Last year Seven saw the nation’s interest in Underbelly and began to hitch a ride on Nine’s raft. Today Tonight initiated its own interviews on the Melbourne gangland wars, notably bringing Judy Moran and the late Barbara Williams face to face (it even copped its own injunction in Victoria).
Now it has an entire series set to capitalise on the subject: Gangs of Oz.
Rather than follow Nine’s path with a drama, Seven has opted for its most successful genre, factual television.
Under the eyes of network factual boss Dan Meenan, who created Border Security, this one hour programme looks at Australian crime via subcultures within it. Episode one looks at the history of “Middle Eastern Gangs” in Sydney in the 1990s.
The story unfolds via accounts from a former detective, former gang member, the father of a deceased young man, news footage, police footage and re-enactments.
It is chockful of violence, language and drug use -everything except Vince Colosimo, Kat Stewart, Gyton Grantley and Damian Walshe-Howling.
To emphasise the dark world, the look is grainy, drained of vibrant colours, with hand-held cameras accompanied by an aggressive rock soundtrack.
Most of the hour revolves around re-enactments, confidently staged with unfamiliar actors (it would never work with recognisable faces). Here also, is where the show moves from fact into interpretation of fact.
Re-constructing scenes with scripted dialogue is all good and well when we know we are watching drama. Gangs of Oz however packages the show as factual. While it is more authoritative than re-enactments of Today Tonight and others of its ilk, it’s hard to know where truth stops and dramatic license starts. No doubt different directors could reconstruct the same facts with varying results.
Foxtel’s Crime Investigation Australia also uses similar storytelling devices, but with somewhat less-dependence on re-enactments. Over the life of its existence in some cases it has also uncovered new evidence.
With its provocative title, Gangs of Oz will appeal to those who helped make Border Security a massive hit. Narrated by Colin Friels, the first episode contains some ethnic generalisations, and pinpoints suburbs and streets of Sydney with a supposedly bad reputation.
The subject matter is engagingly told and Seven has certainly timed this right.
With so much reconstructed drama it would do well to market this as a docudrama.
Gangs of Oz premieres 9:30pm Wednesday February 11 on Seven.
Photo: stock image