City Homicide's long-awaited return

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As Nadine Garner (Detective Jennifer Mapplethorpe) explains, network executives weren't happy with the first pilot. Seven programmer Tim Worner sat on the project for some time, while media speculated that the network might back down on a series.

"They got very cold feet about it," she acknowledged. "He made a pilot that he shelved and then decided 'we'll just start from scratch, shoot that again and then go into full-blown series'."

Even at an early script read, Worner even bluntly told the cast he was very nervous about it working, but the ensemble, which includes Daniel McPherson, Aaron Pedersen, Damien Richardson, Shane Bourne and Noni Hazlehurst, took that anxiety on board. He needn't have worried. The show became an unabashed local hit for Seven, scoring impressive ratings and Logie nominations.

Now, a year later the only nerves Garner harbours as the second series premiers, are whether the audience still remembers them.

"It's been a long time off air. The only anxiety I've got is we may have lost some viewers in the interim who may have thought, 'Oh yes, that was really nice back then but let's not bother this year or whatever'."

After years of the rural crime of Blue Heelers, viewers have clearly responded to the harder, sexier cops of the "State Police" division. With murder so central to the plot, the series isn't apologetic about some of the grisly and violent scenes of its contemporary stories. Some of the sub-plots involving the police force have delved into corruption; a theme the writers can explore given the show isn't affiliated with Victoria Police. This also sets it apart from Blue Heelers.

"We didn't want to have to answer them, to be representing them per se," said Garner.

"So we get a bit more leeway to have the corrupt cop. Or to have the cop bashing someone he shouldn't be bashing. If you're tied to the Victoria Police then you have to represent them in the best possible light all the time. It doesn't always make for good drama.

"We can't make prime time adult drama having police breathing down our neck saying 'Oh, he wouldn't say that!' It's just not good TV."

Nevertheless, producers do consult with experienced professionals.

"If we're doing a raid and we need strategic advice on how to choreograph we have people on set, so it's not like we're making it up. Obviously we have armourers, people who handle weaponry."

As Detective Jennifer Mapplethorpe, Garner is relishing her day at the office.

"I certainly feel challenged as an actor," she said. "In episode five I'm running around the bush, being chased by an axe murderer. I'm shooting guns. There's nothing about it that's 'ho hum' about it."

This season she hopes to explore Mapplethorpe's balance between work and home life: "the modern woman's dilemma."

"How do you find a partner when you're married to your job? How do you find time to have a baby? When is it too late to do all that kind of stuff? How do you do it when you don't have the support around you?"

But as is the style of City Homicide, such issues will be tackled softly, softly. The balance between procedural crime and personal dramas of its central characters is, Garner surmised, a ratio of about 80:20.

"Some episodes are more personalised than other ones. Sometimes the crime is so engrossing there's very little room to go into the personal stuff. Other times personal stuff is pivotal. I actually like the balance, I understand the formula."

City Homicide is also notable for its eclectic casting of guest stars, many of whom are familiar to Aussie viewers. This season includes Alex Papps (Home and Away), Peter O'Brien (White Collar Blue, Neighbours), Fiona Corke (SeaChange), Russell Gilbert (Hey Hey! It's Saturday) and Elspeth Ballantyne (Prisoner: Cell Block H).

With production boosted from 14 to 22 episodes for 2008, the network looks like it has certainly allayed those early fears.

"This year opens with an incredibly graphic murder of a woman down an alleyway. It's a real thriller because you don't foresee who the murderer is and it takes you on a real ride."

City Homicide airs in Australia at 8:30pm Mondays on Seven.

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