In August 1993 Lisa McCune, auditioned for the role of Constable Wayne Patterson’s (Grant Bowler) wife (eventually played by Anne Burbrook) in the pilot episode of a cosy rural police drama, variously known as ‘Boys in Blue’ and ‘Leave it to the Country’ before evolving into ‘Blue Heelers’. In a twist of fate she ended up playing feisty Constable Maggie Doyle, the young city-bred cop transferred to an all-male station in the fictional central-western Victorian country town of Mt Thomas. Production of the first 13 episodes of the series of ‘Blue Heelers’ was in full swing by the latter part of 1993. Lisa McCune was starting her career but little didn’t she knew that this will blast her off.
‘Blue Heelers’ premiered to meagre ratings and mixed reviews in a Tuesday 7:30pm timeslot during the non-ratings period of January 1994. But through a timeslot change, well-drawn characters and emotionally charged storylines it defied its critics to become the longest running and most successful Australian TV drama of all time by its demise in 2006. Lisa’s popular portrayal of the honest, hard-working Maggie earned her a total of 10 Logies during her six-year stint with the show. This represents almost half of all Logies received by ‘Blue Heelers’ and includes a record-breaking five consecutive Silver Logies for Most Popular Actress and four consecutive Gold Logies for Most Popular Personality on Australian.
Lisa’s greatest storylines involved the on-again off-again relationship Maggie had with Mt Thomas’ resident detective, PJ Hasham, played by real life best-mate, Martin Sacks. The season 3 and 4 storylines surrounding Maggie’s doomed romance with her (married) university tutor, Roman Kellerman (Geoff Paine) and PJ’s subsequent jealousy, the aftermath of PJ fatally shooting a crazed woman, and Maggie’s brother Robbie’s (Brett Climo) struggle with heroin addiction saw the popularity of Blue Heelers surge to dizzy heights. During these years of incredible sexual tension (eventually resolved) between Maggie and PJ, ‘Blue Heelers’ was regularly the most watched program on television each week and attracted national audience figures of 2.5 million (estimated at 3 million if regional centres were taken into account). It also spelled the start of Lisa’s Gold Logie winning streak which cemented her as a household name.
In 1998, ‘Blue Heelers’ transferred to a Wednesday night so that new-kid-on-the-block, ‘All Saints’ could have every chance at success. Ratings over the next two years continued strongly (always in the top ten programs), but the storylines were generally not quite as captivating as previous years, an exception being when the Robbie Doyle/Drug Ring storyline was unearthed and taken down new paths. At this time’ Seachange’ fought hard to temporarily claim the crown of Most Watched Australian Drama.
Despite taking a back-seat, Lisa’s music skills were by no means ignored during her ‘Blue Heelers’ years. Early on, she recorded some songs that appear as subtle background music in several episodes including ‘A Piece of Cake’ and ‘Turkish Delight’. She also sang three tracks on the official ‘Blue Heelers’ CD and, as Maggie Doyle, sombrely performed ‘A Parting Glass’ in the closing scene of ‘The Luck of the Irish’ which she has self-deprecatingly described as ‘SO bad!’.
During the hectic 42-week per year ‘Blue Heelers’ schedule, Lisa also managed to fit in other projects. Over the summers of 1996/7 and 1997/8 her routine became to rehearse for a musical during ‘Blue Heelers” hiatus, then start performing eight shows per week by the time ‘Blue Heelers’ went back into production, making 18 hour working days the norm. In early 1997 her performance of Anne in the Melbourne Theatre Company’s ‘A Little Night Music’ was received extremely favourably, earning her the first of several Mo Award nominations. A year later, again under the direction of Roger Hodgman, Lisa played Cinderella in another Sondheim musical, ‘Into the Woods’. She also managed to do two short seasons of the classic two-hander ‘Love Letters’ firstly with comedian Campbell McComas and secondly with ‘Blue Heelers’ co-star Martin Sacks.
In 1996 Lisa shot a part opposite her ‘Blue Heelers’ on-screen brother, Brett Climo, in a friend’s film, ‘The Inner Sanctuary’, and in early 1999 took six weeks off ‘Blue Heelers’ to play one of the leads in the miniseries adaptation of Bryce Courtenay’s ‘The Potato Factory’ for which she was nominated for an Australian Film Institute Award. The miniseries was a ratings winner when it aired mid-2000. In July 1999, a couple of months before finishing on ‘Blue Heelers’ she starred along side John Wood in ‘She Loves Me’ for Jeanne Pratt’s newly launched The Production Company.
In early September 1999 Lisa filmed her final, heartbreaking episodes of ‘Blue Heelers’, with her character eventually departing the show on 16th February 2000. She was initially devastated that the writers wanted to kill off Maggie because she had become such a role model for young girls, but in retrospect realises there really was not any other option. Lisa’s final two episodes, and the subsequent ‘Who shot Maggie Doyle?’ saga opened the 2000 season and delivered solid ratings. Lisa’s departure prompted lots of people to stop watching and many say that the show never recovered from her loss. While there was a decided dip in the ratings after she left, there were times, particularly with the introduction of new characters after the police station explosion and Tom’s ‘change’, that saw a new era of fans emerge and ‘Blue Heelers’ climb in the ratings once again. The series, however, never made a return to the glory days of the mid-90s.
Lisa left ‘Blue Heelers’ accompanied by the illustrious – and perhaps burdensome – tag of ‘most successful Australian actress ever.’