The Winners: Underbelly and Underbelly. And that was the night. It was the best start to a TV program ever. Nine must still be ruing the failed legal advice from last year. The first episode of the prequel last night, 2.584 million at 8.30pm, the second episode at 9.30pm. 2.419 million. Seven News’ extended bushfire coverage, 1.731 million and Seven News, 1.657 million. Customs on Nine at 8pm, 1.518 million (there was a small turn off in some markets in the second quarter hour at 8.15pm).

Today Tonight averaged 1.513 million and Nine News averaged 1.462 million. Two and a Half Men averaged 1.240 million at 7.30pm, just in front of The 7.30 Report on the ABC with 1.216 million. Ten News averaged 1.200 million, Home and Away was 12th with 1.141 million and the 7pm ABC News averaged 1.115 million. Nine’s 10.30pm news special on the fires averaged 1.100 million and So You think You can Dance Australia averaged 1.066 million for Ten. Seven’s Desperate Housewives averaged 971,000 at 8.30pm, How I met Your Mother averaged 963,000 at 7.30pm for Seven and Australian Story averaged 991,000 on the ABC at 8pm. Top Gear at 7.30pm on SBS, 815,000.

The Losers: Against Underbelly, nothing really was a loser. Underbelly did make me feel how much the people of NSW and Australia lost from the Mr Asia/Trimbole years and the corruption of politicians and cops, the media and others. Former Federal Immigration Minister under Gough Whitlam, Al Grassby was nicely captured. The member for Plati, as he later became known.

News & CA: Nine News did very well in the most important market last night, Melbourne: 557,000 to around 440,000 for Seven. In Melbourne: ACA on 476,000, Today Tonight on 338,000. In Sydney and Brisbane the other way round. Lateline averaged 315,000, Nine’s 10.30pm News special on the fires, 1.100 million, Lateline Business, 154,000. Ten’s Late News/Sports Tonight, 308,000. 6.30pm SBS News, 189,000, 186,000 for the 9.30pm edition. 7am Sunrise, 485,000, 7am Today, 385,000.

The Stats: Nine won with a share of 39.5% from Seven with 23.7%, Ten on 16.7%, the ABC with 13.8% and SBS with 6.3%. Nine won all five metro markets and leads the week 36.8% to 27.3% for Seven. In regional areas Underbelly was the top averaging 814,000 viewers (so around 3.3 million people watched). WIN/NBN won the night with 37.2% from Prime/7Qld with 23.1%, Southern Cross (Ten) with 16.3%, the ABC with 15.0% and SBS with 8.5%. Underbelly wasn’t popular in one part of Australia: regional Queensland, which saw Seven’s affiliates win from Nine. It did well in southern NSW where Griffith (where the series is partly set) is based in the Riverina and is still heavily Italian.

Glenn Dyer’s comments: Underbelly‘s opening ep last night was fine, but I was a bit disappointed in the structure: it was so much like the original that it seemed at times that only the pictures had been changed. Music, pace everything.

The original Underbelly was Melbourne of the 1990s and early years of this decade. The prequel was Sydney of the mid 70s to the mid 80’s. The narration was the same and yet the female policeman was supposed to be 20 years younger at times! That quibble aside, it showed just how greedy and grasping a place Sydney became under the Liberal Party and its bent premier, Robin Askin, and how the ALP under Neville Wran did nothing for years to clean it up.

Corrupt police commissioners, deputies, heads of various detective branches, cops of all ranks. We are still paying the price for the corruption of the NSW police, from various commissioners down to ordinary constables. The way that some sections of the Sydney media played up the image of George Freeman, when in fact he was a miserable corrupting influence is still amazing. It is similar to the way some sections of the Melbourne media played up (and continue to play) up some of the original Underbelly felons and their camp followers.

As fiction, Underbelly is wonderful. As a form of history it has been terrifyingly realistic. It’s another risk for Nine that will pay off, but it is not enough to build a winning year on. And what does Nine do for next year? The Network started thinking about a sequel very early in the series last year. The only worry I have is the glamorising and glorifying of a bunch of corrupting crooks and thieves and police (and others) on TV. It’s still a reservation I have about the first series. I also wonder if there will be a “crook fatigue” as the series continuers over the next 11 weeks?

TONIGHT: Animal Rescue, Find My Family, Packed To the Rafters and All Saints on Seven tonight. Nine has the One Day fund raiser in a Day/Night cricket match, Ten has Bondi Rescue, The Biggest Loser and NCIS, plus Lie To Me. Don’t worry about the ABC or SBS.

Source: OzTAM, TV Networks reports