RESCUE Special Ops: articles

Good guys get a go ... The Rescue: Special Ops cast in action.

Plot line to the rescue

In a break from the glamourised villainy of Underbelly, Channel Nine has decided to give the heroes a go.

PICTURE the scene: a jet-skier is shot as he is skylarking near a marina. He loses control of the vessel and ploughs into a fuel bowser on the nearby jetty, which is next to a small shed into which a woman has just walked.

The resulting explosion causes all manner of chaos. The jet-skier and other bystanders are injured, the fuel tanks are unstable and could explode again and the shed is on fire, with no way of getting the woman out. Then there is the question of who shot the skier.

The incident requires the expertise of all three emergency services - the paramedics, the firefighters and the police - and quite possibly one of their special units. It's a situation that would not be out of place in any number of television dramas that feature uniformed officers. But the plot comes from this week's episode of Rescue Special Ops, a show about elite paramedics that has just started its second season on Nine.

This genre is a popular one: the tight band of fearless and talented - but sometimes personally flawed - men and women. Some of Australian television's longest-running and highest-rating dramas have been cut from this cloth. However, so have plenty of average ones.

In such a crowded field, how do the makers of a show such as Rescue Special Ops lift it above the pack?

"We wanted to make a show about everyday people who are heroes," says one of the show's creators, Julie McGauran. "Because at the time, everything was quite harsh on television. Everything was a show about criminals."

When casting around for a subject, she and co-creator Sarah Smith discovered the ambulance service was training a band of special paramedics to rescue people. They decided this would make a good basis for a show. There would be plenty of action and plenty of life-and-death moments but, because of the nature of their work, also fierce camaraderie and black humour.

"There's nothing earnest about these people," Smith says. "They're obviously earnest about the job they do but when they're talking to each other, it really is jocular humour."

The creators threaded this banter into each episode and gave it a deeper, familial dimension through the inclusion of brothers Dean and Chase (Les Hill and Andrew Lees). They rounded out the team with Lara (Gigi Edgley), a former gymnast; Jordan (Daniel Amalm), a surfer and diver; Heidi (Katherine Hicks), an expert abseiler; and a recruit, Luke Pegler, who joins the unit this week. Then there is the boss, Michelle, and logistics manager, Vince, played by old hands Libby Tanner and Peter Phelps.

Smith and McGauran made sure the show had big rescues and a different look to other rescue dramas but it was to be the personal stories of these characters that would set it apart. This meant showing the relationships at home as well as at work.

"We wanted to have satisfying stories within the hour because someone stuck off a cliff isn't a story," Smith says. "So you're manufacturing a story around a rescue." But similarly, an over-reliance on stories at the expense of showing the rescue wouldn't have worked either, she says, which is why viewers can see "every cent onscreen".

How successful has Rescue Special Ops been? Not hugely, if overall ratings are the measure. In its first series, which screened on Sunday nights in the second half of last year, the show averaged just more than 1 million viewers - generally thought to be what a show needs to survive. At its peak, it was the seventh-highest-rating show on Sunday nights and never broke into the week's top 20.

The second series had its first episode last week and scored just fewer than 1 million viewers in its new slot on Monday nights.

Smith says the first series rated very well in the age groups Nine wanted, the 25-54-year-old bracket.

It has been popular internationally, having been sold to New Zealand, Ireland, Belgium, France, Canada, French-speaking Europe and Africa. It also won the gold medal at this year's International Television and Film Awards.

"For Nine, they saw our show as a success from the word go," she says. "It wasn't like, 'Please go and change and reinvent yourselves for series two'. It was, 'Keep doing what you're doing'. At the end of series one, we did market research that showed that the audience were keen to come back to us."

By Antony Lawes
July 8, 2010
The Age