7PM Project divides critics

This week Channel TEN's 7PM Project notches up 8 months on air. TV Tonight turns to some of Australia's leading TV Critics to ask how it's faring.

This week Channel TEN’s 7PM Project notches up 8 months on air.

After repeated attempts at developing a show to fill the timeslot, including Taken Out and even the infamous Yasmin’s Getting Married, TEN has held its nerve with the Roving Enterprises show, despite figures which many assumed would sound the death knell.

Last week it averaged 653,000 viewers, and has doubtless impacted on TEN’s early evening schedule.

But has it found its feet? Has it improved its mix of news and comedy and is it time for audiences to revisit the show?

TV Tonight turned to television critics and found an audience just as split as the one at home.

Michael Idato from the Sydney Morning Herald has mixed feelings about whether the show has improved or not.

“Yes and no,” he says, “I think the production is much, much tighter but in terms of answering a more important long-term objective – what is the show, exactly? – it is still sometimes a little unclear. That’s an issue with the news / comedy balance which they still struggle with. As a new and creative element of TEN’s schedule, it’s excellent.”

James Manning from Mediaweek also likes what he sees, and notes technical hitches have been ironed out.

“Issues with camera angles have been fixed, the number of stories packed into each episode have been dropped and interviews are handled well by the guests with no abrupt endings,” he says. “The hosts are doing a pretty good job and it seems (TEN Programmer) David Mott and (Producer) Craig Campbell recruited well when they launched.

“The mix of news and comedy does work, but I wouldn’t mind if there was even more gags, but that’s probably not the show’s brief.”

Amanda Meade from The Australian, who admits to being a semi-viewer, agreed.

“I don’t see a lot of 7PM but I do like what I see and I think there’s a real need for a light, entertainment-based news show like this,” she said.

“I like all the hosts, and enjoy the regular comic bits by Kitty Flanagan.”

But Dianne Butler from the Courier Mail admitted she is no longer a regular viewer.

“I’m not watching it anymore. I did at the beginning and now I keep forgetting it’s on. I don’t think it’s by accident my brain is doing this either,” she said.

She also doesn’t believe the show has been treated unfairly by media.

“It’s the opposite,” she says. “There’s been massive goodwill from the media and from TEN because they like the people on the show. Plus, I don’t know, but I think maybe because Dave Hughes and whoever all work on other things that are successful, there’s the feeling that The 7pm Project is too -that it’s just an extension of those other jobs.”

Critics were also divided about some of the show’s hosts.

Richard Clune from the Sunday Telegraph agrees the show has tightened since dropping its “inane” crosses to Ruby Rose. He is a supporter of Charlie Pickering as the central host.

“He is driving this show, passionate about the medium and the news and there’s an obvious desire to make this work. He knows what he’s talking about, flicks between serious and funny in a facile way and I believe he will go far – but maybe this isn’t the show for him given that the audience hasn’t responded,” he says.

Michael Idato calls Pickering one of the best television discoveries in recent years.

“He’s bright, smart and likeable. Pay television deserves a little credit here as it has in the last 15 years demonstrated a real ability to unearth real talent (Jabba, James Mathison, Brendan Moar) at a time when free to air has recycled familiar faces to the point of audience exhaustion. The most interesting thing about Pickering / Bickmore / Hughes is that as a trio they have settled into a very comfortable dynamic. In effect, their collective chemistry is greater than the sum of its parts.”

But Richard Clune isn’t so enthusiastic about news presenter Carrie Bickmore.

“I feel I’m not alone here. She seems somewhat like a female token on that panel – she’s able to deliver a solid, well-articulated female point when necessary, but just who is she and why do I care…?” he asks.

Richard Clune says Dave Hughes’ schtick hasn’t changed in 15 years, and says nobody outside of Victoria is that interested in the Melbourne comedian.

“He needs to go,” he says, adding that Hamish and Andy would add more to the show.

“TEN paid big bucks for Lee and his offsider Blake – now put them to use in lifting 7PM before you need to scrap it.”

While critics responded to James Mathison, there was less enthusiasm about the contributions by Ruby Rose.

Mediaweek’s James Manning said, “James Mathison and Ruby Rose seem to have all but disappeared. Don’t miss them too much because with three hosts that’s probably enough. Ruby seems to have lots going on elsewhere.”

Michael Idato even went as far as to dub Mathison a ‘superstar.’

