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"BLUE HEELERS"

What’s it about?

"Blue Heelers" continues the rich Australian tradition of flourishing police dramas set around the lives of people living in the bush. It has been enormously successful here in Australia, finding devoted viewers across the country. It has also gained a significant audience in Britain, Canada and New Zealand - next the world!! The producers claim to have sold it to over 50 countries.

In a clever plot turn, the police officers at Mt. Thomas have been largely recruited from the city, where, in a classic "city slickers" set piece, their perceptions are challenged by the alien (but very moral) values of the bush. Actions speak louder than words in the country backblocks of "Blue Heelers", where the law is more likely to be applied in the straightforward manner of the residents. And as any lawyer will tell you, magistrates in the country are not like their fellow judiciary in the city, sometimes ruling more by decree than recognisable rules of evidence. No doubt this is part of the vast appeal of "Blue Heelers" - in the city we often wish that justice was dispensed quickly and without fuss. And in this show the country folk are not backwards in coming forward when they don’t agree with the local coppers. It’s one thing to deal with an anonymous customer - it’s altogether different when you’re likely to meet up with the same person at the local over a beer! This is the contemporary Australian cousin of "Heartbeat".

There’s also a substantial element of the "old dog/new dog" about this show. Sgt. Tom Croydon (actor John Wood) has well and truly marked his territory - the rookies are here to challenge his methods and values - sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re wrong. The Sarge could not be called a liberal - Wood himself has described his character as a bit of a reactionary. Whether it’s Mr. Smith going to Washington or the New Yorkers mixing it with the yokels in "Green Acres", this is a tried and true formula - thankfully over its many hundreds of episodes it has proved not to be "tired" and true. This isn’t to say that "Blue Heelers" just plays it safe, but they’re certainly treading a well-worn path to ratings success. Play the opposites off against each other and watch the sparks fly, on the screen and in our lounge rooms! Check out how Tom hates the way PJ bends the rules to suit himself, and how he’s nearly sent the younger man back to where he came from to pay for his sins.

Like most police dramas we have reviewed at Law4u, "Blue Heelers" focuses on the lives of a close knit group of coppers, both in and out of the police station (or "the house" as it’s known in the trade). And where better to look at the lives of a cosy group than in a country town where everyone already knows everybody else’s business? So let’s take a look at the fictitious town of Mt. Thomas.

Where is it set?

With a population of about 10,000, Mt. Thomas is your average medium sized Australian town: large enough to generate a few seasons’ worth of crimes and pub-addicted characters, but small enough to encourage the intimacy that pervades the show’s consciousness. In this way Mt. Thomas is similar to Rome, Wisconsin, the small/medium town in which the late lamented "Picket Fences" was set (though the characters of "Picket Fences" tended to the extremes of eccentricity - remember the Potato Man?).

The town is the commercial centre for the farmers in the area, and as we all know, farmers are straight talkers who don’t take to the city values they’ve deliberately avoided. This is not to say that there is no contact with the outside world - after all, there’s serious revenue (and plot lines) in the passing parade of no-good city slickers who travel the highway that runs past the town (we’d like to write "past the mountain", but we’re not too sure it’s really a mountain at all!). And like any self-respecting Australian town, there’s a feud of sorts with the neighbouring town (St. Davids), often settled (in the grand Australian tradition) of footy and cricket matches. It’s not like a real country town, of course – it’s a television town, where morality reigns and goodness triumphs over evil. What the heck!

The end of Maggie

She left us in tears. For how long have we waited for Maggie and PJ to take that final step, after all those years of teasing us with their furtive looks and sideways glances? We all heaved a sigh of relief when they finally decided to take that walk down the aisle. We hoped for the best - Maggie and PJ have both had their problems, but this seemed to be the fairytale ending they deserved.

But Maggie cannot escape the specter of her family, the brother who so long ago left the straight and narrow and became entangled in the web of drugs. True to form, Maggie puts her own welfare on the line in an attempt to bust the drug ring that took her brother's life, but too late she realises that she may have gone far out onto a limb. Following an attempt on her life Maggie realises she must go into a Witness Protection program and tells PJ that they can't be married.

