Marena Manzoufas isn’t a name that’s as well known as David Mott, Tim Worner or Michael Healy but it’s no less integral to our television viewing.
Manzoufas is Head of Programming for the ABC, a position she has held for the last 8 years. In the first of a rare two-part interview with TV Tonight, she talks about her approaches to ABC1 and ABC2, and the role of the public broadcaster.
Prior to working at the ABC, Manzoufas had roles in Programming & Acquisitions at SBS and in sales at Beyond.
At ABC she is assisted by Deputy Network Programmer Ian Taylor and Programmer Natalie Edgar. In addition to programming tasks, her department is responsible for physical scheduling, classifications and captioning. ABC3 will be the responsibility of the Head of Children’s Television, Tim Brooke-Hunt.
“Natalie, Ian and I work together on both schedules. Natalie’s driving ABC2 schedule, I’m driving primetime on ABC1, Ian’s driving Arts and daytime on ABC1,” she says.
While ABC2 skews to a younger, more niche audience, ABC1 remains the broadly-appealing feature attraction, with themed nights that have a long track record.
“Monday night to an extent tends to be a more serious night, Tuesday night’s probably a little bit more factual and lighter. Wednesday night is comedy night. Thursday night is our documentary night. Friday is an entertainment night with detective dramas, similarly with Saturday. Sundays we try to make a little bit more family viewing on occasions at 7:30 and then the higher end dramas at 8:30.
“One of the reasons I think we do well on a Friday and Saturday night on ABC1 is that there’s not necessarily a lot of choice (elsewhere). It’s sport, sport and a movie occasionally. But the one thing I think we’ve delivered is a consistency. If it’s Friday night on ABC1 it’s probably going to be detectives.”
ABC2 is similarly themed kicking off with music and arts on Sundays.
“Monday nights tend to be male with things like Good Game, sci fi and anime. Tuesday nights we’re now trying to be younger, whereas in the past we’ve repeated The Bill there. Wednesday night on ABC2 is documentary night, Thursday is comedy including the repeats from ABC1. Friday night is a broad under 55 drama night with Torchwood, Being Human and coming up is Being Erica,” she says.
With each new title, Manzoufas has to make a decision about not just a night and timeslot, but which channel best suits an acquisition. Acknowledging that programming is more ‘art than science’, she says the decision has to factor in the demographic profile of the various slots and the available audience.
“United States of Tara could sit very happily on ABC2,” she says. “But it’s a really strong show for ABC1. If you take something like The Beast it’s a more niche show. I couldn’t imagine it sitting in The Bill timeslot and attracting the same audience.”
The Beast, a US cop show starring Patrick Swayze and Travis Fimmel, begins this Tuesday on ABC2. It will be joined a week later by ABC’s first screening of the gritty and acclaimed US drama, The Wire, previously screened on Nine.
Manzoufas will be watching carefully for the response to these US dramas, given the audience is predominantly attached to Australian and British drama.
“What I find really interesting is there are two kinds of drama that I’ve never really been able to make work on ABC1,” she says.
“It tends to be contemporary British drama that’s not thriller. Things like Party Animals. The other was The West Wing. I would have bet money that it would have been absolutely right for our audience. It’s clever writing and fantastic acting. But it was a bitter disappointment. It just didn’t crack with the audience.
“I’m really interested to see how The Beast and The Wire go on ABC2 and then we’ve got Being Erica for Fridays. It’s from Canada and it’s quite sophisticated, a female younger female-skewing programming. I would be very surprised if it doesn’t work well on ABC2.”
Sometimes an acquisition for ABC1 will instead find a home on ABC2.
“Beautiful People was actually bought for ABC1, but then I could see with our commitment to Australian entertainment and comedies we weren’t going to get it to air until summer. So it seemed to be better to give it a premiere on ABC2, and then it will play on ABC1 over summer and therefore be a bit more available to a broader audience.”
Whilst broadly appealing shows are the mainstay of ABC1, Manzoufas makes no apologies for scheduling shows which she knows will attract a smaller, discerning audience. As a public broadcaster, ABC has different goals, obligations and Charter responsibilities to commercial networks.
“We have a strong commitment to science programming, religion and ethics, and like the other networks we also have a commitment to drama, documentary and entertainment programmes. But because we are the national broadcaster hopefully most of our shareholders, who are the taxpayers, will find something that they want to watch. They may not want to watch us all the time but there is hopefully something there that appeals to them,” she says.
When she isn’t wading through the constant supply of documentaries, short-run dramas and comedies that cross her desk, Manzoufas admits to sampling drama and comedies airing on her competition.
“I love Thank God You’re Here,” she smiles. “That’s stay-home-Marena night I have to say. And I dip into reality shows. I dip in and have a look but I don’t become addicted as some of my colleagues. I like Amazing Race. Survivor I get a bit fed up with to be frank, I think they should grow up. But this year I’ve not been watching as much of the other networks as I’d like to.”
TOMORROW: What makes a typical ABC viewer? Doctor Who programming issues. Aussie drama. And does the ABC really not worry about ratings?