Four lives, one death, a million little choices

Lives slowly unravel in devastating fashion as One Night reveals the connection between four ordinary people.THE butterfly effect, it turns out, has its own body count. The smallest decision, however inconsequential it might seem, can result in someone ending up dead on the concrete of a bleak London housing estate.
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Each of the four episodes of this reasonably gritty new BBC drama focuses on a single character's experience and interpretations of the events that lead to the mysterious tragedy. (The identity of the deceased won't be revealed until later.)

Tonight's first instalment begins with a 13-year-old boy turning in a handgun at a police station and then keeping his mouth shut as the coppers try to interrogate him about the shooting at the centre of everything.

After that, it's all about Ted (Douglas Hodge), a kitchen salesman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It seems he's just had a deal fall through, he thinks he's going to lose his job, his boss is coming for dinner and he's struggled home with the groceries only to realise he's forgotten the charcoal for the barbecue. To top it all off, a group of sassy girls from the estate drops a chip packet outside his tidy little middle-class terrace. When he tells them to put it in the bin, they give him an earful.

It's about this time that Ted should give up, go inside and help his wife (Saskia Reeves) with dinner. But he's had it with the girls being ''all earrings and attitude'', so he drives to their school to complain. This results in Rochelle (Georgina Campbell) being unfairly suspended and brings immediate retaliation in the form of a used condom being pushed through the mail slot in Ted's front door.

Through all this, Hodge plays Ted as a believably sweaty, strung-out and put-upon white-collar drudge, sympathetic if not altogether endearing. But things are about to take a sudden lurch into Falling Down territory.

While Ted and Sally are trying to entertain their guests (Neil Stuke and Kellie Bright), a rock comes through the kitchen window and Ted loses it completely. He runs out into the street, collars a black lad, kicks the stuffing out of him and then locks him in the garden shed.

It's a scene likely to leave viewers as agape as it does Ted's dinner guests, but hopefully they won't tune out. The kid is soon released and Ted realises that pretty much everything is his own fault. Having decided to try to make amends, he walks onto the estate and into this episode's cliffhanger - is he the one who gets shot?

Series creator Paul Smith is intent on moving further from his background in comedy into drama. Tonight's episode might seem a little closer to melodrama at times, but it would be hard to write Ted a perfectly calm meltdown.

The next episode, which focuses on Rochelle, is more satisfying.

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Exposing sport’s brand of absurdity

IT'S an exercise in understatement to suggest the ABC has had some difficulties with its Wednesday night line-up in 2012.
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The venerable music game show Spicks and Specks had, until it was cancelled last year, apportioned the public broadcaster a high-rating anchor on which to assemble a big viewing audience.

So successful was it, Wednesdays became known as the ABC's ''Broadway'' slot.

This year, however, could be called a disaster. A succession of shows such as Randling, Outland, Nice, In Gordon St Tonight and Laid have all floundered on Wednesday nights.

It's into this somewhat unnerving environment that one of the ABC's most sturdy, highest-rating - and consistently entertaining - franchises returned last week. But rather than look more broadly at selling, Gruen Sweat announced itself as an irreverent four-week examination of the issues behind the way sport is advertised and marketed at us.

It's a strong idea. In the past few years, the Gruen suite of shows has unequivocally influenced the way we perceive advertising and the tools companies use to persuade us to buy. So a juncture such as the London Olympics, when sport is permeating popular culture even more than usual, looked an ideal time to examine just how influential it is.

Last week's debut, ambitiously pitted against the season finales of Australia's Got Talent and MasterChef, proved the show's audience remains. More than 900,000 watched what proved to be a strong piece of counter-programming.

Gruen was created by Andrew Denton's production company Zapruder's Other Films, and former Fairfax journalist Jon Casimir, who wondered why an industry worth $500 billion a year globally was not examined more often.

This year there will be four sporting-themed episodes, followed by another 10 in the Gruen Planet incarnation - which applies the show's framework of discussing and illustrating the power of persuasion to the world of spin, PR, branding and image control.

There was much to like, however, in the first episode of Sweat last week. Hosted by comedian Wil Anderson with his two mainstays, advertising-executive panellists Russel Howcroft and Todd Sampson, a significant difference was the introduction of two athletes to the panel.

Jane Flemming and Steve Moneghetti - champions in their own right - were able to provide insight, humour and context to the marketing theories expounded by Howcroft and Sampson.

Sampson declared that the organisations sponsoring the Olympics are collectively paying the International Olympic Committee hundreds of millions of dollars to promote the International Olympic Committee.

''In the commercial world, it would be like Apple paying Coca-Cola to promote Coca-Cola,'' he mused.

As it goes, the Olympics brand is second only to Apple as the most valuable in the world. So the panel eagerly dissected just how companies can go about exploiting that.