“He’s intelligent, is just offbeat to work in a medium where most of his peers are bland and difficult to distinguish from the pack,” he says. “Ruby Rose has been underwhelming. She’s ubiquitous at the moment, which creates challenges of its own – such a high level of over-commitment means that almost everything she does looks as though it’s done on the run, with little research or preparation. A more experienced presenter could hide those frayed edges, and she doesn’t always do a very good job of that.”

Several critics made mention of regular panellists on the show, most of whom provide a generational contrast to the show’s three hosts.

“I’ve enjoyed them working in more commentary from people who tend to polarise with their varied opinions – namely (Steve) Price,  (Neil) Mitchell, (George) Negus, although I doubt they cut through to TEN’s desired younger demos?” asks Richard Clune.

But there was sharp criticism from others.

Andrew Mercado from TV Week said, “I switch the channel the moment I see Steve Price. He is totally inappropriate for the show (and TEN’s audience in general). If they want a regular redneck, they need to find someone younger and more relevant.”

Amanda Meade agreedm saying, “Producers could try a bit harder to get some ‘credible’ guests on, that is, someone a little more interesting than failed shock jock Steve Price and a little younger than George Negus. Try for some big hitters with real credibility.”

But Michael Idato notes Negus’ Monday night appearances as one of the show’s better contributors.

“For the most part they work well, but the standout is George Negus, and in that sense it answers the question of whether the show should be more news / topic focused, or more comedy free-form. The best moments on the show have been those which tap into the news, so I believe a slightly straighter, slightly sharper but more in-depth approach is the smartest route.

“One of the show’s weaknesses is that the conversations are cut short too frequently. When the show is able to harness people like George Negus, it’s wasteful not to let those conversations get more in-depth.”

There were genuine concerns the show has impacted on other TEN brands.

“The big casualty so far is The Biggest Loser which had its numbers pummelled because it was displaced out of the timeslot it has historically occupied on TEN’s schedule. That’s a huge impact for TEN, for Fremantle (who make it) and for Shine (who own it). I would imagine all three parties have been wringing their hands over the numbers,” says Michael Idato.

He notes So You Think You Can Dance Australia has also taken a hit from The 7PM Project and warns that as Masterchef approaches, three underperforming franchises would be too high a price to pay for one show’s modest success.

But Dianne Butler says TEN will probably stick with it.

“It gives them a platform to push other product, people … And what else are they going to do anyway? Their highest rating show at the moment is the News at five o’clock in the afternoon so there are plenty of other problems apart from this one to sort out,” she says.

There was universal applause for TEN’s loyalty to the show.

Andrew Mercado summed it up, saying, “I couldn’t admire TEN more for their loyalty but it’s not enough to just sit there and hope the audience finds it. Why doesn’t Rove step up and become an occasional panelist – surely that would bring in a few more eyeballs?

Richard Clune says part of the problem is that younger viewers have already received their news throughout the day via the internet and suggests it could be retooled as a longer, weekly show in a later timeslot which would allow it to be even more risqué.

“Ultimately I think TEN and the team – minus Hughes – have given it a fair crack and for that they’re to be congratulated… But it hasn’t worked and it’s time to either pull it apart and start again or simply walk away,” he says.

Finally, few critics were able to nominate a highlight from the show’s life thus far, although Michael Idato observed that Adam Lambert’s take on the opposition leader’s comments about feeling comfortable around gay people was an intelligent and topical treatment of a news story.

And as the show continues a cultural shift on the TEN audience at 7:00, he says it’s almost impossible to navigate between news and comedy because people react to that balance according to their own taste.

“For me, no, it needs to be focused a little more in the news and a little less in scripted comedy or punchline-delivery moments,” he says.

“In a very broad sense The 7pm Project serves as a current affairs program, albeit one tailored almost entirely to TEN’s stated target demographic of 16-39, and frequently offers more insight into topical issues than either A Current Affair or Today Tonight.”

Maybe it’s time for another look after all?

75 Responses

  1. ive only tuned into this a few times, i would prefer to watch the news.

    charlie is too smarmy for my liking & dave..well, i dont think he has any place on there, unless the point is to bring the show down with this raving lunatic.

    carrie is okay, i enjoyed her work on rove, but i wouldnt watch the show for her.

  2. Well – I personally love this show!!! And, I am glad to see the ratings starting to pick up.

    I think Charlie is a great host, however, the standout for me has to be Carrie Bickmore. Dave can be annoying – but he still is pretty funny!!

    I do not know about the entire demographic breakdownof the viewers, but from general conversations at work and with friends this show is becoming really popular with our generation (22-35 year olds).