PJ and Maggie fake an argument so she will be able to enter the Program without the knowledge of her colleagues, and Maggie begins her goodbyes. It is terrible to watch Maggie lie to those she loves, especially her father Pat, and we see how much Tom really feels for his longtime charge and de facto daughter.

PJ can't bear the idea of leaving Maggie, so he makes the sacrifice and tells her that he will accompany her into the Witness Protection program and start a new life. On the night of her departure (supposedly back to Melbourne) she is missing - in a terrible scene, PJ finds her at the rail yards, shot and dying. He tells her that they will be married, always together, that he will love her forever. He kisses her for the last time and it is over.

Who's it about?

The leader of the motley station gang is Local Officer in Charge Sgt. Tom Croydon (that’s "Sergeant" to you civilians). Just in case you’ve missed the point, he’s known as "boss" around the station house. He knows the local area, or at least he should after twenty years as a copper around Mt. Thomas. Of course, he’s not a true Mt. Thomasite - he was born some twenty kilometres away in Lake End. To those of us from the city he’s quite chauvinistic, and doesn’t Maggie know it, although he really thinks of her as a daughter. And as far as Tom is concerned, the only good thing to come out of the city is the highway that brings him home. Like most of the characters in this show, Tom carries the slings and arrows of cruel fate, his wife having passed away before his daughter got pregnant and later nicked off leaving Tom (literally!) holding the baby (until she took it back). There was romance in the air with lawyer Sally Downie - a lawyer and a copper, there's a recipe for mischief - see the episode " She Killed Santa" for the beginnings of that conflict of interest. Nowadays he’s as much a teacher as anything, trying to get those city types to understand that things work differently in the bush. Like any good teacher, he’s gentle or tough depending on the circumstances.

Constable Maggie Doyle was not just a breath of fresh air (isn’t the air always fresh in the country?), but a terrifically popular person in the area (and with the viewers, who absolutely adored her). Lucky in professional life, unlucky in love, that’s our Maggie. Maggie Doyle is somewhere in her mid twenties, and she comes from a typical television character background - two of her brothers are coppers and the other is a drug addict (added to the cast in 1997)! Amongst the Doyles, the criminal justice system is almost a family business! There's been a lot of trouble for Maggie thanks (or "no thanks") to her erstwhile brother, a heroin addict who escaped from prison begging for her help (although he is her saviour in an episode at the end of 1998). Can't say she's not a good sister, especially since he has proved to be so deceitful at her expense and caused her to be suspended from the force because of his antics. It's been love and hate between PJ and Maggie, and when PJ thought she had died (she was actually in the witness protection program) he went to pieces. Although she kissed Ben Stewart on his birthday, in the end it was always PJ. They became engaged, but tragically Maggie died in the episode "One Last Day". In the end her brother's involvement in a drug ring was her undoing. It goes without saying that everyone, especially PJ, were shattered.

PJ likes to think of himself as a thinking man’s cop who knows how to look at a problem from every angle. PJ has been with us since the show’s beginning, and he has no problem in laying down the law (so to speak) to the other coppers. He also has a reputation for being a serious "ladies man", though Maggie is perhaps the only one who knows better. Think of PJ as something of an enigma, which is a nice touch in an otherwise straightforward show. It’s always interesting for viewers to make up their own minds about a character.

The sexual tension was provided by PJ and Maggie (no, PJ is not short for "pyjamas"; his name is Patrick Joseph). Here at Law4u we thought he might be a bit old for Maggie, and if we were her father, we’d like to know a little more about his past (what did he do in Melbourne?) and a lot more about his intentions. There’ll certainly be hell to pay if we discover a wife and child in Lebanon where he was a mercenary…(remember when she didn’t know Roman was married?) By the way, why does he apparently have a Lebanese background? Can our readers help us on this one - has he ever actually lived in Lebanon? The big event at the beginning of 2000 was whether PJ was involved in Maggie's death - we know that's not true, but how much heartbreak can a man take?

Hot on Tom’s heels is Senior Constable Nick Shultz. We thought he was looking to take Tom’s job, but he may not be the most stable member of the crew, given the terrible history of his family. Unfortunately his wife and child were killed by a drunk driver, though this happened before the first episode. We have to say that this is something of a cheap shot, because Nick works on the traffic operations group in Mt. Thomas - please Heelers, don’t deluge Law4u with complaints about this comment, but would a man whose life is destroyed by a drunk driver really be considered appropriate for the traffic squad? But let’s not dwell on this, because Nick is a careful and caring cop, especially to his fellow station workers.  Anyway, at the end of 1998 Nick left Mt Thomas on the hand of his bride Doctor Zoe Hamilton, who has an offer of a job in the U.S. They finally settle in Melbourne, no doubt to the relief of Sgt. Croydon.

Chris Riley is the Licencee of the Imperial Hotel. She's a local girl, inheriting the pub from her parents. She had an unhappy experience in her first marriage, where it seems hubby was more interested in the pub than in his wife. Like a bad penny, he's always coming back to cause more trouble.

We celebrated the arrival at the station of Constable Dash McKinley. A Maggie she’s not! She was full of the backchat, cheeky, and she had all the follies of youth (she’s all of 20 years of age). And worse, as far as Maggie was concerned, she didn’t have the ambition to be a great cop, and was apt not to take the job all that seriously. Unfortunately Dash was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease and had to undergo chemotherapy. Thankfully at the end of 1988 the cancer was in remission. But unfortunately for the Mt. Thomas folk she left town in the episode "The Full Circle" when her mother was killed by a hit and run driver - no, sadly the copper's life was not for her.

Constable Adam Cooper arrived in 1995, a man on the edge and far from level headed. He upset Chris Riley when he betrayed her, and we were not surprised to see him dismissed from the force for his somewhat dubious pastimes.

And another new boy on the block was Sen-Constable Ben Stewart, who arrived via the organised crime squad after breaking up with his wife, and unfortunately leaving behind his three children. Later they got divorced, which left him clear to cast an eye over Maggie (he's not the first!) - and yes, there was a kiss - but PJ was her main interest. So he's got to sort out his emotional issues besides negotiating his way around policing in a country town.

Nineteen year old Constable Jack Lawson is another of "Blue Heelers" young brigade, though he is the real thing, a country boy who high-tailed it back from the city after only a few weeks' duty. But he's a "lad" as well, and where he goes trouble usually follows. There has also been tragedy, his former girlfriend dying in his arms on the verge of a reconciliation.

From a more familiar "Blue Heelers" background, Sergeant Tess Gallagher came to Mt Thomas from the big smoke, and she's the replacement for the lost and lamented Maggie Doyle. Talk about big shoes to fill, this will be no easy assignment. Yes, she's very smart, but she's going to need more of your street smarts to get Maggie's ghost off her back.

Who's who?

Martin Sacks is PJ
As you might imagine for an actor well into his third decade (or is your thirties the fourth decade - readers please help!), Martin Sacks has been around the traps. You might have seen him in "Police Rescue", "A Country Practice" and interestingly some American series - according to his bio he’s had a part in "Thirtysomething", though we can’t remember anything about him in that angst-ridden slice of life. He’s also been in some forgettable big-screen efforts, none of which we can remember. Still, he’s excellent in his role as the determined PJ, and his sidelight as television’s most sexually frustrated male.

John Wood is Tom Croydon
John Wood is the real thing - a working actor rarely out of a job and a face no doubt recognised by every second passer-by ("weren’t you once a magistrate?"). What is less known is his continuing career as a telewriter - which is understandable, since he’s been in nearly every Australian drama ever made - and a playwright. He’s had significant roles in "Rafferty’s Rules", "Power Without Glory", "The Flying Doctors", "All Together Now" (amongst many others). He also has a decent theatre pedigree, from Shakespeare and Chekov to "How To Succeed In Business…" In 1998 he received glowing reviews, amongst a stellar cast, for the role of Jock in the revival of David Williamson's "The Club, and later in "Born Yesterday" with the Melbourne Theatre Company. In 1999 he accompanied Lisa McCune in a short run of the play "She Loves Me". John has written episodes of the show, including the episode where Maggie's brother Robbie made his debut.

