Minor Spoilers: Last year there was an awful lot of action on our screens: Cops LAC, Sea Patrol, City Homicide, Rescue Special Ops and Rush.
In a few weeks time, only one of them will be left standing -TEN’s tactical response unit in Rush.
It enters its fourth season re-energised with a “mini-series” story arc that differs from previous seasons which were largely stand-alone episodes.
“We’re following one story through for the whole 13 episodes. Each episode is self-contained, but there is a strong through-line,” explains Producer Mimi Butler.
“The opening of the first episode is the assassination of the Minister of Police and it kicks off a pretty big investigation: why, how, where, what’s it all about? It’s a really juicy story, but at the same time each episode has a beginning, middle and end.
“It takes Rush up a notch and broadens it so that it’s not just suburban crime but state crime.”
This season all the principal characters return, joined by Antony Starr (Outrageous Fortune) and Emily Wheaton (The Slap, Noah & Saskia, Neighbours).
“Antony plays Charlie and he really shakes up the whole team. Emily is a guest character in the control room playing Amber, Leon’s niece.”
But Butler is coy on whether all the characters are still in place by the end of the fourth season.
The series was inspired in 2008 by Victorian Police setting up its 2005 Critical Incident Response Team in support of the Special Operations Group.
“Victoria setting up CIRT is what provoked the whole show, because they wanted to bring down the number of deaths that were happening when Police were called to critical incidents.
“They wanted to create a skilled group of Police to respond who had alternative methods of policing with negotiation skills, tasers and were able to resolve things.
“I think Queensland’s got one, New Zealand’s got one, they’ve now gone rural with them in Victoria.
“But we amalgamated it in Rush because we wanted the capability of following the story through to the end. So we kind of upscaled them with a SWAT team, but still with that philosophy of non-lethal policing and trying to resolve situations without causing harm.”
Setting the series within a fictional ‘State Police’ allows the drama, like City Homicide before it, to explore stories which may be at odds with policing, such as endemic corruption. This contrasts with former dramas such as Blue Heelers which had a Victoria Police consultant on staff.
“We can show the grey areas. We do have a lot of freedom because we’re not beholden to the Victoria Police,” says Butler.
“It’s good because then we can debate points of law.”
Yet the series also embraces its Melbourne backdrop, including using actual location names for its street names, many of which are set in the CBD and western suburbs.
“We don’t try to set it in the West but there’s a lot of great locations with all different levels of affluence in the West. You can get beautiful 3 or 4 storey mansions or you can get some dives, industrial, semi-rural,” she says.
“Rush has definitely got a look that lends itself to it and that’s the eye of the directors and the D.o.P. And our location department is amazing with what they keep coming up with.
“It’s amazing how many times you chat to people and they are so excited to be able to work out where things are and they use the real names. It was something we decided to do on season one.
“People from other states call me up when they see the suburb they used to live in. It’s just a little quirk of the show.”
This season of 13 episodes is a shorter order than 2010′s 22 episodes. Butler says the decision was collaborative between producers Southern Star and TEN.
“We would have had the same amount of time to make 22, so to sustain that quality you would have to rip, tear and bust. We all love the show and none of us wanted to do that. Two years of 22 was hard slog and you end up with some fabulous episodes but some that fall through the net,” she says.
But with TEN’s 2012 Programming Launch tomorrow night, Butler admits to not knowing whether or not Rush will be renewed. By the end of the fourth season the drama will no longer qualify for a 20% Tax Rebate.
“They look at ratings, they look at the show, but who knows? It’s very difficult with financing because we’ve hit our 65 mark,” Butler admits.
“Funding plays part of it because you can only get the tax rebate up to 65 episodes, and we’ll get to 70. So after 65 every episode is 20% more expensive which will be the case for our last 5 episodes.
“But you never say never. If it rated well enough and enough people watched it and all of a sudden people say ‘There’s a way to finance this,’ then I’m sure there would be life. But I think it would be very difficult.”
So has the series been written with a sense of finality or is it open-ended?
“There’s always room to move forward. We don’t blow everyone up!” she insists.
“If they wanted to do another 13 or telemovies there is definitely life. Underbelly made some telemovies. There’s always possibilities depending on how the audience like it.”
But there is still room for optimism. Last year TEN delayed a decision from its September Programming Launch to assess the show’s performance and this year the network surely needs drama points. Butler is buoyed by the fact all the cast, who were out of contract, wanted to return and the show’s fanbase is fiercely loyal.
“It’s a very loyal following because the characters and the show are very defined. It’s really nice. I hope all our viewers come back, and then some.”
Rush returns to TEN soon.