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44 Comments • Feb 10, 2014 11082

At home and abroad: Rake in the ratings war

While last night saw the greatest battle of mediocre-to-poor commercial television we’ve seen since A Current Affair and Today Tonight were locking horns in their race to the bottom, one of the best Australian series of recent years returned, albeit more quietly than Schapelle or INXS.

ABC1’s Rake has won critical acclaim throughout its first two seasons, whereas Seven’s INXS Never Tear Us Apart and Nine’s Schapelle haven’t exactly been met with a rapturous response. But INXS drew 2.8 million viewers, Schapelle, just over 1.3 million and the premiere of Rake’s third season, 942,000.

When Rake premiered in 2010, it drew just under 1 million viewers and maintained a fairly steady figure throughout its two seasons. But the commercial forces of Nine and Seven dominated so heavily last night (not to mention that Ten had the Winter Olympics with around 1.2 million) that Rake was bound to take a ratings hit.

The first episode of the new season saw Cleaver Greene (played by Richard Roxburgh in blistering form) behind bars. It’s a bold move to keep the action of an episode of a legal procedural entirely within the confines of a prison, but it creates a sense of claustrophobia, pushes the protagonist into new territory and changes the dynamics of their relationships. This is the best behind-bars TV since Orange is the New Black. Stepping so far away from the format that made the show resonate is a risk that has, in this instance, paid off.

The return of Rake to our screens coincides, roughly, with the premiere of the US version of Rake, which is now three weeks into its first season. Greg Kinnear plays the leading character (renamed Keegan Deane) and several of the Australian creatives serve as executive producers.

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While the US Rake hasn’t been quite the critical flop that the misguided US remake of Kath and Kim was, it certainly hasn’t been met with the same kind of enthusiasm that the local series received, and ratings have been dropping fairly sharply since its premiere. The problem is that when Rake made the leap to a commercial US network, it had its edges sanded off, which makes it feel like, as many US critics have already noted, any number of other legal procedurals. It’s essentially Boston Legal, focused on just one character.

The legal and political plot points of the Australian Rake have always been intriguing (who could forget Hugo Weaving’s cannibalistic character in the pilot, or Toni Collette as NSW Premier?), but it was always Greene’s world and his relationships (particularly his relationships with women) that were the source of the best drama. In the US version, those relationships are developing a little too slowly (although Aussies Miranda Otto as Greene’s ex-wife and Bojana Novakovic as prostitute and love interest Melissa are both turning in fine performances) and there’s, arguably, too greater focus on the cases.

On the basis of the first three episodes, it’s hard to imagine that the US version could ever go into the territory that the original did in last night’s episode. It’s just too light, too risk-averse and too homogenously “neat”.

It’s not as if last night’s episode on ABC1 was revolutionary, by any stretch of the imagination, but that the creators behind the original Rake are willing to take any risk at all in the current TV environment is worthy of praise.

In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Rake creator Peter Duncan said that the major difference between making TV in Australia and in the US was that there are many more voices in the US. Do too many cooks spoil the broth? Well there’s a safeness so far that suggests this might be the case. If Fox is willing to take risks with their version of Rake, they might be able to develop an audience. If not, it will slowly morph into something audiences have seen time and again. And you can catch Boston Legal re-runs for that.

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44 Responses to At home and abroad: Rake in the ratings war

  1. Paul Henderson says:

    The ever dependable Richard Roxburgh/Cleaver Greene creation was a great to see once again on Australian television (as opposed to the pap on the two commercial stations up against it at the same time). Although, Cleaver doesn’t look so good in the drab prison green compared to his lawyerly suited attire in the first two series. Rake (the US version) sounds like it needed the HBO touch (The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Curb Your Enthusiasm) instead of the Fox Network treatment to give it the black comedy sparkle it probably needs. Converting the Australian version of Rake and the story/character to the more sanitised middle of the road Boston Legal style of television sounds like something to miss in the conversion. Welcome back Cleaver (the Aussie version), i’ve missed you.

  2. ROB MANNING says:

    Came to the new series with high expectations, the last few episodes of season 2 were classy television, the best of what the abc do. Some great moments in this first episode, Cleeve,s love interest handled well, Bruce Spence superb, the visiting days powerful, Barnyard weird but it sort of worked. It got a bit soft towards the end but hey, is there anything better on the telly, NO. One question. Do prisoners really live like that inside? I can’t afford steak that good.

