Friday, 6 April 2012

Never be a mark

Here's a piece I recently wrote for a magazine about Hustle and its departure! You might not find it interesting, but I hope you do!

Never be a mark

In the back of a taxi in 2002 sat Bharat Balluri, the current series Executive director of Spooks, with his new idea. A television show following a group of experienced con artists, conning the bad guys on the streets of London. Written by Tony Jordan, a hugely successful BBC scriptwriter, whose credits included the lead scriptwriter of Eastenders, it was back in 2004 that Hustle first burst onto our television screens. Hustle sits quite comfortably as one of BBC’s most successful drama series, captivating its audience for eight whole series and often reaching an audience share of 30% with 7 million viewers. Yet, despite all this February saw the last of the Hustle episodes on our screens, which devastated all those gripped to the storylines of our favourite six conmen.

There were a number of things that made Hustle great but the show was largely headed up by the cast. Tony Jordan had not created your average Joe characters; they were cheeky, playful, strong and oozed confidence. All five had their own panache, but they all played their own part in the family unit that created the Hustle family. The cast had to be carefully handpicked but the casting directors did not disappoint. Robert Vaughn filling the part of the infamous Albert Stroller, Adrian Lester as Michael Stone, Marc Warren as Danny Blue, Robert Glenister as Ash Morgan and the only female recruit; Jaime Murray as Stacie Monroe. They were a team of actors that just clicked.

Hustle was almost destined to be a success, a successful writer, production company, a crew made up from the team from Spooks and a set of five actors who all in their own right shined and gelled well to make the team Hustle needed. If that was not enough, BBC launched a huge marketing campaign organised by Abbott Mead Vickers, the biggest advertising agency in the UK based on revenue. Launching with the slogan “the con is on” it quickly became a slogan that stuck on the lips of every Hustle fan.

Hustle was youthful to hit with the young audiences but written to tap in with the older generations, a catchy theme tune, an eye-catching opening sequence and an exciting crew to match. It was filmed spectacularly, using beautiful shot framing and composition, but also modern twists such as bullet time, a visual effect where you digitally enhance simulation of variable speed; a technique that Hustle became famous for. The Times noted that "the snap and style of a series that has been cryogenically frozen in the 1960s and brought back to life”, it had been a while since the BBC had released anything of such a modern nature. Possibly the best reason for it’s huge success. Each episode saw the hustling team adhering to their famous slogan “you cannot con an honest man”, hunting out a mark to target for a “long con” which the character Stacie explains to her fellow grifter and audience in the first series “unlike the more obvious short cons, most marks don't report a con because they think they've done something illegal, or better still, they don't know they've been conned in the first place". The team carefully plan each con in significant detail, sometimes over the period of months, with subtle hints to each of the marks, working their way to the big reveal. Hustle hit our screens with a bang and the world went Hustle mad.

BBC grew on the success; before the first series had even finished they had sold broadcast licenses to twelve countries worldwide, and later commissioning to India and South America. The BBC received significant support from AMC, an American production company, which saw many episodes being released in the US before the UK, but also allowed the team to actually film on location in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It’s not the first time that a show about grifters has been popular in the US. Leverage first aired in December 2008 as a thirteen-part complete series. The story follows a five-person team: a thief, a grifter, a hacker, a retrieval specialist and an ex- insurance investigator. With a similar goal to Hustle, they plan to payback those who have been ripped off by Government schemes. Leverage hosts a similar success story to Hustle; the programme ranked number one entertainment show in its timeslot, reaching over 4 million viewers on some episodes.

The success kept growing for Hustle and in 2006; BBC released their spin off documentary The Real Hustle, written by hustlers Alexis Conran and Paul Wilson. The documentary, unlike it’s partner, focuses on short cons, which a quick and to the point, the team demonstrate a string of magic tricks, distraction scams and proposition bets with an aim to stop the public being scammed by the same cons. The show was launched on BBC3, as a pairing to the original Hustle, but there is no doubt that The Real Hustle is successful in it’s own right, with the twelve series due to air later this year!

The Hustle team say goodbye to life as they know it

Huge doubt on Hustle came in 2009, when it was announced that lead actors, Marc Warren and Jaime Murray were not to star in series 5. AMC pulled out of the show announcing that they will not be broadcasting series 5 or any of the future series of the show. The pair were replaced by Matt Di Angelo and Kelly Adams, a handsome younger guy and dashing blonde to replace Stacie’s brunette locks, but also a pair of young faces to revamp the show. Di Angelo was already a well-known face on television, well known for his role in Eastenders and Kelly Adams also well distinguished with her roles in Holby City and Doctors. The new team continued until the very last episode earlier this year and the finale did not disappoint. We saw our favourite group of hustlers being convinced by Master con man Mickey ‘Bricks’ Stone to push themselves to the limit in the search for riches. This calls for their biggest con yet, to get rich and leave the grifting world forever, they bring themselves close to the limit even faking their own death. The season finale brings back all the old characters and they all certainly go out with a bang! It is most definitely a shame to see Hustle leave our screens, but Tony Jordan has not ruled out a return in the future, so maybe we’ve been hustled and it really is not over? What ever the future for Hustle, for now I’ll leave you with the teams famous advice from the finale;

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