I have to be honest. I tried writing an original Australian police show pilot script once, but I realised it was untenable.
Think about it. Scan the vast expanses of Australian scripted TV shows and there are no police procedural TV series.
Sure Reality TV regularly churns out shows like RBT and Border Security. But I’m talking about Australia’s version of the Law & Order franchise and Chicago P.D.
From recent memory the only legitimate Australian police show that has been released is the Underbelly series. In my recollection this focused on criminals and sex way too much and were actually more of a mini-series format.
But it was successful, so much so, that Channel 9 has decided to bring it back.
In terms of Australian commercial television, the only other show I can think of would be the Shane Bourne vehicle City Homicide (2007-2011). This ended in a group of mini-series episodes.
So, why is this the case?
Here are four reasons there are a lack of scripted police shows on Australian TV.
Most Australian scripted shows rely on Government tax breaks to help with funding. It’s also usually reliant on the number of episodes the series runs for.
Marc Fennell’s report with The Feed goes further into why it’s a constant battle to keep original Australian scripted content on TV.
With how small the Australian market is, the three main commercial television channels can’t afford to keep funding a TV series when the returns doesn’t justify the cost.
2. The Australian crime rate
Police shows are supposed to realistically reflect the society they are in.
America has a high crime rate, which is why it’s believable to have a “crime of the week” scenario TV series. Australia on the other hand, has a smaller population, stricter gun control and less crime.
Sure there’s violent crime in Australia but you really wouldn’t want to live in Mt. Thomas (the fictitious town where long running series Blue Heelers was based in) which seems to have an extremely high crime rate.
I’m talking about realism and Australia doesn’t have a violent crime everyday, which is the reason commercial television love using the mini-series format to feature crime stories E.G. Underbelly.
Perhaps the only hope would be for streaming services such as Netflix or Stan to order some original Australian police procedural shows with a small number of episodes.
3. The writing suffers
With a crime show being handicapped in terms of realism and cost, it then affects the most important aspect of TV shows – the story arcs and long terms subplots for characters.
The formula for most American cop shows is to have a spotlight on the personal lives of the people who protect us from crime.
It’s what makes a show like Chicago PD and to a lesser extent Law and Order SVU (going into its 19th season) so popular.
It’s what allowed Blue Heelers to run for 13 seasons.
4. Selling crime to overseas markets isn’t easy
Whenever scripted Australian content is made, the producers have an eye to selling the product overseas.
The main reason shows like Neighbours and Home and Away are still in production is because they’ve been successfully marketed to the U.K. where they want to see the Australian summer, everyday.
In regards to crime shows, what’s being marketed is that crime does not pay, and the bad guys will be put away by our justice system.
What the producers want to sell are the locations, the beach, the Outback – locations that are attractive to tourists. Tourists don’t want to see the unattractive side of crime in the capital cities.
Blue Heelers was successfully exported because it had the same template as small town crime dramas that are so popular in the U.K. such as Broadchurch.
It’s why the ABC TV produced The Doctor Blake Mysteries is so successful albeit with the protagonist being a police surgeon.
There’s a gap in the current Australian TV landscape for a local police procedural show, the question is, do the commercial network execs have the courage to produce one?