There was intriguing information relating to the thinking behind spending money as a sponsor. In typical Gruen fashion, however, many laughs were drawn out of the protectionism taken by the IOC. Elements such as London's so-called brand exclusion zones and, most amusingly, its ''brand police'' - employed to ensure members of the public do not inadvertently engage in their own brand of ambush marketing - were pursued for comedic value.

Indeed, in dissecting the construction of the world's biggest McDonald's outlet or the inadvertently hilarious Qantas Olympics safety videos, we were exposed to both ''sides'' of the marketing equation. Sampson and Howcroft winced at what they deemed to be cheesy footage of athletes participating in a Qantas safety demonstration. Tellingly, the former athletes Flemming and Moneghetti considered it an amusing diversion.

It will be interesting to see how far the show goes in the next couple of weeks in its exploration of polarising sporting figures and their brand damage. Last week much time was devoted to both Stephanie Rice and Nick D'Arcy. Sampson's utter disgust and outrage at the mere concept of representing D'Arcy was something to behold.

The series' inspired closing segment - a weekly look at the worst performance of an athlete in a TV commercial - has almost limitless potential.

Sweat will surely halt the ABC's Wednesday ratings decline in coming weeks, and the Gruen brand and its franchises have established an impressive legacy. Whereas some may have deemed advertising an annoying but necessary evil, the show has demonstrated that the ad world is often a sharp, forward-thinking and intelligent contemporary workplace.

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Doctor in the house

Laura Leighton and Thomas Calabro have returned for the rebooted Melrose Place.DR MICHAEL Mancini, the baby-faced love rat of '90s drama series Melrose Place, has been good to his alter ego, actor Thomas Calabro. The role for which Calabro will forever be recognised propelled his career from jobbing LA actor to prime-time star. He was the only original cast member to stay for the show's entire run, from 1992-99. But over the decade since, Calabro has found it hard to shake the scheming Mancini. Television roles have been confined to guest spots on shows such as Nip/Tuck,Cold Case,Without a Trace, and, most recently, Glee, or appearances as himself on nostalgia shows such as I Love the '90s (2004). When I spoke with him in 2010, as the series relaunched to lukewarm reviews in the US and was scheduled to screen on Channel Ten (which then shelved it for two years), Calabro said it was with trepidation that he agreed to resurrect his role as a regular on the redux version of Melrose Place.
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''I think any actor who has been on a successful series would say there's a very small, small chance that that would ever happen again, and so I felt very fortunate and shocked to be asked back,'' he said. ''My ex-wife actually lives in the huge success of the first time around. We bought a big house and now she has it.''

Revisiting Michael Mancini and his various loves (Laura Leighton reprises her role as the voracious Sydney, and Josie Bissett appears in a guest role as Michael's two-time wife, Jane), was confronting Calabro's own past.

''Michael's everything I wouldn't want to tap into,'' he said. ''Just like I wouldn't want to tap into myself 10 years ago. They say every seven years, every cell in your body rejuvenates, so for me there was no need to go back and repeat that. It was most important that I find out who he is now.''

The pilot episode sees an older, wiser Michael doing a very good imitation of a family man with a wife and five-year-old son, but there's the complication of his fraught relationship with his now grown-up son David (Shaun Sipos), who is embroiled in a love affair with Sydney, who has replaced Amanda (Heather Locklear) as queen of the apartment building.

''Michael has got more self-confidence than he's ever had before,'' Calabro said. ''The first time around he was always seeking greater heights and doing things to achieve [positions such as] chief of staff or a new kind of love, to see how he could get ahead and serve himself. Now he's on top of the world. Now he's in a position where he's got more to lose, so he's defending the castle rather than trying to attack it … But Michael is Michael and in any incarnation of Melrose Place, he's going to be Michael and he will get what he wants just the way he wants to get it.''

Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) directed the pilot episode for producers Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer (Smallville), who have faithfully re-created the late Aaron Spelling's glamorous world of troubled young things. The series opens with all the familiar elements: a love tryst, fracturing relationships, a moral dilemma, and a dead body in the pool.

''What I really enjoyed about Darren Swimmer and Todd Slavkin's vision was that it is their own,'' Calabro said. ''They were going to bring back a sort of high-pitched drama but they certainly had their own world that they were going to try and create … They weren't trying to be Aaron Spelling.''

Melrose Place screens on Sunday at 10.30pm on Channel Eleven.

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A refreshing world view

YOU don't have to look too far to see where the producers of The Amazing Race Australia derive their inspiration for putting contestants on the reality adventure series through the wringer: Channel Seven started this year by putting the show's second season on at 9pm on Wednesday nights, forcing it to compete in the ratings game at a distinct disadvantage.
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The move didn't make sense, given that when it was introduced last year the show drew critical praise and strong audience figures at 8.30pm on Monday nights. Anyone who harboured memories of Channel Nine's dire effort to transplant Survivor to this country would have been more than pleasantly surprised. The remake was exceptionally well cast, it didn't look like a cheap knock-off and it had a distinctly Australian ethos.

