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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Hard­cover Mys­ter­ies,

tion of a ‘‘ mag­a­zine con­cept’’ for TV, in which pro­grams would be spon­sored by sev­eral ad­ver­tis­ers. In a memo dated July 19, 1951, he sketched out his rough idea for To­day. His work­ing ti­tle for the pro­gram was Rise and Shine. ‘‘ A morn­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions show, which will give the news, time, weather, tips for com­muters and which will fea­ture a rise­and-shine per­son­al­ity,’’ the memo said.

TV’s first ‘‘ rise and shine’’ per­son­al­ity, wel­com­ing and in­clu­sive, was Dave Gar­roway. His trade­mark sign-off was to give his au­di­ence a kind of bless­ing. ‘‘ Peace,’’ he would say, ex­tend­ing the palm of his hand.

‘‘ So as you leave the house into the day, you’re close to it at the be­gin­ning of the day, know­ing where you’re go­ing and what the world is like that you are go­ing into,’’ he told his view­ers when he first ap­peared, the shad­owy im­ages picked up by a mere frac­tion of Amer­i­can house­holds. His syn­tax may have been tan­gled but he un­der­stood how morn­ing TV worked. ‘‘ He does not crash into the home with the false jol­lity and thun­der­ous wit­ti­cisms of a back­slap­per,’’ one critic noted. ‘‘ He is pleas­ant, se­ri­ous, schol­arly look­ing and not ob­tru­sively con­vivial.’’ It’s been the trick of ev­ery so-called ‘‘ per­son­al­ity pre­sen­ter’’ since: an ef­fort­less abil­ity to es­tab­lish a rap­port with an au­di­ence that erad­i­cates dis­tance.

Gar­roway loomed out of the set some­how, peer­ing at his au­di­ence over gi­gan­tic horn­rimmed glasses. He presided over it for nine years un­til July 1961. Af­ter the sui­cide of his sec­ond wife his be­hav­iour be­came in­creas­ingly er­ratic, his last day a tragic ex­am­ple of a host who could not sur­vive the pres­sures of a daily broad­cast­ing sched­ule. He sim­ply lay down on the stu­dio floor and re­fused to get up if he did not get the con­di­tions he de­manded. It was un­clear what they were, but shortly there­after his re­tire­ment was an­nounced by NBC. He shot him­self in the head in his Philadel­phia home when he was 69.

Watch­ing To­day dur­ing the past few weeks, I won­dered about the fate of the present news­read­ers, weather pre­sen­ters and reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tors. There’s just too much of Weaver’s ‘‘ rise and shine’’ per­son­al­ity; there’s so much go­ing on it comes at us like ex­plod­ing rice bub­bles. It’s a bit like a tele­vised club show with bet­ter wardrobe — gush­ing seg­ments on celebrity gos­sip, end­less sport­ing trivia and pan­els of leggy blondes dis­cussing the per­ils of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness and the fail­ure of fem­i­nism. It needs a good kick up its ex­pen­sively up­hol­stered arse; per­haps this com­ing week cel­e­brat­ing its his­tory might do it. I’VE been avidly fol­low­ing Un­der­belly: Bad­ness, the dense true-crime story of De­tec­tive In­spec­tor Gary Jube­lin and his con­stantly frus­trated at­tempts to put a face to and track down gang­land and un­der­world fig­ure An­thony ‘‘ Bad­ness’’ Per­ish. As with all the Un­der­belly fran­chise in­stal­ments, re­gard­less of some hits and misses inside in­di­vid­ual se­ries, it is skil­fully mounted, su­perbly pho­tographed by Joe Pick­er­ing, grace­fully chore­ographed and vividly edited.

Again, writer and pro­ducer Fe­lic­ity Packard and di­rec­tor Tony Tilse are in­volved, and Burkhard Dall­witz pro­vides the bril­liant mu­si­cal score. Pro­duc­tion com­pany Screen­time’s pro­duc­ers are now so thor­oughly steeped in the mythol­ogy of Aus­tralia’s saints and so­ciopaths they man­age to by­pass the count­less le­gal has­sles and cre­ate these com­pelling moral­ity plays from their heinous ma­te­rial with de­cep­tive ease. De­cep­tive be­cause they must all fear their houses be­ing fire­bombed by the crims whose lives they drama­tise, or taken away by the lawyers who rep­re­sent them. (There are no pre­view discs for Bad­ness, no syn­opses and few pro­duc­tion de­tails, given the con­stant threat of le­gal ac­tion in the con­tin­u­ing Per­ish af­fair.)

