Underbelly


Underbelly

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UNDERBELLY is the compelling dramatisation of Melbourne's gangland killings.

Underbelly is an Australian television drama series, based on the real events of the 1995–2004 gang war in Melbourne. The series began screening on 13 February 2008 on the Nine Network (and affiliates) in all states and territories except Victoria, due to a court injunction. Underbelly is a 13-part mini-series, based on the book Leadbelly: Inside Australia's Underworld, by Age journalists John Silvester and Andrew Rule.

Synopsis

The key players in Melbourne's criminal underworld, including the Moran family and their rival, the maverick Carl Williams, are featured using their real names.

The major factions, as presented in the story, are the Morans, including Lewis, Mark, and Jason Moran, the "Carlton Crew", which included Alphonse Gangitano, Domenic "Mick" Gatto, his lawyer George Defteros and Mario Condello, "the Russians", led by Nik "The Russian" Radev, and the Williams family, which included Carl Williams, Tony Mokbel, Andrew "Benji" Veniamin and, at different times, Victor Brincat and Dino Dibra.

The police investigators, Steve Owen and Jacqui James, are fictional, but based on an amalgam of several officers who worked on the Purana Task Force, which was charged with investigating the gangland war and halting the killing.

According to its marketing, the series "uses the framework of the murderous war between the two gangs, and the bigger moral war between the gangs and the Purana Task Force, to explore a complex array of individual stories and relationships - some touching, some incredible, all breathtaking - it is a mini-series that examines the kaleidoscopic nature of loyalty, love, revenge and pride when the normal and identifiable emotions of human attachment are moved from the context of social decency to social indecency.

Production

Underbelly was filmed on location in Melbourne. Parts of the series have been filmed in the Essendon area, near many of the houses and schools associated with the 'Underworld'. Many of the Carlton scenes were actually filmed in North Melbourne, primarily around Errol Street. All La Porcella filming was done at Rubicon Restaurant Errol Street, the scenes involving Mario Condello loaning money was filmed at the Lithuanian Club North Melbourne, the location of Carl Williams first house is Duffy Street, Maribyrnong, jail visits were filmed in the players' change rooms at Telstra Dome, and a restaurant scene was also filmed outside the Medallion Club, Telstra Dome & scenes of when Mario Condello moves into a apartment is filmed at Victoria Point, Docklands. In some earlier scenes whereby witnesses were contained in witness protection caravans at Warrnambool, these were filmed in Werribee South.

Marketing

The lead-up to Underbelly resulted in a heavy marketing campaign which covered radio, print, billboards and an increased online presence, including the use of social networking tools.

When the CEO of the Nine network, David Gyngell noted the need to up its online presence, and embrace social networking as a valuable marketing tool, the official website was launched. The original website was launched on 15 January 2008, with only a 3 minute trailer; while the full site, with all its features, launched on 1 February 2008. It was announced that the full first episode would be available for download on the site on 10 February, three days before the show premieres on television, but this option was made unavailable due to the Supreme court suppression case. This intention follows a similar strategy used for the launch of Sea Patrol in 2007. The site was "poised to become" the biggest and most detailed website the Nine Network has hosted for a show so far, including features such as behind the scenes footage, profiles, visitor interactivity and the use of social networking tools.

Reception

Critical response

The first episode of the series was screened privately to media on 17 January 2008, prior the media had been treated with extracts and trailers promoting the series.

* On 3 January 2008, The Sydney Morning Herald's critic Michael Idato declared the series "The Blue Murder of its time", referring to the critically acclaimed 1995 ABC TV drama Blue Murder, considered by many to be the finest crime drama ever produced in Australia.

* In review on his blog on 17 January 2008, David Knox, stated that Underbelly "is our own Sopranos", and awarded it 4½; out of 5 stars. He also commented:

“ If there are any criticisms to be found with Underbelly, they are few. One or two shots give away that period Melbourne was actually shot in 2007. And while watching these gangsters thrive on power with ballsy disdain, it was hard not to think of the behaviour of some television executives in recent history. This aside, Underbelly looks set to be one of the highlights of the 2008 television year.”