  3. crizza says:

    The best thing about Rake is that it somehow manages to mirror current NSW political events, even though it was obviously written before. I almost expected to see Eddie Obeid in the prison. And the old sandstone block reminds us of NSW’s inception as a jail, with the jailers often the biggest crims of all. The more things change…

    With those nuances absent, the US version would have to add something special to come anywhere near it.

  4. Marko of Manly says:

    How many of those viewers who tuned into the commercial networks took the option of watching Rake later on ABC iview, I would suggest this explains the skew in viewing numbers and the hits on iview should be counted in comparing total viewing figures as the opportunity to tailor your viewing habits is now different to when the “set box” monitoring was first established. Rake is addictive TV, well written and acted – once experienced it would be a hard habit to kick – I doubt the accuracy of the total published viewing numbers.

    • Maireid says:

      I saw RAKE on Monday night on iView. I was hoping to see those statistics included above.
      And, I have a few questions:
      Do they really hold ‘community’ courts in jail?
      Do they get ‘special’ meals?
      Also, it looked like it was set in the old Pentridge.
      Fantastic to see the prisoners were mostly judges and politicians.
      Clean up politics: Charge the fraudsters. :)
      I loved the twist with the ex-attorney general playing the Clockwork Orange card.

  5. Ruth HN says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed the return of Cleaver with all his wiles. Can’t imagine any prison quite like this one, but it’s great to let the mind run wild with speculation occasionally.
    Why is it that Australia makes a wildly successful series, such as ‘Rake’ or ‘Kath and Kim’, and the Americans need to have it translated? They make any programme and we learn to understand American.
    Why don’t we just say either take the original or lay off? The rights can’t be so valuable that we need to sell our writers, actors, producers, camera bods and all the support crew down the drain, every time.

  6. Anna says:

    Is the ABC repeating episode 1? Was out Sunday night and missed it.

  7. banana says:

    My housemate was set on watching the INXS drivel so I watched Rake on iView. Loved it, especially how they worked an inevitable ‘slipped in the shower’ gag in.

  8. Bruce C says:

    Yes, I agree with Marko. I watched the first episode of the new series of Rake last night via iView which is a truly excellent viewing platform. Viewing on demand with continuation from break-point & no adverts! I enjoyed the episode but it was a little unremittingly dark for my tastes. But nothing would stop me from continuing to watch the saga unfold. I also think that there is a large portion of the viewing public who really don’t understand the offerings on the ABC & stick to the same worn-out path. Also, I am not sure a Sunday night is the best time to launch a new series like this, since the slot has generally been a bit lighter & less confrontational.

  9. Shaun says:

    Hi Ruth,

    It needs to be remade for American audiences because they wouldn’t understand the Australian original.

    The cultural references, the accents and the nuances would make it largely incomprehensible to them.

    We get American TV because so much of it is consumed locally we have some grasp of American culture. There are so few Australian shows that would ever be able to find an audience in the US (especially compared to what is produced locally by their own studios) it just isn’t worth it for them to do the same.

    • Mike Smith says:

      Speaking as an American I watched both Series 1 & 2. While I have no doubt I missed a few things I still found it extremely funny and loved watching it.

    • Chris B says:

      I came in to the room to find my wife watching the first episode on Netflix here in Canada, at first I thought it was the American version. I wasn’t at all interested in watching another US legal show, especially one from Fox.

      But I was surprised when I heard the Aussie accent, within seconds I was hooked. The show was amazing well written on point, Richard Roxburgh as Cleaver Greene is brilliant, his relationships with barnyard, red, missy and Harry sorry David priceless.

      When I read that season 3 was the last, I was sad and a little disappointed but there is something to be said about ending on a high note, which is what I am hoping the producers have done. I eagerly await for season 3 on Netflix.

      I hope to see a lot more great shows like this from Australia!

  10. GaryB says:

    I too watched via iView on Monday.
    I suspect the time shift option deflates the time slot numbers, depending on how the survey is carried out…e.g.. small sample enlarged to population size which shows large trends but little nuance.
    easier to watch INXS..not worth recording and removing all the adverts..
    Free-to-air NOT!
    we pay for the adverts in the price of what we buy…and the time lost waiting
    more like 70% free(18minutes per hour)

    • jack says:

      I am an American and the Aussie version is better all around.
      Sooo much better
      sorry for inflicting Greg Kinnear, that Asshat ,on you.

