Why Secrets & Lies should be Secrets & Live

The Internet exploded and HBO GO crashed during the much-hyped season finale of True Detective in the US yesterday.

In Australia, fans were watching it last night either on Showcase where it was fast-tracked or more likely, via an illegal torrent. But they weren’t watching it in situ with the American broadcast… Perhaps you were one of them, I know our Editor Bobby was on the edge of his seat.

And like the hole in your life left after the finale of Breaking Bad, fans are left wondering what will fill their Monday’s bandwidth now True Detective is gone.

Well guess what, there is always a TV show. I don’t mean, there will always be another show for you to download. I mean, there’s something you can watch and the soonest you can watch it is on your TV because it’s Australian. Now, I know the Something You Said audience. I love you, but you love nothing more than to brag about not owning a TV, you ‘watch everything on your laptop these days’.

Well find one. This is good, legal, free and – pardon the jargon here but I have to use it – it is ‘Appointment TV’.

Shit, I always figured Appointment TV was a lame marketing term now dead in the water as we all began watching shows in our own time through downloading, binge watching or catch up services. But last night I enjoyed ‘Appointment TV’, and it’s an appointment you can’t be late for, not a minute.

Oh sure, you can IQ your favourite show and watch it an hour later or pause live TV to take a piss, safe in the knowledge you’ll not miss the protagonist’s emotional backflip. You’ll still be able to gossip about it the next morning with your colleague in a moment of that other God-awful marketing term ‘Watercooler TV’ – Thanks a fucking bunch Ally McBeal and dancing baby.

But the fact is, the moment you pause the show, you’re no longer in situ with the broadcaster’s live transmission.

Now I can’t actually talk on the quality of True Detective. I’ve not started it yet. I’m sure it’s brilliant. And I’m sure it’s super addictive and I’ll love it. I have all the episodes saved on my Foxtel IQ. I will get to them, but I’ll do that in my own time, because I can, and I won’t miss a thing.

Alternatively, Network Ten’s new murder-mystery serial Secrets & Lies is designed to watch when transmitted, with your second screen on the show’s Zeebox page. I know, I never saw the fucking point of Zeebox either until last night. Perhaps you’re already on to this.

Secrets & Lies is produced by Hoodlum Productions. They created Fox8 youth drama series Slide a few years ago. It too was a transmedia production but this is much more sophisticated and complexly constructed storytelling.

Let’s rewind momentarily. The series began last week with father-of-two and husband Ben, played by Martin Henderson, racing through a forest in his running gear. We quickly learn he’s running from the dead body of a little boy, his neighbour. He claims he’s just came across the corpse. But police and media quickly pin him as the prime suspect. However in Secrets & Lies a big cast quickly turns everyone a suspect and your job is to figure out whodunit. Last night was its second episode.

You can still watch the series passively and thoroughly enjoy it. It’s been written that way. But it’s also been written with a second screen not as an after-thought but as a tool to solving the crime, making for far more immersive and interactive viewing. So despite the fact you’re watching TV again, you won’t miss the sensation of that hot cancer warming your lap after all.

As last night’s episode ran its course, clues appeared within the Zeebox framework. At one moment on the idiot box Ben interrupts his bikini-clad teenage daughter’s hushed phone call by the pool. Like any regular teen she doesn’t want her daggy dad eavesdropping so shouts for privacy. But then immediately, your second screen fires into autoplay and you hear her very brief but highly suggestive phone conversation. By the time you look back to the TV an otherwise innocuous and coincidental moment makes a lot more sense.

Other clues appear on Zeebox the normal viewer isn’t privy to, more videos, photos of a secret rendezvous and as characters are introduced, we’re given their back-stories. Between episodes, keeping you engaged, you can watch webisodes at www.secretsandlies.tv pertinent to getting the biggest picture the producers will allow you.

The Zeebox comment thread is fantastic too, and (I think) aggregates Twitter and Facebook so viewers chip in their theories, only to have them shot down in the next scene… or sometimes re-enforced. A community, and what feels like a community manager keeps the conversation going with further questioning of the viewers’ theories, or with pre-arranged questions posed. There were no doubt a lot of focus groups and simulated broadcasts in the preparation of this series going live.

secrets and lies-001It’s a game, like Cluedo where you’re building a case. I’m rubbish at the game. I’m certainly losing to the show’s key competitor, Detective Ian Cornielle, played excellently by Anthony Hayes.

Fortunately it’s not just a good concept but a great show. Set in Brisbane in the lead up to Christmas, the Queensland summer’s heat gives an oppressive tension reminiscent to the classic detective noir series where slow moving ceiling fans and sweat-beading suspects are the norm. It’s a tool True Detective seems to use but rather than the backwaters of Louisiana, the crime in Secrets & Lies is set behind the facade of happy suburbia… imagine if the whingy, breastfeeding brat in The Slap actually died.

The other big new play here is, Hoodlum’s model is the best one-two punch against TV piracy so far saying ‘you will enjoy this best as transmitted, not via catch up or illegally downloaded. And let’s be clear – TV piracy is a bad thing. If everyone cheats the model on which the show was designed to make money, it will no longer make money, and then there is no show. Simples.

Now I’m very aware a free to air show will not be highly pirated in its native country, so Secrets & Lies hasn’t duped the Australian pirates. But imagine if True Detective used this format. While subscribers to HBO and Showcase would be fine, all torrent users would struggle with the full, 360 experience.

It will be interesting to see how the show performs in the US. Hoodlum has sold the format to be remade and a pilot commissioned with Ryan Phillippe signed on to play Ben and Australia’s Indiana Evans (Currently on our sets in Crownies’ superior spin-off Janet King on Thursday nights, ABC1) to play his teenage daughter. There’s another reason to start watching it now… so like indie bands you can say you liked it before it was famous.

Unfortunately the local version is not particularly famous yet. Last night the show dropped to 366,000 metro viewers from 403,000 on its debut last week, according to OzTam, via Mumbrella. In comparison, Nine’s premiere local retro drama Love Child did 1.16 million while US show Revenge did 806,000 for Seven and Australian Story on ABC1 did 896,000. But it’s not indicative of the series’ quality. Simply no one is watching Channel Ten at the moment.

I’d argument the series is also losing its live Monday night audience to the likes of True Detective. I don’t think I’m alone as part of the 19-55-years-old metro audience (the lucrative demo advertising dollars are after) who on a Monday night, seeking a challenging drama, sits down to watch their HBO and AMC shows, whether legally or illegally attained, that were broadcast just a few hours earlier on Sunday night US time. Shows like True Detective, Breaking Bad before that, currently Girls and soon the return of Veep, Mad Men and Game of Thrones. All go out on Sunday night in the US or between 1 – 3.30pm Monday our time. So we get home from work, download the torrent or already have the series linked on Foxtel, eat dinner, then watch our stories.

The transmedia model doesn’t need to work for every series, and God forbid production companies start forcing this shit where it doesn’t fit, but the format works great with this kind of caper. I’ll definitely play Secrets & Lies live next Monday at 8.30pm, then I’ll revert to the old ‘new way of watching TV’, you know, when I want, where I want. Like the self-entitled media consumer I’ve become.

colinColin Delaney is a former media journalist for Mumbrella who has jumped the fence into TV development and production. He’s smug about paying for Showcase and his Smart TV that has catch up apps on his idiot box, not in his hot cancerous lap. He also recommends you watch Australian series The Moodys, Rake, Janet King, Puberty Blues and Wonderland when it returns – but The Moodys and Wonderland come a declaration of interest, still heaps good but.