Several weeks ago, with the local edition's popularity starting to fade, Seven moved it back to Monday nights. In the 7.30pm slot it started adding viewers, even though the season was all but half over. Last Monday the show - in which teams criss-cross the globe undertaking challenges - drew just more than 1 million watchers in the capital cities, achieving a pass mark that appeared unlikely as recently as June.

Seven is holding the final three episodes of this season, including a 90-minute finale, and will screen them on consecutive nights, from Monday, August 13, to Wednesday, August 15, after the London Olympics. If you haven't been watching until now, catch up during the next 10 days and be ready for the final burst because this is a standout production.

There's always been a fear that Australian editions of successful American shows would suffer because we lacked the necessary egotists and fame whores willing to debase themselves in the pursuit of money and/or celebrity. But while The Amazing Race Australia has a smattering of those types, it proves there's enough in our national psyche - competitiveness, hope, self-deprecating humour - to make for entertaining viewing.

At the start of the show, for example, it appeared that Victorian alpha male Paul, who was partnered with workmate Steve, was to be the season's villain. Pumping himself up with comical self-belief - if you put that much air into a tyre it would burst - he was soon rubbing other teams the wrong way and engaging in skirmishes. But the episodes, which are carefully edited, soon let you see that sometimes Paul was just hoping to convince himself he was OK and he was trying to compensate for insecurities from the past.

It's become apparent that another duo, New South Wales siblings Joseph and Grace, are acting appallingly, having been caught cheating. Grace has acted with myopic disdain towards certain teams while asserting that she hopes to be a deferential wife and that her brother should naturally take charge. It's as if one of the destinations were 1957.

The Amazing Race Australia has also benefited from taxing contests along the way in challenges that have been unexpectedly hard to complete. One memory-based Roadblock in Istanbul stumped two teams, both of which had to take a four-hour penalty in lieu of successful completion, while another episode finished with a spiky Queensland couple, Kym and Donna, giving up and sleeping in their car.

If the simple lesson of good reality television is not to judge those involved on simplistic first impressions, then this year the series has hit the mark. Blonde cheerleaders are a staple of both the American and Australian versions but NSW twins Michelle and Jo have been front-runners for much of the year.

The most enjoyable teams, however, are garrulous Victorian police officers Shane and Andrew, who can't quite shake the shadow of Inspector Clouseau, and NSW sisters Lucy and Emilia, who are slightly hopeless at nearly everything but completely charming thanks to their pluck and perpetual banter. Somehow, both teams are in the final five.

At a time when the dull fakery of Being Lara Bingle and The Shire have been vomited on our screens, The Amazing Race Australia has proved to be great fun and culturally authentic. That's a rare, but welcome, double bill.

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Push on to rename IR watchdog

AN INQUIRY into the operation of Labor's industrial relations legislation has recommended the name of Fair Work Australia be changed.
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This reflects reputational damage done to the organisation by its handling of the Craig Thomson-Health Services Union affair, as well as the appropriateness of a more neutral name.

The case for the name change was put strongly by the president of FWA, Iain Ross.

The Fair Work Act has not harmed Australia's productivity, according to the inquiry report, which will open a new round of the politically charged industrial relations debate.

Released by Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten today, the report argues the act has delivered fairness for employees and flexibility for employers without reducing competitiveness or excessively raising costs.

But among its 50 recommendations the report is expected to propose Fair Work Australia be given the power to arbitrate when bargaining on greenfields resource and construction projects breaks down. Employers, being forced to negotiate with unions, have complained they are being held hostage by them. Despite this, the report generally will be criticised by sections of business for not going far enough.

The report is expected to say that FWA's tribunal and administrative functions should be more clearly separated. There will also be proposals on how to enhance the organisation's role in encouraging more productive workplaces.

A survey commissioned by the US Society of Human Resources Management and the Australian Human Resources Institute and reported this week found Australia 50th of 51 countries in productivity growth. was undertaken by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The review has been done by former Federal Court judge Michael Moore, John Edwards, a member of the Reserve Bank Board, and Ron McCallum, a workplace relations academic.

The government made it clear the inquiry would not be a root and branch overhaul.

The panel has not recommended reintroducing statutory individual contracts (Australian Workplace Agreements), open-slather greenfields agreements where unions can be excluded, or limits to unfair dismissals.

It found Labor's industrial relations law, which replaced WorkChoices, is operating as intended.

Mr Shorten will have a round of consultations before the government announces what changes it will make, but it will be made clear to business and unions that this will not be an opportunity to revisit propositions that the panel rejected.

The government will use the panel's findings to counter opposition and business arguments that substantial reform is needed in workplace relations. It will also step up pressure on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to release his policy on IR.

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