Underbelly: articles

Our crims won't offend, says Nine

CHANNEL NINE faces being stripped of some of the profits from the second Underbelly series if it shows the sizzling program in the wrong timeslot.

In an extraordinary deal with the Australian Communications and Media Authority after months of negotiations, Nine has promised to correctly classify the program to warn viewers about the level of sex, violence and language it will show.

A rating of M for "mature" (content is moderate in impact) means it can show the program in the important 8.30pm timeslot, where it can charge more for advertising, although the content has to be toned down. But if it applies the MA "mature audiences" (content is strong) rating that allows it to show more violence, sex and nudity, the program can start only after 9pm.

The deal will also see Nine classify all programs involving the celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay as MA because of his frequent swearing.

It means viewers face greater warnings about a cooking show than the series about gangland murders.

The regulator blasted Nine for an "unacceptably high number of incorrectly classified" programs in the first series of Underbelly, shown last year, and programs involving Ramsay, which generated complaints in Federal Parliament.

Nine plans to launch the second Underbelly series on Monday at 8.30pm with an M rating.

But the trick for the network, which hopes the program will spearhead its bid to win the ratings, is that while it assigns the classification rating, if there are complaints from the public, the regulator will retrospectively give its own rating. If Nine gets it wrong, it must pay "an amount equivalent to the financial benefit the licensee obtained by breaching the undertaking".

Nine has given the regulator a confidential estimate of how much it stands to gain from each episode of Underbelly. Television industry sources said the difference in profit by showing the program in the high ad-yielding 8.30pm timeslot rather than after 9.30pm could be worth as much as $250,000.

As part of yesterday's deal, Nine agreed to reclassify from M to MA three episodes of the 13-episode first series of Underbelly if the programs are repeated. Sex scenes were not restrained and had too much detail and one of the episodes contained very aggressive coarse language. The regulator dismissed complaints against four other episodes, saying they could keep their M rating. There were no complaints against the other six episodes from series one, so they have not been reviewed.

By Phillip Hudson
February 5, 2009
Sydney Morning Herald