Stingers: articles

Copping a full shot of reality

The world of a TV undercover cop is a shady, murky place, where often the ends justify the means. KYLIE KEOGH reports on just how tricky things can get when reality gets mixed with the drama of Stingers. It's a scenario that hasn't been covered on Nine's undercover cop show Stingers. Yet.

A decorated detective, working as an undercover cop, finds himself before the Police Integrity Commission accused of taking kickbacks from drug deals and being paid to help criminals get a lighter sentence.

If it did happen to Stingers' undercover hero Peter Church (played by Peter Phelps), he'd take it on the chin like every other challenge in his career. But it hasn't happened to Church. Instead, they are allegations levelled at the larger-than-life officer who inspired Stingers Guy Wilding.

The former senior sergeant is currently before the PIC where he and a Drug Enforcement Agency colleague are accused of brokering a $12,000 to $15,000 deal to write a favourable letter for a drug dealer to a sentencing judge.

It is also alleged by the dealer, dubbed P4, that Wilding and a partner were tipped into a LSD haul where they took $10,000, the proceeds of the drugs sale.

Wilding denies the allegations but they are fortuitous public relations timing for the Stingers team, celebrating its 100th episode next week.

Stingers producer John Wild admits he is unsure about "how to use the current situation" but says Wilding is "still a big part of the family" in his role as an ongoing consultant who reads every script, even while working overseas.

But it would be almost irresistible not to let art imitate life.

"If Church – who has always been a law unto himself – had to come up before the PIC, he would win," says Adam Todd, one of the story editors.

Without giving too much away, Church – the bad boy who often bends the rules – does find himself knee-deep in it at the end of the fifth series, where he is faced with some disciplinary problems.

"He finds himself in similar territory, which has nothing to do with Guy Wilding. Guy was actually away for a good deal of this plotting," Wild says.

"Guy gets a bit frustrated because we use his advice and stories but we enhance them so they are palatable for television. It's an ongoing joke that we don't use his reality," he says.

Wilding is only one of the inside sources to make the series as real as possible. Stories are taken from everywhere – newspapers, undercover police officers and the imagination. There is a researcher, with contacts in the police force, who is invaluable to the team. But Wild says they will only go so far.

"We don't take advice from criminals. There was a significant informant in Melbourne who wanted to tell us stuff and who had a lot of associations with known criminals but we thought it was better to stick to the cops," he says.

"We always get a police perspective on things but we use our own judgment on how it will work. Everyone has fond memories and good ideas but when we explore them they don't go anywhere."

Since it began in 1998, Stingers has evolved. Nowadays there's less emphasis on police procedures and more exploration of the characters' private lives.

This shift in emphasis to give the audience what they wanted began in series three and has continued.

It seems to have worked, as ratings are better than ever, there are two Logie nominations (Peter Phelps for Most Popular Actor and the show for Most Outstanding Drama Series) and it's finally in a regular timeslot. As a result, Nine has only this week signed the series for a sixth season.

In the milestone 100th episode, called Trust, a new character dynamic begins, concentrating on the relationship between Angie (Kate Kendall) and her romance with informant Marty Engle.

"The 100th episode sees Mackenzie and her private life wind down and the crystallisation of Angie and Marty's," says story editor Marcia Gardener.

"So it's the beginning of a new character arc. Although I would have to say it was probably more coincidental than planned for the 100th episode." Stingers, Tuesday, Nine, 9.30pm

By Kylie Keogh April 18, 2002
The Daily Telegraph