Bad­ness is as tightly or­dered

as the

first Un­der­belly, the ter­ri­ble story of Carl Wil­liams and his mur­der­ous un­der­world con­spir­a­cies and his in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Pu­rana po­lice task­force in Vic­to­ria. Again, as I felt with that saga, this new se­ries is also like be­ing locked in a suf­fo­cat­ing dark box where life is de­fined by al­co­holism, mis­ery, misog­yny, vi­o­lence, love­less cop­u­la­tion and be­trayal. It’s im­pos­si­ble to look away, so vis­ceral is the sto­ry­telling.

While the char­ac­ters are dif­fer­ent in the Un­der­belly se­ries, the for­mula re­mains largely the same and, for that, its devo­tees are grate­ful, like read­ers of great crime nov­els that fea­ture the same pro­tag­o­nists. Think of the great se­ries from James Lee Burke, C. J. Box or Michael Con­nelly. We want more of the same but want it to be just that lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent. Sydney crime writer Peter Cor­ris once called this ‘‘ end­less vari­a­tions on the same melody’’, de­scrib­ing his long-run­ning se­ries fea­tur­ing pri­vate de­tec­tive Cliff Hardy. But it’s also more than that.

The fact is no­to­ri­ous crimes have a pro­found res­o­nance in our na­tional life and, in some cases, even come to de­fine cer­tain places and pe­ri­ods. And it is im­por­tant for writ­ers and pro­duc­ers to en­gage with them to help us un­der­stand why. Sure, star­ing into the moral abyss of ter­ri­ble events can be deeply un­set­tling but, as Neil McKay, the writer of the con­fronting Ap­pro­pri­ate Adult, the story of Fred and Rose­mary West, com­ing soon to Seven, sug­gests, an in­con­ve­nient truth lies at the heart of such in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Ter­ri­ble crim­i­nals such as Per­ish and his vi­o­lent co­horts are not al­ways crea­tures from an­other planet; nor is their cor­ro­sive ni­hilism. What is so dis­turb­ing is not that they be­have so mon­strously but how like the rest of us they so of­ten seem. Since Sopho­cles, drama­tists have en­gaged with the dark­est ar­eas of be­ing hu­man. Dra­mas about such events help il­lu­mi­nate them for us, and help to make us less afraid. LAST week I hap­pened to catch Hard­cover Mys­ter­ies, a fine new se­ries on pay-TV’s CI chan­nel that stylishly trav­els inside the minds of Amer­ica’s most pop­u­lar nov­el­ists to ex­plore the cross­over from fact to fic­tion. How much of to­day’s great mys­tery writ­ing springs from the imag­i­na­tion and just how much of it is ripped from the head­lines?

In this new eight-part se­ries top fic­tion crime writ­ers share sto­ries of real-life cases that in­spired them to write or cap­tured their fas­ci­na­tion. What a bunch of mas­ter sto­ry­tellers and acute psy­cho­log­i­cal ob­servers of hu­man na­ture. All ac­com­plished talk­ers too, in­clud­ing Har­lan Coben, Linda Fairstein, Sara Paret­sky, Kathy Re­ichs and Joseph Wam­baugh.

One of the things I’ve found, hav­ing in­ter­viewed many crime writ­ers for this pa­per and on the pan­els of writ­ers’ fes­ti­vals, is that they are pas­sion­ate about en­gag­ing with read­ers, ar­tic­u­late and shame­lessly de­lighted to dis­cuss their pro­cesses, es­pe­cially if the bar is open.

Last week I saw David Bal­dacci look at the 1964 murder of Wash­ing­ton so­cialite Mary Meyer. At the trial of her ac­cused killer the ex­is­tence of a se­cret di­ary is re­vealed de­tail­ing an af­fair with pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy, which leads many to con­spir­acy the­o­ries and be­came the par­tial ba­sis for Bal­dacci’s best­seller, Ab­so­lute Power. This week it’s Lisa Scot­to­line’s turn. Her thrillers of­ten ex­plore fam­ily re­la­tion­ships and here she un­tan­gles a shock­ing murder-for-hire scheme plot­ted by the 15-year-old vic­tim her­self.

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