Lisa McCune is Maggie Doyle.
Lisa comes from Perth in Western Australia, where she graduated from the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts in 1990. We'd have to guess that she is the most successful graduate in her class, having achieved a sustained starring role in Australia's top rating drama. She's also sung in various Melbourne bands, perhaps with not the same success (we never got to see the "Flares", and we'll bet you didn't either), but it does make for a well rounded career (yes, we await the headline in a television magazine: "The Girl Who Has It All"). She was in pilots for "New Flying Doctors" and "Newlyweds", and the movies "Body Melt" and "Inner Sanctuary", and she has an interesting repertoire of theatre roles, including the Melbourne Theatre Company's "A Little Night Music" as the young bride Anne Egerman in early 1997. 1998 brought her a role in Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods" and the lead role of "Mary" in a TV movie version of Bryce Courtney's best-selling novel "The Potato Factory". Lisa left the cast of "Blue Heelers" in the beginning of the 2000 season, having filmed her final episode "One More Day" in October 1999.

Tasma Walton is Dash McKinley
Tasma is a bit of a surprise packet. She is trying her hand as writing, including a screen adaptation of a novel and a short film. She was born in Grealdton, though she is now resident in Melbourne due to her commitment to the series. Although admitted to the prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney, she left after two years. For her role in "Blue Heelers" she was awarded the Logie for Most Popular New Talent.

Julie Nihill is Chris Riley
You might remember Julie as the wife of Sir Donald Bradman in "Bodyline". She's been in a number of well known shows, though she was away from the screen for a few years whilst she established her family. She's also spent a fair amount of time on the stage, including "Don's Party", and appeared in the film "Careful He Might Hear You".

Paul Bishop is Sen-Constable Ben Stewart
How do you get from marine biology to Mt Thomas? Ask Paul Bishop, who decided to pursue acting instead of his first love, aquatic adventure.   But then he got the acting bug, and after years in theatre and parts in "Paradise Road" and the television movie "Never Tell Me Never" he has found himself in the plum role as the new boy at "Blue Heelers".  He fully intends to make the most of the opportunity! Born in 1966, his first child was born on the cusp of the new Millenium.

Rupert Reid is Constable Jack Lawson
Rupert was born in Canberra in 1975 but lived in Sydney. He hit the stage at a very young age, and by 19 he appeared in the Young People's production of "Henry V", and later migrated to the famous Bell Shakespearean Company for a couple of years. You might more probably have seen him in the television drama "Heartbreak High" for two seasons, and he had a guest spot in "Water Rats" in 1997.

Caroline Craig is Sergeant Tess Gallagher
24 at the time she joined the cast of "Blue Heelers", she has an interesting pedigree that reflects the intelligence that has been written into her on-screen role. She graduated from the prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Arts in Sydney just before she entered the world of Mt Thomas, and she'll need all this training to bring the viewers along with her. No doubt, it's always difficult to step into the shoes of a star and carry the resentment of loyal viewers.

The gossip

PJ and Maggie
Will they or won’t they? It was nice to see it finally happen, except we worried that a classic tension point would be lost. Often in these situations you wish they hadn’t done it after they have and you no longer have to wonder if they ever will. Don't forget, they HAVE kissed (a season finale), so the relationship was not entirely chaste. But PJ, from his colourful track record, is clearly not a one-woman man - and if he was, he wouldn’t be the PJ we know and love, would he?

Their relationship was like pulling the petals off a flower - "this episode she loves me, this episode she doesn’t, this episode she loves me…" This has to be the longest period of foreplay (about three years) since we abandoned neck-to-knee cosies. At the very least let them get married (and then no doubt fighting) so they can get on with it. Amongst the writers here at Law4u we proposed a competition: who will get into bed first, PJ and Maggie, or Scully and Mulder from the "X-Files"? It’s a long while now since the end of season 1995 finale episode, when PJ revealed he had a fantasy to rescue Maggie in an hour of need - as the song goes, "and then he kissed her". And then there was the time that Maggie looked about ready to go to that great police station in the sky - PJ felt compelled to reveal his true feelings whilst she lay in a coma ("You’ll be right, Mags").

Well, the writers did take the plunge in the episode "Gold" at the end of April 1997. It took a mine explosion to do it, but what the heck – love blooms just as well under the ground! The writers were smart enough to let matters of the heart cool a little.