* A review appeared in the Herald Sun on 18 January 2008, in which critic Paul Anderson quoted:

“ "Whether you followed the Melbourne gangland war or not, there's a fair chance you will be blown away by the coming TV series Underbelly. Underbelly is a slick, violent and sexually charged dramatisation backed by a ripping soundtrack."

* In an article appearing on 31 January 2008, The Daily Telegraph's TV editor, Marcus Casey, said of Underbelly after viewing the first four episodes:

“ "If the quality is maintained then, while not perfect, Underbelly should equal, if not better, Australia's best ever crime dramas - the Phoenix series and Blue Murder."

Family Groups reaction

On 11 February the Australian Family Association (AFA), was publicly outraged that Underbelly would be screening at 8:30pm, well within reach of children, after clips of the series were leaked onto the internet. The clips highlighted the use of extreme profanities, and scenes that show a violent bashing, a cold-blooded murder, and a sexual encounter.

The Nine Network defended the timeslot and the M classification, saying the clips, leaked from the Network's production department, were indeed from the series, but not all of them made the final cut.[12] The Network set its own classification, under the accepted rules of the Australian Commercial Television Code of Conduct.

The Australian Family Association threatened to take the matter to Communications Minister Stephen Conroy if the content of the show was anything near that of an unauthorised promotional clip leaked from Nine's production department.

Ratings

The opening double episodes, which aired on 13 February attracted 1,326,000 and 1,324,000 viewers nationally, minus Victoria, where a court ban prevented its screening. In Victoria alone, the series was expected to atrract 800,000 to 1 million viewers, which would have put Underbelly figures over the 2 million mark. The replacement movie for Underbelly in Victoria, The Shawshank Redemption, managed only 271,000 viewers.

The third episode, which aired on 20 February, managed to hold most of its viewers from its premiere, attracting 1,273,000 viewers nationally (except Victoria),[15] a decline of only 50,000 viewers. In Victoria, CSI: Miami was broadcast in Underbelly's place. The fourth episode, which aired on 27 February, managed to hold nearly all of its viewers from the previous episode, attracting 1,250,000 viewers nationally (except Victoria), a decline of only 23,000 viewers.

Though leaked copies of episodes one through to thirteen are available online, the show is continuing to attract huge television audiences, according to The West Australian.

Legal issues

Supreme Court writ threat

George Defteros, a high-profile lawyer cleared of charges relating to underworld war, disrupted the lead-up to the series' launch, when he threatened the Nine Network with a Supreme Court writ on 26 January 2008. Defteros, said to be portrayed by George Kapiniaris, engaged a top Melbourne defamation specialist, saying:
“ Any attempt to depict me as a lawyer of low impropriety and unethical behaviour will be met with legal proceedings instituted by my lawyers, I regard the depiction of the gangland wars, in particular my role as a lawyer acting for parties, as nothing more than farcical and pure pantomime. We'll be watching it very closely.”

Nine Network had subsequently said there would now be no direct reference to Mr Defteros, despite earlier publicity. A spokeswoman for the network said "There is no lawyer called Defteros in Underbelly" but Defteros said he could still be defamed by implication, noting "It's already been advertised as me".

The case was dropped by Director of Public Prosecutions Paul Coghlan, QC, due to a lack of evidence.

Supreme Court Suppression

The screening of Underbelly in Victoria was put into jeopardy, after last-minute legal proceedings took place due to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Jeremy Rapke, QC. Rapke secured an urgent viewing of the series, before he decided to seek an injunction stopping its broadcast in Victoria. A Supreme Court judge called prosecutors and defence lawyers together after serious concerns were raised about whether the show could prejudice a jury for the trial this year of a man who has pleaded not guilty to the 2004 gangland killing of Lewis Moran. Although the accused man is not named in the series, there are concerns the show could hurt his chance of a fair trial.

