It was last year that TEN decided to move on its 7pm timeslot, first with an attempt to revive early evenings with a revamped dating show, Taken Out. It learned very quickly that the idea was no perfect match with the audience.
Now, in the first of a two-part interview with TV Tonight, TEN chief programming officer David Mott talks about the network’s new slice of news, set to air live, five nights a week from Monday.
“We put it out to tender and Roving Enterprises came back with a tone we thought was right for 7:00,” he explained.
“We said we wanted a show that was generally news-based, but we wanted a comedy element to it. We wanted that feel of a lighter tone that fitted with the TEN brand.”
The result is a panel of predominantly Gen-X personalities and comedians, set to dissect and debate the news of the day, in a light format that is consciously skewed to the 18 – 49 demographic.
TEN had also considered a venture into breakfast television, trialling a pilot that was considered successful.
“It was a good pilot, there was nothing wrong with it. But they’re expensive shows. There’s no change out of $9-$10m a year in breakfast television. Why would we want to invest that money in breakfast when it’s fully catered for?”
Mott said he opted to channel the money into prime time instead with a show that “gave us a voice, gave us that dialogue, gave us that ability to be a little bit irreverent,” stripped live, five nights a week.
The 7PM Project is intended to open up a dialogue with the audience, to resonate discussions that are taking place in the family home about the day’s headlines, and to interact via the show’s website, Twitter, social networking and Skype interviews.
“TEN has never really had that ability. We don’t have a nightly current affairs show. We don’t have our version of those shows in primetime. We didn’t want to come up with a show that replicated those shows,” says Mott.
The show will feature headlines, read ‘straight’ by Carrie Bickmore, before broadening out to a discussion between Dave Hughes, Charlie Pickering and Bickmore. Mott says that while the show has a light flavour, it won’t be afraid to adopt a serious mood.
“It has to have the ability to have those gear changes, because on some days it’s going to be quite a serious show and on others it will be lighter in tone. It will depend on the news of the day. It’s going to be very reactionary. We’ll lock off on the show about 4:00 in the afternoon.
“And what we’re seeing so far, because we’re doing rehearsals every day, is that there’s so much material out there. Already every day the team’s waking up and there’s a 9am meeting here and they’re running through the structure of the night’s show,” he said.
“The strength of the team that we have on screen is that this is what Dave Hughes does on radio every day. Quite often he has a very good opinion on news. He knows his stuff exceptionally well. He has the ability to achieve what he achieves on breakfast radio and do the same thing at 7:00. So it’s really no different now to what he does at breakfast.”
Ruby Rose and James Mathison will provide reports on an ‘as-needs’ basis.
Mott says that the Roving show has also liaised with TEN’s in-house News department during its development.
“On some nights you may find there’s a closer link between News and The 7PM Project depending on the news of the day. If there’s something alive that’s still happening then we may well cross to our newsroom to continue the story.”
But while there is a significant team of researchers and producers, and Bickmore has a background in journalism, the show hasn’t opted to appoint a News Editor.
“There are editors on board clearly, but not necessarily a News Editor. We’ve actually engaged our own editors to be across the programme.”
The show is also intending to thrive on its live components, a point of difference from the 6:30pm current affairs rivals.
“With other shows it’s all packaged up. For instance on Today Tonight you see Matty White saying ‘here’s so and so reporting’ and they show a package. We’re going to interact with our audience a lot more. For example, Ruby will be in the studio, throwing to the story, then coming back so we can talk about it further. So it just doesn’t end with a package.”
Many have likened the show’s pitch as being a ‘junior version’ of The Panel, TEN’s long running late-night chat show. Mott is quick to water down the similarities.
“The Panel was a very different show to this. Obviously it’s daily, but The Panel was of a period, not necessarily the week. In terms of the topicality and the tone it will be different to The Panel.”
It also comes with a business model that, if successful, could see a major shift in programming in 2010. In digging in for a 52-week show, Mott says next year other shows would segue into a 7:30pm slot, building the network audience.
“The 7PM Project is a play for a certain demographic. If we can achieve the right number there in a commercial share of 18-49 then the benefit then is having it sit there five days a week. Then you swing your Biggest Losers into a 7:30 environment, your MasterChefs into a 7:30 environment. And it changes our business model going forward,” he said.
“It doesn’t have to do a big number, but we want it to do a good number demographically. And then it can feed into the other shows.”
Such change could see key shows such as Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation effectively fighting for timeslots with TEN’s reality shows.
“What an embarrassment of riches, if it all goes to plan,” laughs an optimistic Mott.
“But let’s just take it one day at a time!”
The 7pm Project premieres 7pm Monday July 20 on TEN.
TOMORROW: Mott talks about Celebrity MasterChef, 9AM with David & Kim, Out of the Blue and more.