  3. Ravi, March 17, 2010 at 9:47 pm – you have absolutely nailed my thoughts on the show. Charlie is still far too pompous and grating for me to watch this show in anything other than short bursts (I can’t stand him on TBYG either). Dave I warm to and then dislike – but he does have a knack, as someone else said, to cut through others waffling and high mindedness. I enjoy that. I think Steve Price is awful, and George Negus can be irritating – particularly his ranting about ‘what about the Jews and the Muslims? Can they put up signs?’ during an item about a Sydney council putting up ‘Merry Christmas’ signs. They cut away from the council member without asking him. A stupid way to end a story with someone’s PC rant that went nowhere. The show still does have it’s awkward endings and moments.

    The critic who suggested Rove should make an appearance is an idiot. We’ve had more than enough of him.

  4. Well, is it only Charlie fans who use this comment area??? We love Carrie. I cant stand Charlies wooden, pushy performance. The reason the show seemed awkward at first is Charlie was meant to be a co-host but used every opportunity to blast Carrie rudely out of the way as if it was some type of “please like me most” competition. How can anyone say he has hosting talent?? I dont mind Hughesy. I love Denise’s comments, George, Steve Price and the Doctor are great. James Mathison and all the interstate crosses are excellent. Overall I like the show, it’s a light take on the harsh news of the day. Any doubts about what I say just watch it when cohosted with Andrew Ginsberg or Hugh Rimington??

  5. re: Ryano. So what your saying is BL will do better if it is put up against weaker competition?…. yeah that makes sense only for the fact you’re assuming it will be up against weaker competition. What “you people” don’t understand is BL is BS – no matter where it is.

  6. They should stick with it.It is extremely useful for those of us who cannot be home in time for 5 or 6pm News Bulletins or those of us who watch Simpsons/Neighbours in the same hour and cannot hold out till 9:30pm for SBS World News.
    What a Shame My Mother would rather watch Charlie Sheen rather than 7pm Projects Charlie.At this rate Ten might as well go back to old episodes of friends

  7. Good on Ten for sticking with it. While total figures are low, it does very well in younger demos, as does Loser and Dance.

    Although I think Dance on Wednesday nights should be only 90 minutes so that Burn Notice can start at 9.30, and the Thursdsay results show should be 30 minutes so programming can remain 8.30, 9.30, etc. That would help improve Ten’s shares generally.

    Masterchef as a 7.30 strip should dominate as people will flick over from what they watch at 7pm. Really don’t buy the lead in arguement at all.

  8. Carrie is atrocious, I’m not sure whether they made sure she has enough brains to form an opinion but you’ve really got to wonder if she thinks anything through when she starts to spout the following:

    “Men don’t have body issues”

    “Why can’t the Catholics & Protestants just get along? They’re basically the same”


    Personally I have no issue with Dave Hughes but I know a lot of people who can’t stand him, especially when he tries to put himself forward as the ‘common man’ even though he’s making millions of dollars each year.

    The main problem with the show is that a lot of people absolute despise either Carrie or Dave and that is massively hurting their chances at growing their audience. It’d possibly work better for Charlie to host it alone with segments from the guests most like ‘The Daily Show’ or ‘The Colbert Report’

  9. I find that as a family we watch this show regularly togethor, and while the older guests such as negus might not be strictly 10 Demo, they do add more expertise and even though my parents don’t like him , it’s someone familiar on the screen.

  10. No matter what, Ten needs to keep this show on. But that have soem decisions to make. First about the panel…Dave Hughes isn’t right for the show, make the call. But most importantly the timeslot needs to be considered. Personally i don’t think it’s to blame for TBL bad ratings, we’ll see when Masterchef starts if there is damage. But if they decide it is causing problems for these shows and want them at 7 again, don’t axe 7PM Project but move it to 6.30. Then decide on Neighbours, either 6pm or 4.30 would be my options (doubt they’d axe it).

    But Project is a good show and is a great alternative to other crap on that time. Honestly though it would also be a great alternative to the crap on at 6.30 and being a current affairs program would be probably provide greater competition.

  11. Yo Idato, if 7pm is blamed for Biggest loser’s failure does that line of thinking also apply to Neighbors and Simpsons’ lead in to 7pm?

    very harsh comments MClune re :” but just who is she and why do I care” – funny, I thought the same thing about you when I read your comments… but you’re called critic so I guess I must take your notes on board and as a backyard critic myself I grade yo an f for frustrated wanna-be producer. I’m one myself so I can spot my own kind

    Pickering is the greatest find in the genre of intelligence, sarcasm and lack of warmth – panel member at best.