  11. jaimie fuller says:

    Rake is one of the greatest pieces of Australian TV ever made. As for the US version, they’re wasting their time making it with anyone other than HBO. With HBO they would have had a chance of making it which they won’t with mainstream. I feel sorry for the yanks that they miss out.

  12. John Brookes says:

    I wasn’t going to watch, being scared of being disappointed. Boy was I wrong. What an absolutely fabulous episode. Wonderful twists, like having the gangster telling the story of his own murder. Great new characters like his gay cell mate. The prisoners with their own court. I’m hooked again.

  13. Pamela Murray-Jones says:

    Love Rake and so do my friends. At the risk of seeming to be an intellectual snob, you do have to be a bit more aware of politics and in tune to the nuances to get the best bits of it. Loved the kangaroo court scenes. Can someone tell me if Schapelle’s experience in prison matched it?

  14. Virginia says:

    Excellent new “Rake”! Love R.R. Perhaps it’s not worth doing for the USA as it’s so very Sydney-law-politics, hard to translate.

  15. greg hoey says:

    Would really like to get into this show, but the writer of the plot just seems to be so set upon embellishing his own notoriety [and vanity] by the use of such a character.

    The art of good writing is to not inflict upon the reading or watching public your own ego. i do wish the little man would read these words and take them to heart…but i doubt it somehow.

    • Alan S says:

      Must say I agree. It tends to be the Richard Roxborough Show. Too many cute facial expressions – a bit like Andrew Denton and two minutes with him off camera would be a novelty. Story line is OK but script and Direction aren’t too strong – it lacks grittiness. Take note from Redfern Now and get a consultant such as Jimmy McGovern in. I’m obviously out of step with its large fanbase but…

  16. Peter Chapman says:

    The Americans overplayed David Brent and have now underplayed Cleaver from the sounds of it. Balancing the ingredients needs a light touch and some ethereal nous when creating the dark brew of classic comedy. The Americans are at their best with home-grown fare: Seinfeld, 30 Rock …
    Nice article, well pitched but for the jarring “to greater focus” on style at the expense of grammar.

  17. Gwizz says:

    Great actually to see 3 different Australian stories on TV- whether it be fiction,non fiction, commercial or public . It was just sad they were all on simultaneously, but I suppose most people have ways around that!
    I am glad too that INXS walloped Schapelle’s Story- maybe we are finally tiring of that hysterical drug laden soap opera, fthat has been foisted on us by commercial news and current affairs now for years.

  18. Genxer says:

    Ratings – people still watch tv? There must be a charity for that. But thanks ABC for Iview, saves getting it off piratebay.

    US version ‘weak’ is no surprise. i hear theres a yank version of football where they all wear helmets & lots of padding, and stop every 15 seconds, and swap teams when they change direction.

  19. BruceC says:

    Whilst I can understand the economics of selling the show to the Americans and letting them remake it, and they have every right to do so, but I can’t help feeling they’re a little bit racist as a result. Its not like we speak a different language and have a fundamentally different culture.
    Richard Roxbrough’s portrayal of Cleaver Greene is gold. The stories, whilst Sydney politics focussed, aren’t so different that the average person won’t be able to follow it.
    The characters and approach is very Australian too.
    Basically, I love the show and find it a bit sad that Americans won’t know what the original series is like.

  20. rhodes says:

    Here’s a thought. Why not have the Australian talent (re)make the show unencumbered as a pilot for one of the more adventurous US cable networks, ie. like the way MAD took a gamble on Madmen (when all the others had passed on it)? Use mostly the same actors, shoot almost all of it on set in Oz. Is this still too expensive for Australian financiers?
    There are now a zillion examples of non-Americans succeeding as the lead of an American series (I suppose Hugh Lawrie may be considered an exemption? but of course there was Aussie Jesse Spencer in House and now in Chicago Fire; naturally there is Anthony LaPaglia (Without Trace), Simon Baker (The Mentalist), Rose Byrne (Damages), Toni Colette (United States of Tara), Alex O’Loughlin (Hawaii Five-O, Three Rivers, The Shield), Dominic Purcell (Prison Break) and that is just restricting oneself to the lead character.
    The point is that neither the audience nor the studios/moneymen hesitate any more about an Australian or Brit playing the lead. There is no reason why a pilot for an American series cannot be made, mostly with Australian actors, in an Australian studio. In this case why take the risk with the lead character when Roxburgh is so successful and could easily morph into an American? (Not to mention he is a lot cheaper!) With minimal script rewriting it should be a doddle reshooting, say, the first three episodes, at rock-bottom cost. Given the cost/reward ratio, the Oz Film Finance Corp should support such pilots. Though the success rate of pilots in US tv is very low, that is partly because they are mostly virgin outings. This is a remake of a proven success. Like with Madmen, the show teeters on the edge of parody so it is even more critical that the creative talents be given full control or you end up with the usual American mish-mash that offends no one and appeals to no one.
    Once again, like the car industry (making the most bland and unexciting cars on the planet, designed by Detroit committee) and almost everything else, we seem to be lacking in confidence to take charge ourselves. Making US syndicated shows in Australia could be highly lucrative, instead of the peanuts returned when the US remakes our shows.

