Luke Arnold as Michael Hutchence in <i>INXS: Never Tear Us Apart</i>.

Luke Arnold as Michael Hutchence in INXS: Never Tear Us Apart.

Many astonishing things have happened on our TV screens this past week.

The morning after the fictional Schapelle Corby starred in a well-crafted and impressive telefeature on Nine, the real Schapelle left the prison where she has been held for the past nine years and into the arms of a baying media and reported multimillion-dollar tell-all deal with Seven. INXS and its electrifying frontman, the late Michael Hutchence, were honoured in the miniseries Never Tear Us Apart. There's a new bunch of Olympic medallists, while several incorrigible and bent NSW pollies found themselves behind prison bars in the ABC's whip-smart drama Rake.

Most astonishing, however, was the size of the audience flocking to watch TV as a new ratings year serendipitously collided with momentous breaking news.


Take last Sunday night. Between them, INXS: Never Tear Us Apart, Schapelle and Rake averaged almost 5.2 million viewers across Australia. Include another 1.53 million people watching the Snowboard Finals at the Sochi Winter Games on Ten, which wrapped up at 9.35pm while those other shows were on air, for a staggering total of 6.7 million Australians watching TV.

Both on-screen and off, the showdown was unusual, says media analyst Steve Allen, because rarely do four networks compete head-to-head with appealing programs.

The uniqueness of the programs on offer - shows that truly deserve the ''event'' label - was certainly a catalyst for herding such a large audience. So, too, arguably, was Nine's debatable decision to match fire with fire and put Schapelle up against INXS: Never Tear Us Apart.

While the merits (or not) of dividing audiences in such a way will continue to be hotly debated, the argument that TV can drive such results has never been clearer. And with the Sochi Games still under way, next Sunday might be a repeat performance.