White Collar Blue: articles

White Collar phew!

OF THE four new Australian series which hit our screens in a flurry of drama production last year, only two have survived for another bout in the ratings ring.

White Collar Blue and MDA proved the more tenacious of the starters while Marshall Law and Young Lions succumbed to the axe following poor ratings, despite the respective attractions of Lisa McCune and Alex Dimitriades.

Their rapid demise is a reminder of the thin and constantly precarious line between success and failure in the Australian drama market.

Even White Collar Blue star Peter O'Brien has difficulty pinpointing the ingredient which has given his show an edge over its counterparts.

"It's funny because I never thought that we were competing against those shows. I suppose White Collar Blue has a vibrancy to it, an energy and as far as cop shows go it's not all high gloss, glamour and well-cut suits," he said.

"I think it also depends on what people are being fed at the time. If they are getting a lot of a certain type of show then they'll grab something different.

"It's a pity really because I had hoped that they would all do well, I think there is a big enough market for them."

Set in the sunny beach-side suburbs of southern Sydney, White Collar Blue differs from the average dark, gritty, city-based cop show in its glaring brightness. The crux of its drama is a clash of cultures between O'Brien's Det-Sgt Joe Hill, a working class local boy made good, and his partner Det-Sen. Const. Harriet Walker (Freya Stafford), who is middle class and educated.

O'Brien, 43, returned from Britain for the role of Hill, a shrewd, street-wise detective and life-wearied single father with a permanently harried expression.

He said he saw Joe as a classic battler, stuck in his job because it was all he knew.

"He's like a lot of people out there who suddenly become aware one day how hard it would be to change their life," he said.

"There is a realisation that, like it or lump it, he has to do it (police work). I think he enjoys what he does but there are a lot of people around him who make his job really hard.

"Being a detective is what he knows best and I think that's what he has in common with the habitual criminals he deals with - they become recalcitrant, they re-offend and he basically does the same thing with policing."

O'Brien, newly married to The Lord of the Rings actress Miranda Otto, regards himself as a "dual citizen" of Australia and Britain, where he has lived on and off since the late 1980s.

He first came to the attention of television audiences as Shane Ramsay in the early days of Neighbours. He worked on the show for a year in the mid-80s followed by a stint on The Flying Doctors before London beckoned.

"I didn't go over there to cash in on Neighbours," he said. "I actually went before the show aired over there, which was good in a way because I created a profile amongst producers and casting agents that was separate from Neighbours.

"I was looking to broaden and there is a bigger market there, there's more work and I realised that I could work in both places."

Since then he has built a worthy list of credits in theatre and television productions such as the acclaimed gay drama Queer as Folk, the gritty English drama The Knock and the complex Deceit. Back home he appeared in the critically-praised ABC drama Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude and Ten's mini-series Day of the Roses, based on the Granville train disaster.

For O'Brien, one of the attractions of White Collar Blue was its six-month filming schedule, which leaves him half a year free to pursue other projects.

It also gives him time to enjoy the company of his new wife. For their honeymoon, the couple made the most of an opportunity to take a break from their hectic schedules.

"We went away for a week or so, nothing big because we travel a lot for work and can take months off to travel so it was just a chance to sit around and do nothing," O'Brien said.

Both global travellers as a consequence of their profession, O'Brien and Otto will continue to go wherever the work takes them.

"Living in Australia is fantastic but it doesn't really matter where you are based these days. I get a lot of good work over in the UK so I've made it my home as well.

• White Collar Blue, Ten, Mondays, 9.30pm.

By Melissa Kent
The West Australian
April 07, 2003