    • rhodes says:

      Oops.
      Previous post: “the way MAD took a gamble on Madmen ”

      Obviously meant to be AMD.

    • greg hoey says:

      Good idea but a way too difficult concept for our great australian cultural mandarins. They achingly lack intelligence [in fact hate it], creativity [hate that even more], and basically any australian that is not a lackey to the yanks or mother england [it seems].
      But interesting idea [therefore it will never be put to practice by our dear beloved nepotists-though the may steal portions of said idea and say they came up with it I'll admit that!].

      • rhodes says:

        I agree in part, though it is the upper strata of power elite in our country who are the culprits. The politicians, bankers and corporates, the CEOs, CFOs and boards stuffed with over-aid time-servers. The lauding of the current CommBank CEO (who’s name eludes me and why bother googling to know?) last night because the bank made a humungous record-breaking profit is just so telling. To be fair, a follow-up commentary by an investment banker regular on ABC’s The Business did succinctly and authoritatively dissect all the false arguments the CEO had given: widespread “Australian” ownership (ASX ownership is not the same as Oz ownership), non-existent “robust competition”, etc etc.

        These are the same people who refuse to finance any kind of Australian start-up in any creative field where the rewards can be huge compared to the relative risk (IT, computer games, software, biotech, pharma; just yesterday the market “punished” one of our rare successes, Cochlear, because their latest quarterly profit was less than expected; do these people run their own lives on a quarter-to-quarter basis?)

        Incidentally this concept (of making American shows here) is a bit of a no-brainer. Especially if the focus were to be on their West Coast because the cultural similarities. For Rake, San Francisco is the obvious choice because of the harbor and similar light to Sydney. You could simply do a bit of green-screen on those shots of Cleaver Greene in his Sydney office, with a background panaroma of SF Bay from a downtown office building …. And the whole slightly time-shifted feel of Rake (didn’t all this happen back in the hippy-dippy 70s?) fits into the kooky ethic of SF like a glove … Maybe with a bit of CGI and dubbing, the whole Oz series could be rebirthed as American?
        Sigh.

        • greg hoey says:

          Really all of these big success stories in the movies like cate blanchfield jeffery rush ruskie crow etc etc that go to america to get an oscar for basically giving up their australianness to act like good little americans are just being used to convince australians that we are just that- a colonised piece of america without any original view points or cultural asset’s of our own.

          They should all consign their damnable oscars into the dust-bin because that’s exactly what the americans have done to australian culture and they damn well know this too -no doubt america’s studio exec’s all quietly laugh to themselves at just how lame australians have become in recent times!

  21. rhodes says:

    Nitpick #1:
    “of the US version of Rake, which is now three weeks into its first season. Greg Kinnear plays the leading character (renamed to Keegan Greene) ”

    The Kinnear character is Keegan Deane.

  22. Speaking as an American, the notion that we wouldn’t get the Australian original is utter nonsense. We’d embrace the Australian culture endemic to it just as we’ve embraced the British culture that informs DOWNTON ABBEY and has even less to do with us. I say this because I’ve been a fan of the original RAKE from the start and it’s currently my favorite thing on the tube (don’t ask me how I’ve been watching it in a timely fashion, but I will say it made its way to US cable [DirecTV's Audience Network] without a lot of fanfare, and subsequently to US-domestic DVD release.) Its eminently gettable.

    However, I also think the notion that the edges have been sanded off the US RAKE — by way of making it more palatable and less potentially “offensive” in that network teevee way — is far less true than one might assume. I think the problem is one of season arc story structure.

