The title for this show is all wrong, but don’t let that out you off what is an otherwise-considered look at the true crime genre.
Million Dollar Cold Case sounds far too much like Eddie McGuire is about to step in as host with a briefcase full of money.
It couldn’t be further from the reality of another look at unsolved crimes in a crowded genre this year.
What is central to the success of this new series is the participation of Victorian Police Cold Case Team, who are not just giving interviews but have actually agreed to be part of the storytelling.
The team sit around a table, outlining the key facts of each case, rather like the detectives from Criminal Minds (or dare I say it, Cold Case itself). As they set-up the clues and suspects of the cases it’s a fine line between drama and factual, but one that works for the show.
Each episode profiles two unsolved Victorian murders that carry a $1 million dollar reward for information that leads to a conviction. Despite pimping the title, Seven is deliberately hands-off to any aspect of this policing, directing everybody to a police website.
Yet Million Dollar Cold Case has Australia’s Most Wanted in its DNA, a series the network ran successfully for years (and TEN later flirted with through Wanted). It’s a win / win, for police using media to elicit new evidence, and for television to profile grim mysteries on our own doorstep. Rebecca Gibney is the unemotive narrator of each story.
The first cast featured is a double murder of Margaret & Seana Tapp, a mother and daughter slain in their Ferntree Gully home in 1984.
We hear from family members, the man who discovered the bodies, detectives who worked on the case. Newsreel footage is interspersed with re-enactments, and a contemporary police perspective. Key suspects are named (that will surely elicit a reaction) and producers have tried to paint a picture of the private lives of the victims, including showing how personal relationships could have nodded to various motives. Hearing how family members are still searching for answers locks on your sympathy, but will hopefully motivate someone to come forward.
“I was absolutely gutted, it really really upset me,” we hear.
Before we get to a last twist in the story, the show hits the pause button and begins a second case, involving Cheltenham father Chris Phillips, murdered in 1989.
It was his wife who discovered a bloodied corpse at their family home, with a footprint as one of the key clues. Again there are twists that would fit neatly into any cold case drama, that involve the viewer.
Thankfully the re-enactments are not overt here, filmed at arms-length, around the edges, without clunky dialogue. In the past such elements have effectively ruined shows in this genre.
The big ask for the show is that they can close at least one cases featured.
“Someone out there has crucial information, someone out there knows something,” say police.
Seven also has disclaimers that this has “Graphic content about murders. Re-enactments and the persons and footage are not from actual events. Viewer discretion is advised. Seven is not suggesting that any of the people mentioned are guilty.”
Million Dollar Cold Case premieres 9pm Wednesday on Seven.