Nine Program Director Hamish Turner is candid when acknowledging the network’s terrible start to 2016 -and knows he has a job ahead of him to turn things around this year.
“Hand up in the air- we had a terrible start to last year so that had to be fixed,” he admits.
“Last year we had Australia’s Got Talent, but anytime you go in with something that isn’t stripped it struggles, and that’s obviously what happened.
“We put Married in against Kitchen Rules, and it did a good job, so we’re very confident we’ll have some good growth, especially in that Demographic year-on-year for the first quarter.
“If we were sitting here now with something that was a fresh format in that first period, I’d be a very nervous man.”
He refers to Married at First Sight which leads the network’s all-important first quarter. Now expanded with multiple nights and a bigger cast, Turner is optimistic it will spearhead a strong first quarter.
“A lot of the feedback from the die-hard fans was they felt it was finished before it was started. So we’ve answered that and honestly one of the needs was to try and strip it and get weeks out of it. And we’ve done that very successfully, I believe.
“I’ve seen a lot of eps and it delivers on what we were trying to achieve. It brings more characters to the table, inject it more drama but retain the core premise of the show which is trying to find love for singles who haven’t found it through traditional means. It’s been a strong performer for us in the past, it’s a great demo play.”
Amongst the format tweaks are all 10 couples living in apartments under the one roof.
“We have more dinner parties, which was one of the components viewers loved, and there are what we are calling, Commitment Ceremonies, which is basically a health check with the psychologists on how the relationship is going. There is the ability for the participants at any point in time to pull up stumps and walk away.”
Next week Nine premieres Travel Guides, based on a UK format and produced internally by Nine.
“It’s kind of like Gogglebox for Travel. It has a disparate group of travellers with varying degrees of experience and you take them all to a destination per episode, and see that experience through their lens,” Turner continues.
“They are there at the same time but they don’t interact. There are 6 couples and obviously we follow the same cast across 7 episodes. So we go to Tokyo and they all experience the same holiday, through their individual lenses. It’s good fun with a vast array of characters.”
Should we expect to see bad Aussie bogans abroad?
“You may have someone who represents that group but there is also the posh parents, a Muslim family, some cowgirls who haven’t travelled very much or been outside of Australia. So it’s a cross (section) of society.”
Turner assures there is no trip to Lebanon in the show.
“We’re looking for a drama free launch to the year, with the exception of House Husbands!”
House Husbands returned last night this season with new cast members Hugh Sheridan and Delta Goodrem.
“They are a great addition to the cast and I think it’s a great season. It’s been refreshed and sitting on the back of Married it will hold a loyal audience. It will do a good job for us and have a consistent slot throughout its run.”
“Doctor Doctor was our big drama success of 2016.”
Two Nine dramas and one comedy are also confirmed to return.
“Doctor Doctor was our big drama success of 2016. It delivered very strong ratings each week and people fell in love with that show,” Turner continues.
“Love Child has new cast members and takes a bit of a different direction. It starts shooting soon.”
“And Comedy is a genre where you often see growth as people understand the relationships within that world. So I think Here Come the Habibs will come back bigger and better.”
“There’s something great about Australia in the 80s”
Two part miniseries House of Bond (pictured top) is also expected in the first quarter starring Ben Mingay, Rachael Taylor, Adrienne Pickering and Sam Neil.
“It looks back at Alan’s Bond’s from his rise to his ruins. He was an interesting character. It tries to bring along elements of House of Hancock: love, lust, money and lies, I guess,” he explains.
“There’s something great about Australia in the 80s and a unique moment in time where Bob Hawke was the Prime Minister…. the winning of the America’s Cup for the first time in 130 Years, and the patriotism around that. But he was a very divisive character, no doubt, which makes for a good drama.”
Also returning is Underbelly in the form of a new look at Mark ‘Chopper’ Read. Turner insists it hasn’t all been explored in the Eric Bana movie.
“There is more to that story to be told. It always depends on the angle you’re coming from.”
“It’s truly gobsmacking.”
He is particularly buoyant about the new David Attenborough series Planet Earth II, which premieres next week in high definition.
“It’s an amazing series that had record numbers in the UK. The way they filmed the series is inspiring. It’s amazing where they have taken the technology. The last Planet Earth was launched 10 years ago, but what’s happened in that space (since) is phenomenal.