    In network TV, seasons are generally longer than they are anywhere else in the world. The fullest season in the UK is 13, but some of their most popular series have seasons of significantly less. And RAKE (AU) offers only eight episodes per season. Having fewer episodes to produce gives the creative team, of course, lots more time to get their storytelling on point (Richard Roxburgh has stated that the scripts go through as many as 12 drafts each); but it also demands a certain compactness in the story arcs…which are perforce *designed* for eight episodes each.

    Add to this Roxburgh’s additional contention that he thinks the third season may be the last; that after 24 episodes they will have pretty much “told the story of that character.”(We’ve heard such goodbyes before, of course, and sometimes they’re recanted, but they’re almost never without validity. Martin Clunes said the same of DOC MARTIN’s 5th season, agreed to return for a 6th anyway, and sure enough, the 6th spent half its eight episodes treading water.)

    So: if a US network TV series, based on a series from abroad, is to have a normal run of episodes, it has to expand upon the source material. Not “flesh out,” because that would suggest adding meat and substance to broad strokes and essences, but literally expand upon something that is already fairly rich and very specific. Which means adding recurring characters (the law partner’s disapproving parents), adding redundant guest characters (the private car driver), creating events (the law partner’s re-affirmation of wedding vows) to explicate something already implicit (his marriage is in trouble). And etc. Thus while each individual legal case in Keegan Deane’s anti-hero’s docket fits neatly into its episode, per the series template, the continuing story of his life has been slowed down, given excess weight and needless extra complexity. And to some degree, cartoon exaggeration (the homeless Keegan as a tolerated boarder in his partner’s home, a stay that was supposed to be weeks, that we are told has dragged on for months; never a factor in the original, where Cleaver merely, and more believably, just has crappy digs).

    It’s not that the US version has lost touch with the tone, nor does it seem to me less risque in any truly consequential or meaningful manner; but it’s feeling softer and flabbier because the edge it *has* lost … is the edge of economy.

    • greg hoey says:

      Fact of the matter is my fine american friend, americans are just too much self-immersed and in love with their own culture. They love their own cultural bubble way way too much to ever want to truly have to open themselves up to other experiences. Hence all the annihalation of other nations if they don’t bend to your nations neo-colonialist will. Simple fact, your humble little aussie friend downunder/down here.

    • greg hoey says:

      To put it another way its not all about ‘US’…very occassionally it maybe about others too you know?

  23. Lee B says:

    Always feel proud to be an Aussie when the US or the UK take on Aussie shows, even though the US version is a remake, mimic is the highest form of flattery :) . Great show. Well done ABC.

  24. Kerry says:

    What a shame the best show on television has finished agai. It was fantastic to sit back and be entertained as there is soooooo much crap on. “TICKETY BOO”. Will miss it.

  25. Peter Prueckle says:

    It proves yet again that Australian humour and Actors are the best I hope that there will be many of seasons to come Rake is the best.
    Ps tell the yanks there show is allot of bull.

  26. Brian says:

    I’m American, came across Rake on Audience (DirecTV), and can’t understate how good it is (I get all the subtle jokes and political asides). I watched series one again, and then series two on Netflix streaming, and am getting ready to start all over for the third time! I’m sure series three will get to me eventually, and I can’t wait.

    Fox’s remake is horrid! I keep telling people to watch the original. I can only assume that a great deal of money was to blame for the remake. I think the original will eventually get mass attention, what with technology today, and will be preferred. I don’t see the Kinnear version lasting much longer anyway. Why would it?

  27. patsy says:

    love love love Rake and am having withdrawal symptoms. Please tell me there will be more Rake episodes. It is quality writing. Patsy Davison in WA

  28. JENNY says:

    I’m pretty sure Rake only rated in the 600,000′s when it started in Australia and it struggled from then on. I wish reviewers would look at why a show isn’t popular rather than try to make it happen with distorted commentary.

  29. teresa says:

    im confused.last seasoned rake ended and they said it wud not b renewed .but in tht season the mayor was choked during sex and the best friends wife slept with rake and the hooker told the tax guy about her life but now they decided to put some more episodes like 6 i think and the mayor has yet to b seen in episode 1 but he isnt dead and the best friends wife didnt sleep with rake and its like they re did it.can some one clear things up 4 me plz

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