Young Lions: articles

Cheerful cops truncheon bent ones

Television viewers don't want their crime-fighting to be sexy, urban and ambiguous. They prefer it daggy, in the bush, and decisive.

That conclusion could be drawn from the performance on Wednesday night of the first of the new wave of "hot justice" programs.

In the game of chicken between Channel 7's veteran cop show Blue Heelers and Channel 9's new cop show, Young Lions, the Lions swerved and crashed while the Heelers barely blinked.

The much-publicised premiere of Young Lions, about sullen cops confronting Sydney gangs and each other, averaged just over 1 million viewers over two hours, with a peak audience of 1.3 million across the mainland capitals.

At the same time, Blue Heelers, about cheerful cops confronting all human life in a Victorian village, averaged 1.5 million over its hour, and Channel 10's final episode of The Guardian, about a greedy child-protection lawyer (Australian actor Simon Baker), averaged 1.1 million.

Young Lions couldn't even pull a crowd in its home town: it came in at No 15 for the most watched show for the night in Sydney, with 368,000 viewers, while Blue Heelers was No 8, with 385,000. These are consistent with the results for such dark cop shows as Wildside and Stingers.

And that may offer an explanation: the preoccupation in Young Lions is with cops who don't know right from wrong.

As a Seven Network executive remarked yesterday: "If you want to know about corrupt cops in Sydney, you just have to buy a newspaper. You don't necessarily want it as TV drama." By contrast, watchers of Blue Heelers can escape into a universe where cops are straight and true.

The Young Lions result was not only a shock for Nine. The Ten Network has also invested in a sexy city cop show, White Collar Blue, while Seven has invested in a sexy city lawyer show, Marshall Law - both due to start in August.

Nine put on a brave face yesterday. Its program director, John Stephens, said he was "extremely confident we can build on last night's ratings and that viewers will embrace Young Lions".

Nine's optimism may be partly based on the track record of Blue Heelers, which started slowly in 1994 (1.2 million viewers for its premiere), but has won its time slot most weeks since.

But Young Lions is unlikely to pick up soon.

Next week, Ten is countering with Elvis: The Resurrection. And Seven has enough of Blue Heelers to last until the end of November.

By David Dale
July 19 2002
Sydney Morning Herald