The Strip: articles


Beautiful one day, deadly the next. The cast of The Strip.

All that glitters

Nine's new drama The Strip explores the underbelly of the Gold Coast.

DESPITE the iconic image of the rogue cop, television producer Steve Knapman believes the crime genre's anti-heroes have a short shelf life. The most successful cops, in television terms, walk and talk from a place of moral certainty.

"With the most successful long-running shows, like the Law & Order series, the cops are not on some cathartic journey, they're just straight cops and they maintain that," Knapman says.

"You can do police corruption stories, but it is an inescapable truth that when you have a problem and the police turn up, you're very glad to see them."

Knapman's body of work includes Borderdown and The Leaving of Liverpool. Since beginning his professional partnership with writer Kris Wyld, however, they have mastered the art of telling crime stories, with Wildside, White Collar Blue and East West 101.

"What we have learned, after many years of working with detectives, is that they don't make judgements, they don't take the moral high ground and they do understand why people do bad stuff," he says.

Like Nine's Underbelly, Knapman Wyld's most recent offering, East West 101, was a critically acclaimed crime series praised for its writing, direction, cinematography and music.

Though they resided in very different economies - one was for the public broadcaster SBS, the other for the commercial network Nine - they were not creatively dissimilar and successfully exploded the idea that a commercial crime drama had to be a certain kind of drama.

Knapman acknowledges the bar has been raised, in commercial terms, but says it is the mission of any television drama producer to try to raise the bar. "You're trying to do better and you're trying to make a show which is internationally competitive, that you're not ashamed of, that's as good as the best American show," he says.

"In terms of East West 101, we didn't anticipate the immense feeling towards the show, the response on the website, the response from all over Australia. I suppose the lesson, if there is a lesson in it, is that if you can't predict that, then remember the brief for (the UK's) Channel Four: do anything except what everyone else is doing. To do that you have to have no fear, and if you have fear of failure or fear of not getting the ratings, you are self-censoring."

The Strip is set on the Gold Coast, and stars Aaron Jeffrey and Vanessa Gray as detectives Jack Cross and Frankie Tully. It also stars Simone McAullay, Bob Morley and Frankie J. Holden. The initial brief came from Nine's drama executives Jo Horsburgh and Jo Rooney who asked Knapman Wyld to deliver a crime series set on the Gold Coast.

"After a fair bit of to-ing and fro-ing with Kris, we came up with a premise which was very simple: all that glitters is not gold. The notion that the Gold Coast is the playground for Australians, a temple of materialism. But what's the value, what are you looking for, what do you want out of life? Crime is driven a lot by what people don't have, so we could see a way in. People come up here with a dream, and what if they don't fulfil it?"

The authenticity of a Knapman Wyld drama comes from setting a pool of authentic detectives at the heart of the show. It is a device the producers and writers have used since the company produced its groundbreaking Wildside. The model, Knapman says, was the partnership of US writer David Milch and former NYPD detective Bill Clark, which gave birth to the critically acclaimed US series NYPD Blue. "Boy, what a resource. I learned a lot from that approach," says Knapman. "The mission is to be authentic, but in a completely fresh environment."

Curiously, Knapman acknowledges Wildside, the series which is still revered among TV critics, would not have worked commercially. "Wildside was not user-friendly enough, it was too jagged for too many hours, and even though it was critically acclaimed, ordinary people - my family, for example - said it was good that it won awards, but they were being polite, you could see they didn't enjoy visiting it," he says.

Like Ten's new police series Rush, The Strip has a dynamic pace and a tone which taps the contemporary, almost provocative edge of Underbelly and the renaissance of television that has been steered by the US network HBO and the UK's Channel Four. It would be a bold statement to presume either is The Sopranos, but they are an ambitious step in the right direction.

"You want to make shows which you feel stand up internationally," Knapman says. He acknowledges the American flavour of The Strip, but adds: "That can be perceived as a bad way to put it, but I love American television, and when it's good, it's as good as anything."

Knapman believes the strength of American police drama lies in the genre's clarity, economy and velocity. "This show is very Australian, but when I went to Cannes to (the TV sales market) MIPCOM for the first time and walked around, I realised we were a very small country making a certain type of product, typecast by the buyers as soap opera and dramas which were scheduled in the daytime," he says. "It's a tough genre to crack, but you have to go either of two ways, gritty realism and attack it with edge (like East West 101) or this way, which is something different. It's enjoyable to visit, but it has to tap a nerve with the audience."

The Strip premieres at 8.30pm on Nine

By Michael Idato
September 4, 2008
The Age