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Stingers (1998 - 2004)

Drama series
187 episodes x 60 minutes

Series synopsis:

Stingers follows agents in a police undercover unit who create false names, lives and personalities to get close to their targets. Even the Stingers team’s nearest and dearest don’t know what they really do each day. It’s a high pressure world where a slip of the tongue can risk everything.

Curator’s Notes:

The seeds for Stingers were sown when a former undercover policeman, Guy Wilding, approached Beyond Films with an idea for a TV series. In turn, Beyond approached their drama partners Roger Simpson and Roger Le Mesurier and asked if they were interested in developing the idea into a series for Channel Nine, with Wilding acting as an advisor. They took the task on.

Although the show is inspired by real life and Wilding remained a consultant, Stingers doesn’t directly dramatise real events. Instead, they are a springboard for the creation of fictional stories that fit the show’s signature take on the police series format. Stingers aims for a gritty style and brisk pace. Typically, each episode revolves around a crime that core characters go undercover to solve. Over the course of its eight seasons Stingers did not change radically in format but carried out continual finetuning. This included experimenting with more ongoing storylines and shifting the level of emphasis on the character’s relationships and private lives.

Stingers ran for eight seasons from 1998 to 2004. This was a long run at a challenging time in Australian television, during which a crop of new dramas appeared that did not survive beyond one or two seasons. In an interview with ASO, Le Mesurier explained that producing drama during this period became progressively more difficult. Rising production budgets were not matched by increases in licensing fees from the networks and distribution companies were finding it harder to fill the gaps. Distributors like Beyond depended on international sales to recoup their budgets but with local networks ordering more while international sales lagged behind, there were timing problems.

Nonetheless, Stingers pushed on, its producers finding different ways to finance it along the way, at one point obtaining funding from Germany, at another receiving full financing from Channel Nine. In its later seasons, Stingers moved from its offsite production base to the Channel Nine studios in order to reduce costs. It eventually wrapped up after a period of declining ratings and a shift to a 10.30 pm timeslot.

Le Mesurier puts the relative longevity of Stingers down to a committed, though ‘never massive’, audience that represented an interesting and somewhat unusual demographic for an Australian drama and for Channel Nine. Where contemporaries like Blue Heelers (1994–2006) had an older, predominately female audience, Stingers garnered more male and younger viewers.

Awards for Stingers included a 2002 Logie for Most Popular Actor for Peter Phelps as well as AWGie, AFI and ACS awards for writing, acting and camerawork in individual episodes.

Roger Simpson and Roger Le Mesurier had one of Australian television’s most enduring and significant partnerships. Starting in 1980, Simpson Le Mesurier Productions produced feature films Squizzy Taylor (1982) and The Nostradamus Kid (1993), as well as many television productions. In the early ‘90s they formed a partnership with Beyond Films and as Beyond Simpson Le Mesurier produced further television work including Good Guys Bad Guys (1997–98) and Something in the Air (1999); the Halifax FP series of telemovies (1994–2001) and mini-series Answered by Fire (2006). Le Mesurier retired in 2006 and Simpson formed a new production company, Lone Hand.

Titles in this series

Stingers – Ratcatcher 1998

When a country schoolgirl goes missing after babysitting for a family called the Gallaghers, police suspect Ronnie Gallagher (John Brumpton) of foul play. Unable to find evidence, they turn to the undercover unit for help. Peter Church (Peter Phelps) and ...