The Secret Millionaire

smIf you were to take a snapshot of Nine’s schedule there’s a millionaire looking for an apprentice to join his financial advisory company at one end of the week, and now millionaires giving away money to the needy at the other.

Somewhere in between there is a television network laden with debt, cost cutting and a few high-profile stars on million dollar salaries too. There have also been a few shows lately where big wads of cash have been dished out to reality winners of low-rating TV formats. If you look very closely you can even find some Money for Jam. Money, it seems is a big focus at Channel Nine. But hasn’t it always been?

Nine also has a predisposition for making television out of bettering lives of the worthy: Domestic Blitz, Second Chance and anything with Scott Cam in front of a cam. This time it has a UK format in which the wealthy will go undercover amongst real battlers before deciding who is to receive a share of their own money -from a pool of $100,000.

The first question you’re wondering is how they can stay undercover if there is a film crew present, right? Easy. The community groups and families they meet are told they are filming a documentary on volunteering in the community. Seems plausible enough.

In the first episode we meet Albert Bertini, a successful Sydney property developer. Raised in a migrant family speaking little English, he is now husband and father to his own young family living a charmed life in Sydney. No doubt he has worked hard for it. For this social experiment he will spend a week living amongst those less fortunate -in Fitzroy. Bertini must survive on $20 a day and room in a run down $100 a week rental on a noisy street (pictured).

Despite his obvious affluence, Bertini is a rather groovy millionaire: fit, wearing funky clothes and street smart. No stuffy boardroom suit, he will be easy to pass undercover in an inner suburb.

It’s when Bertini meets the characters of Fitzroy that this show really takes off.

He will encounter community groups lending a hand to the homeless: alcoholics, drug-addicted, mentally-ill, disabled and aged. But rather than tug at the heart strings of sad case stories, it focusses on the inspiring volunteers who battle through thick and thin, mostly without any regular funding, to give something back. And they do it full of heart, without complaint.

Bertini will have to double as both subject and storyteller here, spending time mucking in cleaning bathrooms, while drawing out stories from those he works alongside. But it humbles a man who seemingly has it all, and elevates the drama of the piece.

When he eventually reveals his true identity and hands over cheques, the audience will be collectively reaching for the Kleenex box.

That commercial television ventures down a road filled with such real Australians in primetime is something very surprising. Shouldn’t we be hearing these tales on SBS? For a network that this year has tried to fill our screens with pretty people (homeMADE, Australia’s Perfect Couple), this is a stark contrast.

Adding gravitas to the concept is Russell Crowe narrating, with his deep, resonant voice devoid of pouring on the emotion. Crowe is indeed a coup fot this. His presence works a treat.

True, the show does resort to contemporary adult pop for its soundtrack, clinging to its bag of tricks to win a broad audience. It didn’t need to. The storytelling works well enough without it.

The second episode will see another unconventional millionaire spend time with refugees in Newcastle. Nine appears to have cast this with millionaires with young families, who have a bit of the Richard Bransons about them (are there any women?).

The show is so philanthropic its timeslot is a surprise. Why didn’t Nine slate this earlier in the night than 9:30pm, or more specifically its traditional 6:30 Sunday slot?

Nevertheless, this is a well-produced piece of drama that holds a mirror up to corners of our world we rarely see on television. At the same time it is effective storytelling. I truly hope that we don’t hear stories later about how they only picked up a shovel when the cameras are rolling, or how groups are left to pay taxes or something. I guess Today Tonight will be looking for cracks soon enough…

Until Nine gets its own Secret Millionaire to come and sort out its own financial woes (Mr. Bouris, perhaps?) this one will do just fine.

4_starsThe Secret Millionaire premieres 9:30pm Thursday on Nine.

22 Comments:

  1. I met and got to know Albert and his brother in the mid 90’s very well, and tried to help them get a contract into Malaysia to tile the new airport at KL. During this time they were obviously successful, but were so down to earth and generous. Always being himself, and wanting to help anyone who was genuine. These guys were no dummies, and could smell BS a mile off. They had my respect then, and they still have it now. Good on you Albert well done buddy!

  2. hi! i just would like to ask someone who knows the song that was played at the end of the show….my hubby likes the song and i want to get him a cd for valentines…. is it by “Coldplay”?

