Monday, October 20, 2008

Shooting starts for second Underbelly series - The Australian - 17th October 2008

A second series of the acclaimed Underbelly TV drama went into production today dogged by the question of whether it would it be as good as the original. Underbelly - A Tale of Two Cities will focus on the illegal drug trade in the 1970s, a long way from the more recent Melbourne drug wars portrayed in the hit series which aired on Nine this year. Instead of Carl and Roberta Williams the villains will be Aussie “Bob” Trimbole and Terry “Mr Asia” Clark.

Announcing the start of start of production in Sydney and Melbourne, the head of drama for the Nine Network Jo Horsburgh said “the series is proving to be as rich and exciting as the first series”. Nine is desperate to make Underbelly 2 the hit it was the first time around. Other Nine dramas this year, including Canal Road and The Strip have not fared so well. It wasn’t screened in Victoria until recently because it may have influenced the outcome of a trial.

Comparisons between Underbelly 1 and 2 are inevitable. Producers Screentime have been under pressure to come up with a prequel or a sequel ever since Nine attracted big audiences for Underbelly earlier this year. Should it be a prequel looking at the same Melbourne criminals when they were younger or a sequel now they’re all dead or in jail?

Eventually, producers decided to go right back to another rich period in Australia’s criminal history between 1976 and 1986 - but many younger viewers were not alive when anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay was a household name.

Screentime’s executive producer Des Monaghan emphasised the series would be an improvement and not a disappointment: “We are very excited about Underbelly - A Tale of Two Cities - which promises to be even bigger and better than the first series”.

Actors Roy Billing (Trimbole), Andrew McFarlane (anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay) Matthew Newton (Terry Clark) and Peter O’Brien (George Freeman) have already been cast.

(Credit: The Australian)

Greg Tingle comment

I think the second series is likely to be as good, but not quite as popular as the original. There’s only even one first and the massive media and public buzz, fueled by then current criminal proceedings, backed up by frequent reference to Network Nine in the courts and the papers, all point to that equation. David Gyngell at the team at Nine have hit the jackpot with Underbelly, and let’s hope it doesn’t get prostituted to Crocodile Dundee III depths, where it makes money (again) at expense to its legacy and overall high production standards. Great to see Matthew Newton cast this time around (as everyone knows its going to be a winner, as opposed to an unknown quantity last time the cattle call was done), and it would be something to see Newton right there in the mix with Reb, Gyton Grantly (Carl), Westaway (Gatto) and the crew. I wonder if there’s going to do much with the storyline on my old mate Bert Wrout, who teases that he knows where a number of the bodies are buried! Sometimes the real news doesn’t make the news, as in some matters revolving around Wrout, however Australia eagerly awaits the next installments of prime time gangsters and mobsters Aussie style down under. Not sure what its going to do for Australia’s image on the tourism front, but that’s another story. I don’t foresee Baz getting dragged into advertising or PR scenarios for this portray of some of Australia’s society happenings. Maybe we can expect to see a dash of product placement re Packer’s Crown Casino, or maybe they don’t want to get quite that real to the true story of Melbourne’s underworld? If this show doesn’t fire up James’ passion for Australian television, nothing will. It’s all good fodder for the papers and should keep Nine out of the doldrums it was in a few years ago.

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