Blue Heelers: articles

Cops and cobbers

Heelers' success is in no small way down to Maggie Doyle, writes Robert Fidgeon.

In four years, it has become television's giant: a small screen success story about a group of country cops whose warmth has endeared them a nation. Last week, Blue Heelers notched up it 200th episode. When the show launched on January 18, 1994, plenty were predicting it wouldn't last. Too comfortable, too soft, not enough conflict, they said. Today it sits atop the Australian TV drama heap, consistently the most-watched show, drawing an audience of about 2.5 million.

It has made household names of stars John Wood, Lisa McCune, Martin Sacks, Damian Walshe-Howling, Tasma Walton and William McInnes. When the show started, only Wood had a sizable television profile, thanks to Rafferty's Rules. But the level of national exposure Wood gained from playing the shambling magistrate pales into insignificance alongside that gained from his role as Heelers' Tom Croydon.

But undoubtedly, the treasure of Aussie viewers' hearts is the forever-young, blonde constable Maggie Doyle. The popularity of the girl in blue has won McCune six of Heelers' twelve Logies. In the past two years she's captured gold as Australia's most popular TV star. Much of Maggie's popularity stems from the fact that McCune is perceived to be similar to her TV character: wholesome, endearing, trustworthy and, above all, possessing loads of integrity.

"It's been a wonderful opportunity for me," says the 27-year-old actor. "I lucked out and got a great show." While the modest McCune puts her status down to luck, anyone in the industry will tell you she is one of our most talented performers. That reputation has enhanced McCune's recent push into film and musical theatre.

A confessed Stephen Sondheim fan, McCune turned heads with starring roles in stage productions of his A Little Night Music and Into The Woods. "After I did Night Music, so many people said to me : 'Thank God you did something else because all of a sudden we're seeing you in a different light'," she says. "They were seeing me as a performer, whereas before they'd regarded me more as a personality."

McCune has signed again for Heelers, ensuring Maggie will be around Mt Thomas for a while yet. But in renegotiating her contract, McCune's bottom line was not money, but the flexibility to be able to fit in theatre projects and develop her interest in what goes on behind the camera. "I wanted to remain with the show, but when the time comes for Heelers to bow out, I'd really like to do some strong (acting) support work. I've still got a lot of groundwork to cover," she says. "If it was to end, I'd go back and start at the bottom, like I always do. You've got to work your way up through every show. But I'm not ready to jump in a plane and go overseas and try my luck in the US. There's so much on offer here."

McCune says that after playing the same character on Heeler for so long, she was prepared to find the job less stimulating. "But I'm actually more excited now because I've got to know more of the technical side of TV," she says. "Having a boyfriend (Tim Disney) who's a technician in the business has fuelled my interest in production. Next year I'd like to hang around the edit suite and see what goes on behind the camera."

Despite just 41⁄2 years with Heelers, McCune sees her career being at the stage of "gathering and cementing". There is still heaps to learn. "Also, I feel I work well in a group situation like Heelers. I find it gives me a certain confidence and strength to try other things," she says.

Mindful that her relationship with Disney is motoring along quite nicely, could marriage and motherhood be the thing that takes Maggie out of Mt Thomas? "I will, at some time, have a family, I don't want to miss out on any of that," she says. "But not just yet. If I'm lucky enough, when the time comes I'll be with a team of people and have a baby, while working at writing or developing something at the same time."

She emphasises that she owes the greater part of her success to the support, friendship and expertise of her Heelers co-stars. "They are just a stunning group of people to be with," she says. But it is SeaChange star Sigrid Thornton who McCune idolises. "I love and respect Sigrid so much. To see her doing SeaChange… I think she is magnificent," McCune says. "I love the fact we're seeing her back in our own country after many years. I hope I have that type of career."

By Robert Fidgeon
September 16, 1998
The Herald Sun