INXS Miniseries Beats Sochi Olympics in Australian TV Ratings Showdown

Seven Network
Luke Arnold as Michael Hutchence in "INXS Never Tear Us Apart"

On the first official ratings day of 2014 down under, Sochi coverage, Michael Hutchence and a biopic about infamous Australian drug smuggler Schapelle Corby went head to head.

SYDNEY – Shine Australia’s first foray into drama production, the miniseries INXS: Never Tear Us Apart -- about the global rise and fall of the 1980s local pop band led by Michael Hutchence -- has proved hugely successful, with a national audience of 2.881 million Australians tuning in for the first two hours of the TV biopic, which aired Sunday night in Australia on top-rated broadcaster, Seven Network. Shine Australia is a regional division of Elisabeth Murdoch's Shine Group. 

The first night of the official TV ratings year down under, Sunday played host to an epic battle for the local TV market. Second-ranked broadcaster, the Nine Network, coming off a successful summer, made a late scheduling change, pitting its much hyped telemovie, Schapelle -- the story of convicted Australian drug smuggler Schapelle Corby,  who was jailed in Bali, Indonesia for 20 years after customs agents found over 8 pounds of marijuana in her surfboard bag --  against Ten’s live Winter Olympics coverage, the third season of Rake on the ABC and Seven's INXS biopic. 

PHOTOS: 2014's New Broadcast and Cable TV Shows

Nine’s decision to air Schapelle on Sunday night, a day earlier than originally planned, was driven by current events. Indonesian courts on Friday announced that Corby was being paroled on Monday after serving more than nine years of her sentence. Corby, now 36, has steadfastly maintained her innocence throughout her imprisonment, arguably making her story Australia’s answer to the Amanda Knox saga. Nine commissioned the telemovie from FremantleMedia Australia last year, but it was made without the approval of Corby and her family.

Nine’s decision fuelled the rating battle, but proved something of a fizzer. The Corby movie aired to 1.344 million viewers nationally, less than half of the audience for INXS miniseries, and above Network Ten’s live Sochi coverage of Aussie golden girl Torah Bright’s tilt at another Olympic gold in the Slopestyle event, which drew 1.238 million viewers.

Seven’s director of network production, Brad Lyons, said of the INXS miniseries: “We are rapt that a good local production got the audience it deserved. We couldn’t be prouder.”

Seven’s director of network programming, Angus Ross, added: “We put our stake in the ground with INXS for Sunday some time ago as we were confident that Shine and Seven Productions had delivered the TV drama event of 2014. Our promos, publicity and marketing teams have been relentless in their push toward last night and should be congratulated.”

STORY: Sochi: NBC Criticized for Editing Anti-Discrimination Remarks From Opening Ceremony Speech

The second part of INXS Never Tear Us Apart will air this coming Sunday, detailing lead singer Michael Hutchence’s relationship with Paula Yates, and his untimely death in 1997. The miniseries is the first of three INXS themed projects to screen here, with two film features at various stages of development. The TV project was made with the assistance of the band and their manager Chris Murphy.

But if the battle of the telemovies is done for now, feverish speculation now surrounds which TV network will get the first interview with Corby, following her release on parole to a major media scrum in Bali on Monday. All three commercial networks, Seven, Nine and Ten are said to be interested in securing the interview and Australia’s major magazine publishers are also in Bali lobbying to get the exclusive.

The Corby family is reputedly asking between $2 million and $3 million for an interview, while most observers say Corby is likely to be paid around $1 million. Many were speculating Monday that that Seven Network and veteran reporter Mike Willesee may have already secured the interview, after Willesee and his team were spotted in a car following Corby, who was obscured in a hat and scarf, after her release from the infamous Kerobokan Prison in Bali.