The Supreme court hearing took place on 11 February 2008 - only two days before the series' was due to premiere. The Nine Network was ordered by a DPP subpoena to hand over tapes of all 13 episodes, as well as outlines and story lines, to the Victorian Supreme Court by 10am on 11 February 2008.[22][23] The Nine Network, refused to voluntarily hand over the tapes, saying they were incomplete and that the network's lawyers were closely supervising production but the Network was willing to comply with any Court order and took this matter very seriously. The network is also adamant that the series makes no assertions about the guilt of the accused killer. The court subpoena stated that copies of two completed episodes, along with uncut versions of the other 11 episodes, plus episode outlines and story lines, must be handed to the court by 10am on 11 February. At the hearing, which took place at the Geelong Supreme Court, the judge, Justice Betty King, gave prosecution and defence lawyers 24 hours to view the series and return to court the following day to decide whether it had the potential to affect the forthcoming trial. Justice King issued a suppression order on 12 February banning the Nine Network from broadcasting the series in the state of Victoria and on the internet indefinitely, until after the murder trial is completed. It has also been ordered to remove character profiles from its official website. The Nine Network offered to air a heavily edited version in Victoria, but the offer was rejected by Justice King. It was initially planned that an alternative program, Underbelly: A Special Announcement, was going to air in Victoria instead of the series' premiere, which was to discuss what the series is about. This idea was scrapped, and the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, was aired in Victoria instead.

The Nine Network declared their intention to appeal against the decision, and Network lawyers stated that they would exercise all legal options.

The suppression also affects national audiences receiving transmissions from Imparja Television, a Nine Network affiliate. Imparja is unable to supply its interstate audiences with Underbelly, due to its single satellite signal broadcasts into its specific regions, but also transmits into some parts of Victoria, which is covered by the suppression order. Alternative programming will be shown until the restriction is lifted.

The appeal began on February 29, 2008 in the Victorian Court of Appeal,where Nine Network lawyers argued that the network should be allowed to broadcast the first three episodes of the series, saying Justice King had "erred" in her decision to suppress the series,as she had viewed the unedited versions of the series, and not the final edited cut that was to be shown to audiences.The network believed the first three episodes, which depicted events from the beginning of the underworld war in 1995, would have no potential to prejudice any part of the trial[29]. The trial in question is due to begin on March 31, 2008. The judges overseeing the appeal retired to decide their verdict on March 3, 2008.

The appeal's verdict was handed down on March 26, 2008, where the appeal's judges chose to continue a ruling by Justice King that the series is not to be broadcast or distributed in or out of Victoria. During the appeal the Nine Network had proposed to screen the first three episodes immediately after any successful appeal, and would give the court seven days written notice of its intention to show any further episodes that it believed would not prejudice the murder trial. The Court of Appeal had dismissed the network's application to appeal, and the network must now continue comply with the suppression order issued by Justice King until the offending trial is complete.

Illegal distribution

Despite the ban on broadcasting the series in Victoria, Victorians have still been able to access episodes via illegal online distribution. The first episode was made available on torrent sites within 20 minutes of it concluding in New South Wales. The Nine Network has reportedly obtained the "ISP address" of the first person to upload the show, and network lawyers were considering legal action. The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) is currently investigating the matter, and is expected to make a list of recommendations to Victoria Police.

Copies of advanced episodes of the series which are yet to air on the Nine Network have become available on the internet. Every episode of the 13-part series is available for download on a range of sites. It was reported that on mininova.org more than 3,000 users were attempting to download episode seven late on the afternoon of 27 February 2008. The Nine Network said it was considering legal action. The broadcaster is also looking into how copies got into the hands of underworld figures in Victoria, including Roberta Williams, the former wife of gangland kingpin Carl Williams.

Pirated copies of the entire series were also made available to the public. People were being offered a 4-disc DVD set for AUD $10 - $80 in public places such as carparks and building sites. The episodes were commercial-free and came with introductory station countdowns, suggesting a major leak from inside the network's production department. Two network employees had been questioned by the network over the matter, but both denied distributing any copies of the series.. Similarly, versions of episodes 10 - 13 which are currently available on peer to peer sites are clearly production (ie pre-broadcast) versions of these episodes. They feature the production house's title screen, occasional sequences of rough editing, and sub-broadcast quality sound issues such as large variations in levels and absent atmos tracks.

Fears of inside leaks were again aroused, when advance screener versions of unaired episodes 4-8 were posted online on 26 February 2008. Screener episodes are generally shown to select audiences, such as sales staff and executives, well in advance to being televised.

International distribution

The series will also air in New Zealand on TV3, Scandinavia, Canada and France. (Credit: Wikipedia).

 

Website

Underbelly

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