What did we learn from last night’s Great Escape? Well, the revelation that the two miners were prepared to lop off each other’s legs was new, as was the fact that Todd Russell touched the hand of the man who first found them.

We also learnt that it wasn’t a big rock above them: it was, in their words, a whole lot of rocks, small and medium. We also learned for the first time how desperate their predicament was in the day or so after the collapse, with both men being partly covered by rocks and dirt and having to dig themselves out.

But there was still a sense that we don’t know much of what went on underground and never will. The camera and still photographs might give added dimension to the story and that’s the next great media bidding war.

Tracy Grimshaw gave a fine, non-partisan performance, showing she’s a better journalist without the millstone of A Current Affair and its production staff around her neck each night.

The only quibbles were the limited amount of overlay shots showing the miners with their kids, the fact there were only two grabs from Brant Webb’s wife and many more with Todd Russell’s, and the strange shot of Russell walking with another man, both wearing ammunition belts and carrying shotguns. That shot wasn’t explained: you had to have a good memory to recall Russell mentioning “his guns” earlier on. There was no need to use the shot and something else should have been found.

The biggest gap was the lack of any shots of the wire basket they were in most of the time. Surely the Nine producers could have found one similar at the mine and shot it from various angles, brought the two miners to the thing and asked them to talk about it and where they lay.

But Tracy Grimshaw aside, two factors saved the production: Todd Russell and Brant Webb. They were articulate, slightly old-fashioned Australian males who survived a terrible ordeal and did so in an understated way. Russell was sardonic; Webb a soft-edged joker, but a realist with an at times mad sense of humour. I think the Americans will find it difficult to understand their approach to life: no thanking God (wasn’t that wonderful) and a stoic approach to survival.

Meanwhile, the Nine Network cheapened its interview special with some tacky promotions for the network’s news “exclusives”, including the Beaconsfield miners’ story – but no mention of the fact that the “exclusive” was bought for more than $2.6 million.

Thesedays, it seem, “Another Nine Exclusive” is another way of saying “we paid for it”.

Peter Fray

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