If you were to take a snapshot of Nine’s schedule there’s a millionaire looking for an apprentice to join his financial advisory company at one end of the week, and now millionaires giving away money to the needy at the other.
Somewhere in between there is a television network laden with debt, cost cutting and a few high-profile stars on million dollar salaries too. There have also been a few shows lately where big wads of cash have been dished out to reality winners of low-rating TV formats. If you look very closely you can even find some Money for Jam. Money, it seems is a big focus at Channel Nine. But hasn’t it always been?
Nine also has a predisposition for making television out of bettering lives of the worthy: Domestic Blitz, Second Chance and anything with Scott Cam in front of a cam. This time it has a UK format in which the wealthy will go undercover amongst real battlers before deciding who is to receive a share of their own money -from a pool of $100,000.
The first question you’re wondering is how they can stay undercover if there is a film crew present, right? Easy. The community groups and families they meet are told they are filming a documentary on volunteering in the community. Seems plausible enough.
In the first episode we meet Albert Bertini, a successful Sydney property developer. Raised in a migrant family speaking little English, he is now husband and father to his own young family living a charmed life in Sydney. No doubt he has worked hard for it. For this social experiment he will spend a week living amongst those less fortunate -in Fitzroy. Bertini must survive on $20 a day and room in a run down $100 a week rental on a noisy street (pictured).
Despite his obvious affluence, Bertini is a rather groovy millionaire: fit, wearing funky clothes and street smart. No stuffy boardroom suit, he will be easy to pass undercover in an inner suburb.
It’s when Bertini meets the characters of Fitzroy that this show really takes off.
He will encounter community groups lending a hand to the homeless: alcoholics, drug-addicted, mentally-ill, disabled and aged. But rather than tug at the heart strings of sad case stories, it focusses on the inspiring volunteers who battle through thick and thin, mostly without any regular funding, to give something back. And they do it full of heart, without complaint.
Bertini will have to double as both subject and storyteller here, spending time mucking in cleaning bathrooms, while drawing out stories from those he works alongside. But it humbles a man who seemingly has it all, and elevates the drama of the piece.
When he eventually reveals his true identity and hands over cheques, the audience will be collectively reaching for the Kleenex box.
That commercial television ventures down a road filled with such real Australians in primetime is something very surprising. Shouldn’t we be hearing these tales on SBS? For a network that this year has tried to fill our screens with pretty people (homeMADE, Australia’s Perfect Couple), this is a stark contrast.
Adding gravitas to the concept is Russell Crowe narrating, with his deep, resonant voice devoid of pouring on the emotion. Crowe is indeed a coup fot this. His presence works a treat.
True, the show does resort to contemporary adult pop for its soundtrack, clinging to its bag of tricks to win a broad audience. It didn’t need to. The storytelling works well enough without it.
The second episode will see another unconventional millionaire spend time with refugees in Newcastle. Nine appears to have cast this with millionaires with young families, who have a bit of the Richard Bransons about them (are there any women?).
The show is so philanthropic its timeslot is a surprise. Why didn’t Nine slate this earlier in the night than 9:30pm, or more specifically its traditional 6:30 Sunday slot?
Nevertheless, this is a well-produced piece of drama that holds a mirror up to corners of our world we rarely see on television. At the same time it is effective storytelling. I truly hope that we don’t hear stories later about how they only picked up a shovel when the cameras are rolling, or how groups are left to pay taxes or something. I guess Today Tonight will be looking for cracks soon enough…
Until Nine gets its own Secret Millionaire to come and sort out its own financial woes (Mr. Bouris, perhaps?) this one will do just fine.
The Secret Millionaire premieres 9:30pm Thursday on Nine.