In the second of a 2-part interview with TEN’s programmer, David Mott admits to apprehensions with his commissioning of MasterChef Australia. The apathy shown to the idea when it was announced was enough to make him question his decision. Thankfully for everyone, it was a move that has paid off enormously.
Mott says the industry was cynical, and so was the public.
“We were concerned about Masterchef, and many of your (TV Tonight) forums were quite critical when we commissioned it. It was an interesting read at the time. It made us think, ‘ooh gee have we made the right decision?’
“It was one of those things that made us think this could actually skew too old for us. We really believed in the format but were concerned that it was not going to be a really young show, so it had to feed the families, so to speak.
“But we felt food united everyone, and was something everyone did together.”
TEN was mindful of how the show was packaged, from the opening title music to diversity in the cast. Along with Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation, the show has brought in older viewers and helped score demographic wins. After years of pursuing younger viewers it is somewhat ironic TEN soars thanks to adding older viewers to the mix.
“It’s been a benefit for us but is it a change in philosophy for the network? No. 18-49 first, 25-54 second. We’re not ignoring 16-39 but we knew we had to broaden our market.”
So could it be a signal to commission more shows skewing towards older viewers? Not so fast.
“Not skewing older, but skewing more towards the family environment,” he explains. “We’ve been very clear on that. The family environment brings in more people in front of the TV. So we’re not about to commission shows that bring in viewers that are 55+, forget it. I’ll leave that to the Seven Network. They seem to be good at it.”
Mott is also adamant that demographics, not total viewers, are where it’s at, expressing some frustration at media reporting of total viewers.
“Ask any media buyer, they don’t buy All People, they buy individual shows with a demographic fit,” he said. “Winning demos we love. Coming second (in total people), couldn’t care less. Could. Not. Give. A rat’s arse. It’s all very good, but y’know what? It doesn’t mean a thing.”
Meanwhile the 6pm timeslot as an ongoing problem, but Mott says the network has no plans to take on rival networks in news and current affairs in that timeslot.
“But if you look at the 7-10:30 area, invariably we are #1 in total people. And so we recognise that early evening area is a struggle for us.”
While even a win in total people between 7-10:30 is debatable, what is rock solid is the success of MasterChef Australia. Mott admits its growing success saw him make some strategic programming manoeuvres.
“It became a beast, it became a monster. I increased the hours a bit. I extended Wednesday to take on Thank God You’re Here and things like that. We increased their work volume as well and the team embraced the change. They worked their arses off,” he said.
“It’s been one of those great experiences in television that don’t come around everyday. From commissioning, to question marks over whether we should do it, have we made the right decision, to getting the format strategically right, the casting, the judges, and then the ratings results. And to see a quote saying ‘the MasterChef effect.’ It’s not just a show it’s an ‘effect’ on Australian culture.
“It’s very hard to find formats that you can play five days a week, but that can actually strike a chord with the Australian psyche.”
The idea for the show had been brewing within TEN, but Mott also explored the idea of an Australian version of The Apprentice as a stripped format -a title Nine has since acquired.
“We looked at The Apprentice. But then Seven launched the UK version on the back of the Olympics and it just died a million deaths. We got a bit nervous about it, and the UK version is very good. We actually think The Apprentice format has been tried here and it’s not necessarily going to make it.
“We looked at renovation shows, and we looked at shows that we thought could engage an audience every night. And we did look at MasterChef. As soon as we announced the end of Big Brother, Mark and Carl (Fennessy from FremantleMedia) were on the phone saying, ‘listen dunno what your plans are, but we reckon there’s something in MasterChef.'”
It was a mutual enthusiasm.
Now as the show ramps up to its finale, TEN is finalising its celebrity version, which will run one hour a week for 10 weeks from October. The format is expected to include a ’round robin’ of varying celebrities in separate heats who graduate to a semi final. While he wouldn’t be drawn on names yet, Mott insists the tone will still be on serious cooking and passion.
“It’s very important that we see some amazing dishes being cooked by people that you’re familiar with, but you never thought they’d be familiar with food. So it is that classic fish out of water.
“We’ve been quite blown away by the diversity of people who’ve actually put their hand up who want to be a part of it. Including quite a few people from other networks,” he said.
“One thing I’ve always done is support people from other networks appearing on our network, but other networks don’t seem to have the same feeling.”
Next year TEN plans a second MasterChef series from April followed by another variation in format in the second half of the year -the format allows for different casts.
“We might do a professionals version or a teen version. We’ll always do one other shorter run but it might not be celebrities.”
Meanwhile, as Nine announces its forthcoming GO! channel, TEN is very happy, thankyou, with the momentum of ONE. Mott says while it has achieved a result from a numbers point of view, the network is always looking forward, hinting at further multi-channelling in the future.
“Legislation says we can have 3 channels each and obviously there’s always those discussions internally about what we will do. At the moment we’re very happy with what we’ve got with ONE going forward.”
When it comes to kids’ programming, TEN has been deliberately strategic, moving all its C and pre-school programming to breakfast, in order to free up its afternoons. Both parts of the day are available to networks for children’s programming under ACMA regulations.
“If you look between 3 -5 where the others are forced to put C and pre-school programmes, we’ve completely opened up that area,” he said.
“Stronger ratings in the afternoon, leading into primetime enable you to maximise your return with your revenue, but also help from a promo point of view, pushing your shows into primetime.
“The only downside to that equation is the pressure it puts on the 9AM team to not have any lead-in whatsoever.”
9AM with David and Kim is thumped on a daily basis by both The Morning Show and Mornings with Kerri-Anne. Mott says the content is good but knows it is a victim of programming.
“The biggest issue is we don’t have a lead in. And that’s a conscious decision we’ve made. We could have gone into breakfast television but we elected not to.”
Another perplexing programming decision is the slating of the daily serial Out of the Blue into a weekly slot at 5:30pm Sundays. Here, the answer was blunt: it’s just for drama points.
“Monday to Friday at 6:00 is G territory, which is curious given its news content on the other channels. Whereas on weekends it’s PG. So that did preclude us from running it at 6:00 weekdays. So it sitting there and yes it is purely there to achieve the drama quota points. It will playout. Clearly it won’t be renewed,” he admits.
“Having said that we’re investing in Australian drama with Rush, Neighbours, (plus telemovies) Hawke and Caroline Byrne.