With eight days to go before the debut of the Nine Network’s most important program for four years, Underbelly, there’s strong talk the production has hit huge legal problems that have set the network and the producers, Screentime, at loggerheads.

Talk around the independent TV producers sector is that the first two episodes, called “The Black Prince” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, which set up the story, will have to be re-cut significantly to remove all references to two groups of real people crucial to the entire series.

They are X and X who witnessed the first murder — of Alphonse Gangitano — that started it all and who are still in witness protection, and Tony Mokbel, who is in jail in Greece as the Victorian and Australian governments try to extradite him back to Melbourne.

For legal reasons, no mention of their names can be made, hence the rising tide of fear and loathing at Nine and at Screentime.

The changes have to happen, which could make the important first two episodes that much weaker.

There are 13 episodes of Underbelly, with 33 murders chronicled, that’s 2.5 murders per episode.

Some in teleland wonder if Nine has made a mistake with Underbelly‘s scheduling for Wednesday evenings. Fewer people watch TV on Wednesdays than Sunday or Monday. But Nine will have the One Day International cricket on Sunday nights for the next three weeks, so it wouldn’t have been able to start it until then.

Monday nights would have been a good second choice and would have enabled Nine to leverage off its usually solid Sunday nights and battle Seven, which has had a strong Monday night.

Emails have been sent to Screentime in Sydney and the Nine Network in Melbourne seeking comment but we didn’t hear back before deadline.

CRIKEY: Kudos to the Kooka Brothers, who predicted the series would be delayed a month ago in Crikey.