  3. watched this and thought it was pretty good. pretty ironic that albert was a south sydney supporter the same as russell. they are probably friends. hope they are all not souths supporters.

  4. I had the pleasant experience in meeting Albert when he was in the family tile business. It was apleasure to see how well he has made it to the present status and my family watched the programe with interest.
    Great viewing and the continued best of luck with his business

  5. As a recipient of this new show, my hat goes off to CH9 for picking it up. For the hundreds of people that will benefit from the generosity of my special millionaire, I cannot thank them enough. I loved the UK version and cannot believe how blessed I am to be part of the Australian series. Congratulations Channel 9 on your vision.

  6. Last nite was the first nite i saw this show, and i must say that Albert Bertini really touch my heart. He himself hanged my thoughts on rich people. He was such a down to earth, fit and groovy individual, who really cared for the people that crossed his path.
    I want to say that this show is awesome to be able to see genorisity in the world that really does make a difference. But it was Albert that has changed my thoughts to the
    millionares out there. I think there should be more of it. He obviously had enough to share around and good on him, brought tears to my eyes, and gold to my heart.
    how awesome!!

  7. I really find these shows annoying and patronising. I have seen the original UK series and hated it. Why not just give the money to the people to begin with? Do they have to earn the approval of the secret millionnaire first? But hey lets make a show about it so we can skite about the millionaire and how how he/she made their money. Then lets go down to the disadvantaged areas, deceive them (because obviously being disadvantaged they are stupid!) and then throw a bit of money at them (which isn’t really that much when you think about it). Disgusting. The only good thing that will come out about it is highlighting the charities etc and good work that people do in the cummunity (usually for no or little money).

  8. i comment very rarely on this site, but always visit and always read the comments…it gets very annoying when time after time people on here bag nine out. why is it, no one bags seven? or ten? or if they do its a rareity. i just dont understand.

    nine run an hour news service becasue something significant to that particular area has something has affected it – nine get bagged
    nine gets the rights to its own wipeout series – gets bagged
    seven get the rights to its own dancing with the stars series – nothing said
    nine gets rights to australian apprenitce – gets bagged
    seven does australias got talent – nothing said
    nine does a local version of the secret millionare – gets bagged

    i just dont understand, and im sure im not the only one that it annoys, i dont think nine would be able to get anything right, and before you slam me and say im on the payroll at nine, because majority of you do say that when someone whinges back at you all – im not

    • Nine’s many years of sitting at the top of the ratings ladder during the Packer years bred a degree of arrogance that is deep-seated within many amongst its audience, and like turning around a cruise liner, this can’t be addressed overnight. Significantly, there are many who have already noted the same to be emerging within its successor, Seven. It doesn’t help that Nine’s erratic programming moves erode loyalty, and that some titles this year have been poorly produced. But Underbelly is still one of the success stories of 09. And Hey Hey is joining it. GO! is proving a positive move….

      As a critic I try to monitor them all fairly (but as a subjective view, even that is impossible), and in the case of this show I believe it warranted a thumbs up. There is good and bad across them all, but like football teams and politics, people will have their favourites. Nine still has more homework in Humility 101 and Consistency 101.

  9. So millionaires attempting to be like normal people, and pretending to be poor?? Sounds just as bad giving bogan couples $100,000 for being a bogan couple.

  10. I will surely watch this one. I was a fan of the UK version on Lifestyle channel.
    Agree though that Nine should have slotted this on a better time but I’m not complaining much.

  11. Nice article David. I also wondered about the timeslot, as if Nine was trying to hide this series from its audience. But all credit to them for going with a format like this – even if they felt it necessary to include a pop soundtrack… I am also curious about the handing over of cheques. I can’t remember that from the UK original (though I don’t think I ever made it through an entire show) and I can’t imagine that bit if this show was on ABC or SBS. It looks a little silly in the promos – as if Nine can’t make a show unless they hand over cash to invoke tears at the end? Is it really just about the millionaire handing over some cash?

  12. even though i will enjoy the show, i liked the uk version, once again Channel 9 and it’s sneak peaks, i do not want to be bombard with this, will they ever learn…..

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