One of Channel Nine’s next telemovies, Panic at Rock Island, will provide a point of difference from Nine’s other drama slate projects that are dominated by cops, crims, navy and emergency personnel.
To be produced by the team behind Scorched, the project is another ‘hypothetical drama’, as Nine’s Head of Drama Jo Horsburgh explains to TV Tonight.
“It’s based on the same kind of premise, that is a Worst Case Scenario. We call them ‘What If?’ scenarios,” she says.
“Scorched proved to be contemporary, current content because of the fires, the desalination plant and the drought. So too is Panic at Rock Island. It actually explores all the different political, community and military departments who deal with crises that happen within the city.”
The plot for the telemovie unfolds on an island in Sydney Harbour. With tens of thousands of music fans in attendance, suddenly an ‘unimaginable disaster strikes.’
“It’s playing out a situation where you need to contain a population, but how do you do it? Who gets to live, who gets to die and who makes those choices?”
To be written by Matt Ford and directed by Tony Tilse it promises all the elements of a modern disaster movie, but Horsburgh insists there will be nothing B-grade about it.
Nine also has three ‘Underbelly movies’ in development, on armed robber Russell ‘Mad Dog’ Cox; the murders of Victorian police officers Silk & Miller; and Victorian policeman Colin McLaren’s infiltration of the Calabrian Mafia. But they won’t be continuing Underbelly characters, nor narrated by Caroline Craig.
“It’s not an extension of an Underbelly series. It’s produced by ScreenTime and the approach is certainly based on real crime. So all the research is the same sort of rigour that goes through the Underbelly series and the same approach of dealing with contemporary stories -stories that Australians relate to, about Australian characters. That’s still the nature of the beast,” she says.
Horsburgh says stylistically there will be some similarities to Underbelly but each telemovie will have its own voice.
“At the moment we are calling them the ‘Underbelly Movie Files’. But they’re different. The nature of the storytelling is inherently different because it’s all totally self contained in 90 minutes.”
While she wouldn’t be drawn on a delivery date, Horsburgh didn’t rule out the possibility of some airing before the end of the year.
Together with Underbelly, Sea Patrol, Rescue Special Ops and COPS L.A.C., Nine’s drama slate is certainly bouyant.
“It’s always been busy and you never do one drama at a time, they are always overlapping,” agrees Horsburgh. “A number of them have a process of financing that is also overlapped. So suddenly on top of the various series and series being renewed we’ve also got other things like the ‘Underbelly: Movie Files’ and telemovies like Panic at Rock Island also happening simultaneously.
“So it is a bit intense one could say, and also getting up a new show like COPS L.A.C. in the midst of all of this. Its quite astounding, but it’s all happening and it’s all looking great.”
COPS L.A.C. will also be Nine-produced under Tim Pye and Lisa Scott, effectively its first ‘In-House’ production since Canal Road.
But Horsburgh is reluctant to dub it ‘In-House,’ a production model that has proven very successful for Seven.
“I think we have a completely different approach than Seven,” she says.
“95% of all our production is always with Independent Producers. I think it’s like anything, that all Dramas that you collect are to do with the drama, to do with the best idea and what’s on offer at the time. And how all those things collide with financing and the slate and the Creatives who are available like Writers, Producers, Directors.
“It’s kind of a misnomer to call it ‘In-House’ because we have no In-House directors or producers. All ‘In-House’ is no different to Sea Patrol, Underbelly or anything else.
“Every drama in the universe, and in Australia, with a Freelance Producer is set up via the freelance community and COPS L.A.C. is no different. It’s exactly the same. There is no infrastructure inside Nine. We don’t have Writers, DOPs, Directors -we don’t have that structure at all.”
COPS L.A.C. focusses on “the fast-paced working life and complicated relationships of a diverse range of uniformed cops and plainclothes detectives”. The cast includes gary Sweet, Denise Roberts, Kate Ritchie, Martin Dingle Wall, Tom O’Sullivan, Ria Vandervis, Kelly Paterniti, Graeme Squires, Roy Billing and Damian de Montemas.
The series is currently shooting in Sydney.