Russell Baillie writes about movies for the Herald

Russell Baillie: Good cop, bad cop

Sam Neill and Oscar Kightley in new police drama Harry. Photo / Natalie Slade
Sam Neill and Oscar Kightley in new police drama Harry. Photo / Natalie Slade

So according to The Diary, those members of that exclusive club "TV insiders" are asking questions about the funding of Harry, a six-part cop drama starring Oscar Kightley and Sam Neill due on TV3 next year from New Zealand On Air's Platinum Fund.

And they are asking these questions because the top-tier Platinum Fund is meant for worthy local telly of historic import and little-seen Saturday morning talking head current affairs shows. No, not primetime fictional cop shows.

The implication is that Harry only got its $3.5 million funding because Kightley, despite being a highly decorated screen writer and actor, is Samoan which gave the show extra cultural cachet at funding time. His detective Harry is a solo dad who lives in Ponsonby.

But if one was to wonder about the risks involved in Harry, and just which NZOA pot of our taxes is paying for it, maybe there are more concerning eyebrow-raisers to ponder.

Like, does anyone remember the last time the local television industry delivered a decent cop show?

In past years, our law-enforcement dramas have amounted to the unloved Orange Roughies and the little-seen Interrogation. Ponsonby residents, solo fathers or otherwise haven't fared that well either - exhibit A being Rude Awakenings a one-season wonder that did Auckland's reputation in the rest of the country no good at all.

But then again, Harry has a precedent of sorts. Anyone remember Street Legal starring Jay Laga'aia as maverick lawyer David Silesi? That had a healthy four-year run at the beginning of the last decade. It was set mostly in Ponsonby. It cost us about $4.5 million per 13-part series and it started a few careers.

The per episode cost of Harry would appear to be on the high side - at $584,000 a pop it's about $100,000 higher than, say, the per episode cost of the final series of Outrageous Fortune.

But having Sam Neill in Harry is a casting coup - and a possible on-selling point, especially to Australia. And it's still cheaper than Underbelly NZ, the franchise-import which got $3.9 million Platinum Fund backing for a six-part series that didn't sustain as much viewer interest as its imported Aussie forbears.

But looking at the latest summary of Platinum Fund decisions, you can't help be struck by the safe, Te Papa-ness of the many docu-dramas and biopics that have been funded since its 2009 inception.

Certainly, there has been at least one docudrama wonder in The Golden Hour - the story of Peter Snell and Murray Halberg's victories at the 1960 Rome Olympics. That one was from Desert Road Productions, the same folks behind Harry.

But the others I've seen just did the required job of "telling our stories" without actually being good television. So maybe the risk-taking ambitious, fictitious Harry is just what the Platinum Fund needs.

It would be good to see what's possible, rather than what's expected.

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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Russell Baillie writes about movies for the Herald

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