Kris Wyld was the Wildside script producer and managed the writing process across all 60 episodes. She talked to TV Flashback about the creative process for the critically acclaimed drama.
1) How did the idea for Wildside come about?
Mike Jenkins, Ben Gannon and I had worked together on Heartbreak High, and we knew we were a good creative team. Ben and Mike met Penny Chapman at the ABC and she said she thought an edgy inner city show would be good for the ABC. NOT A COP SHOW! So Ben and Mike asked me to help create a new show. Mike and I met for several months, brainstorming, around my kitchen table. (Which has given birth to many a show).
I had previously created a concept for a show I called Streetwise which was based on Redfern Legal Aid, and Mike liked Bill Cruise, a religious man who worked with streetkids. So we came up with the idea of a drama about people who fell through the cracks of society, and the place of last resort, the crisis centre and the (flawed) angels who helped them.
When Mike and I had nutted out the concept and the world, and had done a fair amount of field research, Deb Masters joined the team as story consultant, and later we brought in a team of writers to help develop it, people like Kristen Dunphy, Shelley Burse, Michael Miller, Peter Schreck and John Dingwall. It had really bothered Mike and me that the characters didn’t have the authority to intervene, so we kept wriggling around the NOT A COP SHOW, making the protagonist an ex-cop. We angsted over it for ages, and eventually went back to the ABC and got permission for a cop character, then a cop set etc etc… and then Steve Knapman the Producer came on board and encouraged the police v the crisis centre. I felt the show really found its core conflict when Steve said this is a show about redemption versus punishment. He named it, defined it. Before that we were working on gut instinct.
2) The series was praised for its realism, what research was done and how much technical advice was used?
Deb Masters who is a much Awarded Producer and Director of Documentaries such as The Killing Season, was the story consultant who used her vast knowledge of the world of injustice and current affairs to bring in some truly exceptional people to give us their stories. Michael Kennedy, an ex detective, and now Dr Michael Kennedy, a lecturer in policing, really brought the veracity and the tone of the show. So you can see Wildside was hugely collaborative.
3) Do you feel like the series showed the true underbelly of Sydney? Was that important?
There was a time when police powers were unquestioned, and many injustices were perpetuated. I guess we were examining the underbelly of Sydney, at a time when dark deeds were done. We also created an indigenous lawyer played by Aaron Pederson, and that was a first as far as I know, to show a modern indigenous professional character, in a mainstream drama, which was about him not being defined as indigenous, but as a lawyer and a man, who was indigenous.
4) Wildside also showed a fair bit of racism, especially towards aboriginal people – was this used to highlight the on-going issues the aboriginal community have? Was this one of the reasons Aaron Pedersen was cast in a major role?
Yes, we wanted to highlight the problem of racism, which was unfortunately rampant in the police force. So it was interesting to bring a character like Aaron’s up against it. Crime is a complex issue. As one detective told me – it’s poverty that breeds crime not badness. And there was a lot of racism in society that had to be, and still has to be, dealt with and exposed.
5) With cop shows like Blue Heelers and Water Rats already on air, was the gritty style and darker stories used as a point of difference? Do you think that helped Wildside stand out?
Yes, the shooting style was all Mike Jenkins, Joe Pickering the DOP and Steve Knapman the Producer. Mike was the one to bring in a more improvised feel, with the help of Nicko Lathoris.
6) Can you outline how Wildside story arcs were created? And where some of the ideas and inspiration came from?
Research and ideas for the weekly stories, often came from Deb Masters, I was a single mother, so a lot of my experiences were incorporated into the Maxine line – she was the doctor at the Crisis Centre. Mike probably provided a lot of the Tony Martin’s character source of inspiration, and then all the writers threw their lives, experiences and stories into it. That’s why it feels truthful and explorative of the time we lived in pre 9/11. As you know post 9/11 Steve Knapman and I created EAST WEST 101, an entirely different cop series based on a Muslim and an indigenous detective. Again, we broke lots of barriers.
7) Did you have a favourite storyline or episode?
Episode 59 was one I wrote. It came from a terrible experience I had when I was a teenager, getting into a car that turned out to have its handles removed, and being driven out by a rapist to a wooded area… Luckily I escaped unharmed after hours of ordeal. But by Wildside, I was a mother of a 13 year old, and afraid for her, and there were a number of abductions and murders happening at the time. It was Episode 59, and we knew the series was ending so we could take a lot of risks, like having Maxine confronted with all her dearly held ideas and upturned when she was personally affected by the abduction of her daughter. Ep 59 won the AFI for Best drama of the year, and was directed by Peter Andrikides, who directed all 20 episodes of EAST WEST 101.
8) Did you have a favourite character to create and write for?
Maxine, and her daughter.
9) People were surprised when the series ended when it did, do you think the show had more to give?
Yes, but the whole industry was up in arms because we were getting most of the ABC drama budget. It was hard work, I worked days and nights and I always say it took years off my life. Looking back, it was a highlight, a great team of people, many friends.
10) Can you provide any information about possible storylines that may have been used for a third series?
No, we knew it was ending.
11) What will you treasure most from your time working on Wildside, from both a professional and personal perspective?
It was terrific to work with storytellers like Mike and Deb, Steve and the writing team were phenomenal, Kristen Dunphy, Michael Miller, Shelly Burse, Tim Pye, Katherine Thomson, Keith Thompson, John Dingwall, Peter Schreck Mimi Butler, Jason Camalzuli, Ellie Beaument, Amanda Higgs, Matt Ford and many others wrote exceptional scripts. Michael Kennedy was a treasure, I loved working with Nicko, and the actors. I grew as a storyteller, it was working under the gun the whole time, and I formed a lasting creative and professional relationship with Steve Knapman.
Thanks to Kris for a fantastic interview about the gritty drama Wildside, we have more interviews with Kris coming up so watch out for those. You can catch some scenes from episodes Kris wrote for the series in the video below: