark emotions on a daily basis. From that point of view it was exhausting. But it was extremely satisfying and absolutely rewarding.”
But those rewards were not handed on a platter. In the not too distant old days of TV, actors concentrated on acting and producers worried about the financial and ratings nuts and bolts of a series. Not any more, explains Nadine Garner, who stars as Detective Jennifer Mapplethorpe in City Homicide. She, MacPherson, the crew and fellow cast members were filming on set on August 27, the day the series was to debut.
They had been working on the series since April, cocooned in a fictional world. Everybody was on tenterhooks, to the point where Garner says they couldn’t even look each other in the eye.
“We knew it was make or break, because if it didn’t rate well we knew it would a disaster. That’s where TV is at these days – things used to be able to grow and draw a following over a couple of series. But we were told Seven would know after five episodes if they were going to re-commission the series or not,” she explains.
“It’s a very, very narrow window that you now have to impress people and pull in an audience, and that’s terribly stressful. Everyone felt it on that day.”
However, the day after it debuted, the gritty, high-budget show scored an impressive 1.64 million for its two-hour opener. It has since climbed above 1.7 million and over the season has averaged 1.58 million capital city viewers.
That makes it the No.1 Australian drama of 2007 and the No.1 drama overall, beating many bigger-budgeted US dramas in a year marked by a revival of Australian programming. That Garner, 35, can rattle off the statistics shows just how things have changed.
“We were all told the figures would be texted to us, which makes everyone in the cast a part of the responsibility in making it work,” she says. “That’s good but it was also nerve-racking when the phone went off. So as a cast we’ve been very aware of the numbers going up or down.”
The show, also starring Shane Bourne, Noni Hazlehurst, Damian Richardson and Aaron Pedersen, has performed so well that Seven has ordered at least another 18 episodes for next year.
“As usual we were the last to hear” says Garner. “I actually read it in the paper. But I’m thrilled and relieved.”
Veteran Hazlehurst, who plays unit boss Detective Superintendent Bernice Waverley laments the standard of recent dramas and feels a sense of vindication .
“It’s a great relief and confirms what I’ve always believed – that people want quality product, and if you present it to them they will come,” she says. “There’s a tendency to blame new technology and other forms of media for diminished audiences, but I think audiences are just bored with crap.”
Viewers tuned into Australian shows of all types in droves this year, but while Hazlehurst knew she was working on a quality series, she too was nervous on opening night.
“You’re never sure what the reaction will be. There was a lot riding on this and the network needed it to be a success, as did the cast and crew, the writers, the producers – everybody,” she says. “We had been working on it since April and it didn’t air until August, which is a very long time to be worrying.”
A point of appeal is that the 12-strong cast features young and old and has not just gone down the youthful path.
“This is really sensible work on the part of the producers,” says Hazlehurst.
“I think a lot of our dramas have failed in recent years because they’ve focused on one well-known actor as a central character, and put a lot of inexperienced people around them.
“So if you don’t like that central character, there can be no real reason to watch it. Putting together a group of experienced people of varying ages is a reflection of what life is like – where there’s always a mix of age and experience.
“In that sense people can relate to it,” she adds.
* City Homicide finale, Monday, Seven, 8.30pm