Underbelly: articles

Snipers take aim at network's cops

The critically acclaimed drama Underbelly is screening in Victoria at last. For the actors who starred in it, there is a final, fitting bow to be taken for a true masterpiece. But that will be denied two of the actors, Callan Mulvey and Rodger Corser.

Both now work on Rush, owned by the Ten Network, and reports surfaced last week that Ten had taken the extraordinary step of banning Mulvey and Corser from co-operating with any publicity strategy for Underbelly, citing their obligation to a new show and network.

This writer phoned for a clarification of the terms of the ban and was assured that, while "ban" was too strong a word, there was a position that as their time was limited they would not be available to assist Nine with any publicity.

Ten has every right to assert its ownership of talent and the cast of Underbelly is a big one, where two actors will surely not be missed.

It does, however, expose the small-minded attitude of the Australian television industry.

So petty is the rivalry between Australian networks that such bans and blockages have, over the years, become the rule of thumb.

Such an attitude is in stark contrast to the way the US and British television businesses work. There, personalities frequently appear on rival networks, even - brace yourself - to promote rival programs.

In the US, for example, it is not unusual to see an actor such as Teri Hatcher on NBC's Leno program promoting ABC's Desperate Housewives.

There is a powerful lesson here for Nine, which frankly is one of the worst offenders in the game of obstruction.

When Seven asked if Bert Newton could appear with his wife, Patti, on Dancing With the Stars, for example, Nine refused.

Nine and Seven have a history of blocking each other's access to talent, a pattern that is part of a broader culture of pettiness, spite and resentment.

Newspapers are bombarded daily with sniping emails from rival networks and, with increasing frequency, industry functions are stained by offensive, confrontational behaviour.

Television frequently seems to come up short on many things. It's a shame generosity has become one of them.

By Michael Idato
September 18, 2008
The Age