Dramas and docs draw auds despite some legal problems

Australia’s obsession with true crime is keeping auds amused — and lawyers busy.

On March 16 Seven Network’s in-house produced documentary series, “Gangs of Oz,” had to pull an episode about Sydney nightclub owner John Ibrahim, whose brothers are facing conspiracy to murder charges in a Sydney court, because it was thought the portrayal of the family would prejudice the jury.

Earlier in the month the producers of channel Nine’s “Underbelly: The Golden Mile” — series three of the true crime drama based on real events — wound up in court after policewoman Wendy Hatfield claimed sued for defamation. Show is produced by Screentime.

She lost her bid to view the series ahead of broadcast, which is not due to screen until later this year.

The first series of the hourlong dramas — “Underbelly: The Melbourne Gangland Murders” — was banned in the state of Victoria because the trial of one of the main protagonists, accused of murder, was still in progress. His identity was never revealed on TV.

Despite the legal grief, the networks think running the shows is worth the occasional risk.

Indeed, the publicity may even be sparking auds’ interest.

“Gangs” regularly tops 1.2 million auds for each of the 60-minute docs on Seven, and the expectation surrounding Nine’s “Underbelly: The Golden Mile” is high. Its previous season, “Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities,” regularly topped 2 million auds.

Seven says it is far from gunshy when it comes to true crime and claims that as soon as the Ibrahim trial is over it will air the controversial “Gangs” episode.

“If a case is before a judge alone there is less of a risk,” says Seven Network’s PR topper Simon Francis. Even after the person has been convicted “care must be taken with relatives and others if there is any implication of involvement and they were never charged,” he adds.

Defamation cases, like Hatfield’s against “Underbelly,” can be a problem if the subject feels that their crimes were misrepresented or glorified.

Certainly this run of legal cases has done little to dent Aussie webs’ enthusiasm for true crime.

Last week paybox Foxtel announced a new series, “Tough Nuts,” which will bow in June, delving into the psyche of some of Down Under’s hardest criminals.

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