“It’s truly gobsmacking. They just weave the stories so well –it’s kind of like watching a drama really.”
It will be followed by new true crime series Murder Calls Australia, as 6 episodes from Screentime.
“It kicks off with the Herman Rockefeller story who got himself into a pickle. So we look at Australian stories and they all centre around a break in the case, which comes via a phone call.”
But Turner is tight-lipped over plans for Hamish and Andy.
“Hamish and Andy are a big part of the Nine family. They are not doing Gap Year again, but taking their show in a different direction,” he hints.
“It won’t be the first quarter. They are working on it at the moment.”
“You can look at conflict without deliberately trying to split people up”
Nine’s internal production unit is also bringing us two other new titles: relationship series The Last Resort filmed in Fiji, and transformation series This Time Next Year.
“The Last Resort takes people who are in long-term relationships, trying to pull them back together, using experts to try and help them through that process,” he says.
But he denies it is adopts a Seven Year Switch or Temptation Island (also filmed in Fiji) approach.
“You can look at conflict without deliberately trying to split people up and put them with other people.”
Karl Stefanovic, perhaps ironically, is host of This Time Next Year where people walk through one door with an ambition to change their lives, before cameras catch up with them 12 months later.
“They come out another door, and it’s 12 months later and we see either an instant transformation or perhaps a failed attempt.”
Sonia Kruger returns as host of The Voice with a refreshed team of coaches: Seal, Boy George, Delta, Kelly Rowland.
“Boy George is a great character,” Turner suggests.
“We did an interview with him for Today or Today Extra, and he has a warm personality, and I think he will bring another layer to that show.”
With no X Factor in town this year, is he excited at being the only singing contest on TV?
“It probably won’t take effect until 2018 because you’ve obviously just come off the back of an X Factor. So you need to go through the whole cycle of a year before you are the only show in town.”
But can The Voice finally deliver a recording star in the same way X Factor has several times over?
“Sometimes you can be the best singer in the world but if you’re not looked after in the right way ….Sony does a great job of producing artists. I’m not a record producer or in the music industry but as an outsider I think they do a fantastic job of creating personas and artists.”
“Ninja Warrior has been a very successful format in both the US and UK. We’ve filmed the show and it feels different within the landscape. It has amazing scale on the set, with the athletes we are bringing to the table.
Episodes are expected to run for 90 minutes around mid-year.
ESA is also producing Family Food Fight, which pits families skilled in different cuisines against one another in a competition environment.
NRL and State of Origin are amongst Nine’s big sports drawcards once again, leading to the question of the NRL Footy Show scheduling. Last year it trialled Wednesday nights before returning to Thursdays.
“We’re looking at the NRL Footy Show at the moment but I believe it will land on the Thursday,” Turner explains.
“It becomes difficult to schedule around split-markets, so it’s a tough one for us.”
“We will aim to have consistency where possible”
Speaking of scheduling, last year Nine News boss Darren Wick speculated over a permanent home for 60 Minutes on Sundays. But Sundays are pivotal to events and reality shows too.
“We will aim to have consistency where possible, at 8:30. But I can’t sit here and guarantee it will be 8:30 on the dot for 52 weeks,” he admits.
“For our viewers the thing is hitting junctions and communicating junctions. If they are going there at 8:30 and expecting it to be there at 8:30 then they are armed with that information.
“Communicating junctions is something that we very much want to ensure that we do this year.”
As do viewers….
The Block is back for its 13th series in Q4, with Nine yet to confirm its new base, rumoured to be St. Kilda in Melbourne.
Not appearing this year is a planned revival of Sex, and a local version of Scottish format Prison: First and Last Look.
“We worked for 6 months to get that show up but we couldn’t get the proper clearances from the prisons,” Turner concedes.
Also screening in 2017 is a new look Hi-5, plus interview series The A List, 20 to One with Erin Molan and Dave Thornton, clip show Accidental Heroes, US action drama Lethal Weapon, more of The Big Bang Theory and events including the Academy Awards, Logie Awards and Carols by Candelight.
“We have a more consistent schedule over the year and especially in the first quarter, I think we will see some good growth.”
Tomorrow: TEN’s Beverley McGarvey