Chris Schulz is the deputy head of entertainment for the New Zealand Herald.

Dirty Laundry producer defends new show: It's not Outrageous Fortune 2.0

The idea for a family crime series came in the last days of a friend’s life. Chris Schulz reports.

A big budget TV One show coming to screens next week was inspired by a dying friend, the creators of Dirty Laundry have revealed.

The NZ on Air-funded programme, which debuts next week, is from Outrageous Fortune creator Rachel Lang and Go Girls' Gavin Strawhan.

The show follows a middle-class mother jailed for money laundering. With $6.7 million in NZOA funding, the cast includes Jennifer Ward-Lealand, Robbie Magasiva and Victoria MacCulloch.

Lang told the Herald on Sunday the idea for the show, which debuts on Wednesday night, came from a trip to Australia with Strawhan to pitch shows to TV networks.

While there, they spent time in hospital with their sick friend, producer Caterina de Nave, who was suffering leukaemia. She died of the disease in 2014.

"She wanted to hear our ideas for Australia, where we were pitching shows. She wasn't happy with any of them and wanted us to make up a family show," Lang said via email.

"We'd read an amazing story about money laundering in the Sydney Morning Herald, and had also been talking about how lower- to middle-class 20-somethings would never be able to afford a life or house."

Lang said the idea quickly "gelled" into a show.

"[It's about] a lovely mother who's been funding her children through proceeds of money laundering, except now she isn't with them. How will they cope without her? How far are they prepared to go? Could they grow up - or even do their own washing?"

The pair pitched it to de Nave, who was "happy" with it, but didn't live to see it through.

"We didn't realise at the time she was dying. And we didn't sell the idea in Australia."

The idea of a criminal mother might sound suspiciously familiar to anyone who saw Outrageous Fortune, in which Robyn Malcolm's character Cheryl West eventually went to jail.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand stars in new offering from Outrageous Fortune creator. Photo / Guy Coombes
Jennifer Ward-Lealand stars in new offering from Outrageous Fortune creator. Photo / Guy Coombes

But Lang is wary of comparing the two, and says they're very different shows.

"This show is quite gentle, unlike Outrageous Fortune, which may be a black mark against it. But it is for TV One. I'd like to hope that, as always, it has useful things to say about New Zealand, in a way that's entertaining.

"I am keen on strong women in lead roles, and I am very keen on mothers.

"I write them a lot - but in this case, the mastermind mother is removed from a lot of the action - unlike Cheryl, who was always front and central."

It's the second show to air from the pair this year after Filthy Rich, which received a critical mauling and delivered middling ratings.

Herald TV critic Duncan Greive was among the show's harshest critics, calling it a "dated, horny mess" and saying it was time to pass that funding onto younger talents.

It recently received NZOA funding for a second season.

Lang said she wasn't concerned about the backlash, saying it "actually did really well" on the ratings front and saying it was recently bought by American network Hulu.

She says those criticisms shouldn't affect viewers heading into Dirty Laundry.

"We've found the viewers don't care about reviews or criticism," Lang said.

"This is something I have learned over a long time. My best reviewed shows have been my biggest ratings failures."

- Herald on Sunday

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