Killing Time, next year’s 10 part drama on the life of disgraced Melbourne lawyer Andrew Fraser (pictured), will be the biggest undertaking yet by TV1.
Re-telling the life of a high-flying lawyer who came crashing to earth with cocaine addiction, being disbarred and imprisoned, the story will be produced by FremantleMedia. Executive Producer Jason Stephens told TV Tonight he was looking forward to working with the Pay TV channel again, after their successful union for the Graham Kennedy telemovie, The King.
“In terms of trust they give you room to move,” he said. “The end result for The King was that we made it different and surprising. A lot of people said ‘Gee, that didn’t feel like a normal telemovie.’ And I think that’s because we approached it as if it was a film and TV1 endorsed that approach.
“Hopefully we can carry that experience through to this.”
Stephens optioned the book written by Fraser, which reads like a John Grisham novel. Fraser had fallen from dizzying heights defending very big names: Alan Bond, Jason and Lewis Moran, Victor Pierce, Dennis Allen, Jimmy Krakouer, and those accused of the Walsh Street murders.
With its obvious Melbourne gangster themes, Stephens initially had some discussions with commercial networks, before the announcement from TV1.
“It’s no secret we were developing the series with Seven,” he said. “But at no stage did they drop off because they didn’t like the scripts. I think in the end they said it wasn’t a good fit for them.
“They felt it wasn’t right for their audience and where they were heading right now. But you’ve got to respect that. They know their audience better than we do. But it was a delight having TV1 pick it up straight away.”
TV1, which airs almost everything from Family Ties to Law and Order: SVU might not seem to have much need for such a raw story, but along with its requirement to fulfill local drama quotas, the channel has a significant Crime Time suite of shows.
Stephens says the beauty of working in the Pay TV sector is the freedom it allows him as a producer. He says audiences are beginning to sit up and taking notice of Aussie drama on subscription TV.
“It feels like the HBO model where you know you’re going to get something a bit special, and they’re not necessarily having to appeal to the masses to get the bums on the seats. They’re going for quality as opposed to the ratings numbers,” he says.
“It’s about how you quantify success in terms of branding.”
Killing Time may yet have a Free to Air broadcaster if TV1 on-sells it, but there will also be a subsequent DVD, which is an essential part of a project reaching an audience in today’s market.
“The life of the project carries through way past beyond transmission,” says Stephens.
Heading up the writing team is renowned screenwriter Ian David (Blue Murder, 3 Acts of Murder) who is also Story Producer. David will write 4 of the episodes, setting the tone for the story while Mac Gudgeon (Last Ride, Halifax, Stingers) and Katherine Thompson (Satisfaction, Answered by Fire) will helm the other 6.
Despite the obvious crossover with Underbelly, Stephens isn’t worried that the drama will be too similar.
“Our drama is set in a prison, where each episode starts. And then we flashback to the life that got him into prison. Underbelly had a certain style but we will have a different approach, he insists.
“99% of the characters haven’t appeared in Underbelly.”
Fraser, who has been out of prison for 4 years, will also serve as a Story Consultant. Stephens is currently scouting for an actor to play the lead character, in what is bound to be a showcase role.
“We need an actor who is able to play Fraser over a 15 year time span. This is a complicated character, so somebody who has that range. We’re speaking to a few people right now and getting a few good names putting their hand up.
“There’s a moral ambiguity about him, finding himself in prison after years of being the ‘go to’ person for Alan Bond, the Morans, Dennis Allen. He has led an extraordinary life.”
The series goes into pre-production in Melbourne next February and is expected to air in the second half of 2010.