Although the history of a band should be told through its musical merits, the tragic death of Michael Hutchence in 1997 has defined what people around the world associate with INXS.
Changing that perception was a key reason for Seven Network’s biographical miniseries INXS: Never Tear Us Apart, according to band manager Chris ‘CM’ Gordon.
“The last months of Michael’s life were so ‘tabloidy’ that the INXS music and brand was overwhelmed. Then when he died in the way he did, it was great fodder for the tabloids to feast off for a decade or more,” he says.
With this in mind, Gordon had been investigating whether a new venture could lead to a surge in INXS nostalgia. “At exactly the time I was sitting in my office getting proposals out of the drawer, this guy [he points at Shine Australia CEO Mark Fennessy sitting to his right] calls me to say he wants to do a two-part free-to-air miniseries. I hadn’t seen him for 15 years before, and it literally happened in seconds.”
“I had a relationship with the guys, albeit at arm’s length, and I knew their story, which had been in the back of my mind. There wasn’t a defining point where I thought it had to be that exact moment [to produce a programme], but the story always had the making of a compelling drama.”
For INXS guitarist Tim Farriss, a script consultant throughout production, the show was not about righting the wrongs of the past but telling the INXS story to a broader – and younger – audience.
“To me, the most important thing and the whole concept was to tell the story. I never thought about making money out of it or saw it as the rebirth of INXS. This was just a totally new and exciting creative process and another chapter for the band,” he says.
Never Tear Us Apart is divided into two parts, with songs including What You Need, Don’t Change and Original Sin included but not driving the plot.
Farriss says Luke Arnold’s (Broken Hill) “extraordinary” turn as Hutchence is the stand-out performance.
Elsewhere, Ido Drent and Andrew Ryan play Farriss’ brothers Jon and Andrew, respectively; Damon Herriman plays Murphy; Hugh Sheridan plays bassist Gary Beers; Alex Williams plays Kirk Pengilly; and newcomer Nick Masters plays Tim himself. A young Kylie Minogue character and U2’s Bono also appear.
“The actors were pivotal. Right from the word go they were rehearsing as a band, and some of them could play really well,” says Farriss. “I’d sit in a room in this warehouse and watch ‘us’. It was absolutely surreal.”
Never Tear Us Apart represented Shine Australia’s first foray into scripted programming.
Episode one won its competitive Sunday-night slot with a consolidated 2.24 million viewers (1.97 million overnight), and the second episode kept most of that audience, delivering 2.08 million (1.77 million overnight).
The commercial channel’s director of network programming, Angus Ross, called the premiere the “TV drama event of the year”. On the back of the success, INXS scored a new number one and number two album in Australia.