Behind the scenes

  • It sure was a mistake to take PJ out of the show - it provoked more outrage than the French nuclear tests! The episode in which he returned rated through the roof.
  • What’s with the double entendres? Why don’t Maggie and PJ just come right out with it and say they’ve got the hots for each other? (okay, okay, we know the answer - this is essentially family entertainment).
  • Writer Bill Garner was invited to play a small part that he had written. Remember a character called "Gelly", a safe-cracker who specialises in crimes that utilise (you guessed it) gelignite.
  • The case of the missing kidney - what did you think of the 1996 season finale? How many kidneys are the subject of a criminal demand? Whilst it is on its way to a transplant? Can’t fault the "Blue Heelers" writers for ingenuity, can you?
  • To prepare for his role, Martin Sacks spent time with real live police and even found himself involved in an arrest (he says he went "on a bust").
  • Is Lisa leaving the show? This has been the rumour for quite a while, but there is now strong evidence that she has signed up for one more year.
  • What do you think of Brett Climo as Robbie, Maggie’s less than wholesome older brother? Can you remember when you last saw him on "Blue Heelers"? How will you feel about him when you know his past has caused Maggie's death?
  • Do you think that Lisa's replacement Caroline Craig bears a striking resemblance to the triple Logie winning star? Looks like quite a few around the town certainly do! Here at Law4U we can't see it.
  • Clearly Caroline Craig scored the most sought after role in Australian television. Another triumph for the National Institute of Dramatic Arts.
  • Lisa waltzed down the aisle with longtime boyfriend Tim Disney on February 18th 2000.
  • In 2000 John Wood signed for a further 2 years in his standout role as Tom Croydon. If all goes well he could see 400 episodes of the great show.
  • Viewers may have been surprised to see Lisa sell her wedding story to a national magazine. She may have been following the lead of co-star Martin Sacks.
  • Lisa completed a very successful Sydney season in "The Sound Of Music" in February 2000.
  • Martin Sack's and wife Kate welcomed their first child Jack in January 2000.

The facts

Why is the show called "Blue Heelers"? Because the farmers in the area use this breed of cattle dog, noted for its toughness, and it similarly describes the local cops.

"Blue Heelers" has consistently rated number 1 in Australia, with a weekly audience now over 3 million – in 1997 this at times represented forty percent of weekly television viewers. The episode "In The Gun (Part 2)" scored an unbelievable 2.5 million viewers for its time – "Close Encounters" did even better – now even those figures seem pretty ordinary!

"Blue Heelers" was not an overnight success. It originally screened at 7:30 on Tuesday nights, when it was consistently beaten in part of the timeslot. But a series switch to a later timeslot was an immediate winner. It would be fair to describe the show as Channel Seven’s flagship.

"Blue Heelers" is shown in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Britain. In New Zealand it is a consistent top 5 show, drawing around 500,000 weekly viewers (and a fair number of sheep dogs keen to see their Australian cousins).

"Blue Heelers" has a firearms expert on staff. The cops on the show use real police-issue Model 10 Smith and Wessons in scenes where their guns are drawn. They also have the benefit of a police advisor, who has extensive experience in the force.

The Willy Tavern in Williamstown, a bayside Melbourne suburb, is the location for Mt Thomas’s Commercial Hotel. The Imperial is really located at Castlemaine in country Victoria.

Lisa McCune has lately been quite busy making hay…she’s the pin-up star of Australia’s most successful television drama, and she’s been sharing the stage with some theatrical luminaries in "A Little Night Music" at the Melbourne Theatre Company. This is probably more in the line of work she was trained for - she has a graduate degree in musical theatre and performance, and used to sing in a couple of bands.

Tasma Walton has been seen in "Blue Heelers" once before - she played Kim Trealoarin a 1995 episode.

Lisa McCune won the Silver Logie for Most Popular Actress in 1996. The show won virtually everything else in the 1997 Logies! Congrats to Lisa for winning the Gold Logie (but that hair!) and then again in 1998; and the Silver again; and to Martin Sacks for another Silver; Tasma for New Talent; everyone for Most Popular Series! Only "Water Rats" beat them out of a clean sweep (and it has the same production company).

Is that Tasma in those excellent Mental Health TV ads? It sure looks like her.

Congratulations on "Blue Heelers" achieving its 200th show.

