“We want Halifax”: how Nine rebooted a favourite drama
When Nine told producer Roger Simpson it wanted to reboot a Rebecca Gibney drama, it had to have a series arc.
Rebecca Gibney’s Jane Halifax saw the light of day as an Australian drama through the collapse of an earlier drama, Snowy.
Snowy, which was set around the building of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme, ran for one season on Nine in 1993. But it was not renewed for Simpson Le Mesurier Films.
When Snowy was axed, Nine management asked producer Roger Simpson, if they had any other project that would suit star, Rebecca Gibney?
“We said, ‘We will have next week!’ We came up with Halifax f.p. and pitched it to them. And they said ‘Fantastic. We love it!’ and they ordered six telemovies.”
David Leckie was Nine CEO. John Stephens ran Programming and Kris Noble was Head of Drama.
“They were an amazing team. They said, ‘Go and make it’ and they hardly interfered at all. But they’d cut our legs off at the knees if we failed! Classic Leckie!”
Those six telemovies would run to a massive 21, sold to 60 countries around the world with Gibney as a young forensic psychiatrist in stand-alone stories.
Fast-forward to 2019 and Nine again came calling to reprise the character with its leading lady, through Simpson’s production company Lone Hand. This time they wanted a series arc.
“I have to be honest. My first instinct was you want a new show? ‘I’ve got three or four!’ But they said, ‘No, we want Halifax,” Simpson recalls.
“They didn’t want telemovies, they wanted a series”
“They didn’t want telemovies, they wanted a series. So we had to rethink it and started thinking it’s 20 years later, around about the time all the nasty people she helped put away are beginning to be released. That was the beginning of the idea.
“We brought in (writers) Jan Sardi and Mac Gudgeon and we kicked it around quite a bit. So that’s how it all began. The more it developed the more excited I became.”
In the 7 part Halifax: Retribution Jane is an internationally renowned professor in forensics, but when a sniper begins to terrorise the CBD, Inspector Tom Saracen (Anthony LaPaglia) persuades her to join his Task Force.
Simpson agrees that Gibney has now matured into the role she created as a much younger actress.
“Now she’s mature, worldly-wise and the cops automatically have a different attitude”
“(Jane) was young, idealistic, fearless, aware of her youth, especially. She would be treated differently by the cops because she was so young. Now she’s mature, worldly-wise and the cops automatically have a different attitude because they know that she’s got the reputation and the experience.
“Now she comes back into the story into this world of forensic psychiatry, not needing it, but still drawn to it.
“She has always been drawn to the cutting edge of crime profiling and that’s what she’s very good at. When the opportunity presents itself she can’t resist.”
Gibney and LaPaglia are matched by a formidable cast including Claudia Karvan, Mandy McElhinney, Craig Hall, Mavournee Hazel, Rick Donald, Ming-Zhu Hii, Ben O’Toole, Mark Coles Smith, Hannah Monson and Michala Banas. Guest stars include Jacqueline McKenzie, Louisa Mignone, Stephen Curry, John Waters and Luke Ford.
“Rebecca is without peer”
“Rebecca is without peer. She’s wonderful to work with. She’s also an executive producer on the show, with extremely good script sense. But apart from that she’s just a wonderful actor,” he continues.
“I had to fly to LA to get (Anthony LaPaglia) across the line, but I managed to do so. He’s great. The international audience is very attracted to that name, because they know him from Without a Trace and other fine credits as well. They’re attracted to Rebecca too, but the two of them together is very significant. And then we have wonderful guests like Claudia Karvan, and Jackie McKenzie, and new people like Mavournee.”
The sniper storyline on the rooftops of Melbourne was a major test for production, but Simpson hopes it will work as both a commercial Free to Air series and for international streaming audiences.
“On the one hand, we’re making a three-act drama in the traditional way, but on another we’re making a six-act drama with commercial breaks. But you can do both,” he explains.
“It’s a big production and shooting in the heart of the city is challenging”
“The city is under siege. So you can only tell that story if you’re right in the heart. That’s a challenge because you’ve got to lock off streets. You have to shift a very large crew from every location change.”
This also isn’t the first time Jane Halifax was poised to move from telemovie to series format. Simpson, co-writer Roger Le Mesurier and Prime Suspect writer Lynda La Plante previously plotted 22 episodes set in a mental hospital for Nine, but it never eventuated.
Now the stars have aligned for Gibney, Nine and Beyond Lone Hand.
Halifax: Retribution beings 8:45pm Tuesday August 25 on Nine.