Did you know that the episode that introduced Maggie's brother as a heroin addict was written by John Wood?

Congratulations to Martin Sacks who tied the knot at the end of January, 1998.

Lisa McCune is to star in the TV miniseries adaptation of the Bryce Courtney book "The Potato Factory". She plays a woman transported to a Australia in the 1800s.

The 1998 Logies saw "Blue Heelers' again leading the field. Lisa won (of course!) the Gold Logie and Silver Logie for the second year in a row; the show won a Silver; Martin ditto for most popular actor (sorry to John Wood who missed out in the same category); and the show was once more the number one Australian drama in the ratings.

For those of you who have been in darkest Africa for the past year, William McInnes popped up as the love interest in the brilliantly successful "SeaChange".

On the night that the final Maggie episode aired, the star herself was on stage with "The Sound of Music".

The legal point

Have you noticed the preoccupation of "Blue Heelers" with vandalism, particularly of graveyards? Check out the episodes "The Luck of the Irish", in which PJ and Maggie have one of their innuendo laden conversations about sex - in a cemetery; "Bloodstained Angels", in which the cemetery tombstones are broken and splattered with red paint; "There Last Night", in which the vandalism takes place in a train yard; and "Grave Matters" in which Nell’s gravestone is desecrated. What goes on here? Did one of the producers have their car vandalised? Are these intimations of death, projections of insecurity, or just a reminder that even hit TV shows are mortal? Whatever, the vandalism is dealt with in true blue fashion – arrest and charge!

In NSW they have found a better way to handle this type of offence, especially with regard to the trains featured in "There Last Night". There is a "railway reparation scheme" in Sydney that deals with young graffiti "artists" and other vandals –a court can order a young person to do up to 100 hours of work for the State Rail Authority. And what do they have to do? You guessed it – clean trains and remove graffiti! And remember, if you scrawl graffiti anywhere (including a graveyard) and use language that is discriminatory (e.g. anti-homosexual or racist) you can find yourself guilty of a breach of the federal (and possibly state) anti-discrimination laws.

Did you see the episode "Fool For Love", about a crooked dating agency? In that episode PJ goes undercover to flush out the agency’s dubious activities. Maybe this is the way it happens in the country, but here in the big city you’d have to content yourself with a trip to your state Fair Trading or Consumer Affairs Department and allege misleading and deceptive conduct. A prosecution often depends on whether the conduct is likely to deceive – so it is not so important if the victim was actually deceived, but whether they were "likely" to be deceived. There are other laws that can also come into play here, but what is not likely is that an undercover police operation will be mounted to bust the proprietor!

In Maggie's final days she is to enter a Witness Protection Program. What is this? This is a way in which the police protect a witness who may be in danger of interference prior to the appearance in the court. It may be necessary for the person to adopt a new identity for the rest of their lives. This has achieved popular currency with the so-called Mafia cases in the United States, where a witness would face enormous danger after giving evidence against former colleagues. It's clearly a lot easier to simply disappear. In the US the Witness Protection Program, technically known as Witness Security, has relocated and renamed over 15,000 people since it began in 1970. It often involves some immunity from prosecution in return for testimony.

Our verdict

Television executives must rack their brains over shows like "Blue Heelers". Why in the hell does a show set in a small town, that in truth doesn’t diverge too much from a tried and true formula, achieve the sort of success producers die for? In the end it probably comes down to two ingredients: a good solid foundation and timing.

Every now and again we devour one of these types of shows, where values supersede action and the heart is on the sleeve. There’s a fair amount of nostalgia for different (and presumably better) times in the plot - rural values where money and career does not take over our lives, the hospital is working just fine, and we still talk to neighbours and friends. And the copycats are out in force in the swag of new shows now filling our screens - character based dramas where the audience can readily identify with more than one of the cast members.

"Blue Heelers" is well written, and it is not too hard to suspend your disbelief for a while and accept that these men and women really are looking out for the interests of the everyman/woman in the bush. As a country we seem to be pining for the heroes of our pasts, and bemoaning the lack of contemporaries that embody the Australian spirit of fair play. "Blue Heelers" unashamedly appeals to that yearning, and to the extent that it does it so well, here at Law4u we say "well done, good luck and keep up the good work".

 

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