    Bickmore is a strong host brings warmth and female POV, not strong in politics but I’m not sure she was hired as political hard hitter.

    Hughes is best when critiquing weird funny video clips – panel member at best

    the Critics have failed to acknowledge the real problem i-the person/people who run it. You can not have it all guys – news, comedy targeting 18-50+ out of anyone’s league for a 1/2 hour show.

  12. I thought tonight’s show was terrific. We love watching it as a family.
    I don’t pretend to understand ratings and programming like many on here, all i know is that it’s a fun show to watch, it’s a great way to get the kids interested in what’s going on in the world and it promotes many discussions with the people I work with.
    I hope it stays around for some time.

  13. If they fired Carrie Bickmore and replaced her with a host who was less conservative, uptight and whiney I might consider watching again.
    She really ruins the show for me. There has to be a better talent out there.

  14. Was Amanda Meade suggesting George Negus lacks credibility? Compared to who on the show? Maybe it’s just an unfortunately worded quote which links him to Price (based on age presumably). Like others, I think the major issue is ch 10 (or the producers) need to make a clear decision on what they want the show to be. If it’s meant to be funny then why even bother with news headlines? I also don’t think a look at the news has to be 100% serious – if you want news and nothing else you’d be watching ABC/SBS at that time.

    If they want to have it both ways then maybe keep Charlie as permanent host (mostly straightforward and occasionally funny) and then shift other regular panelists depending on the night. Fridays seem to be a bit of a throwaway night – so get comedians on to talk crap. On bigger news days (eg when parliament sits) make sure panelists are booked who are comfortable dealing with more serious issues. The frustrating thing is while I don’t expect them to be experts on issues I would like them to be prepared enough to engage with the experts they do bring on. Part of what makes the Daily Show work is Jon Stewart is confident enough to go back and forth with a guest even though he may be out of his depth in terms of expertise. Maybe if they were more engaged they’d be prepared to back their opinions rather than resting on a one-liner to remove themselves from difficult conversations.

  15. Great article, David. I completely agree with all of the ‘experts’ here, and I think most people now have come to the consensus that Charlie Pickering has been the only thing holding the show together. Let’s face it, would anyone watch a show hosted by Hughesy and Carrie? To the news-savvy demographic it appeals to, it is not satirical or opinionated enough to provide a point of difference to watching the ABC or SBS news. People who are serious about their news will watch the latter two shows; or wait for Q & A. Hungry Beast also offers more diverse stories and a less conventional approach to news.

  16. I agree with you Brian, put Neighbours on at 6 and shift 7pm to 6:30 and compete it against the other current affair shows. It is a helluva lot better than the other tripe on in that time slot and would provide people with a decent alternative. Neighbours isn’t doing that well at 6:30 anyway. Who knows? Maybe it’ll do better in an earlier time slot?

  17. I don’t mind the 7pm Project; a lot better than H&A and Two and A Half Men. But, 7pm Project just isn’t getting the numbers. Put TBL and Masterchef where they once were and put 7pm Project back on once both shows have finished.

  18. It deserves to do better.Having Said that from 1994 to the present time with a few exceptions Ten has relied too much on old US Sitcoms of all sorts to fill the 7pm timeslot.The last attempt before this 7pm Project was Friends and to be honest those shows were all getting long in the tooth and old.Would it be any different had Nine kept Temptation on instead of resorting to the Cheaper 2.5 men imports.

  19. I do enjoy 7pm Project, but I also have issues with the timeslot. Pushing the majority of its shows back by half an hour makes me not want to watch them as there’s shows on other networks that now conflict. Surely TEN isn’t naïve enough to think we’ll loyally watch their shows if the timeslots don’t match up with other networks? “Oh, I’ve missed half of My Kitchen Rules. May as well stay on this channel then”. I don’t think so.

    It’s time to can the 15-20 year old episodes of The Simpsons at 6, and bring everything forward half an hour. I know “The 6.30pm Project” doesn’t sound as catchy, but surely it’d do better here than the steaming pile of dog s**t that apparently passes for “current affairs” on Seven and Nine.

  20. Wow – this has really divided people hasnt it?

    Personally, I think the 7pm Project is great! I thoroughly enjoy it, especially Carrie Bickmore and Charlie Pickering- they make the show!

    However do you think if the lead in show (Neighbours) pulled the same ratings as its competitors ACA and Today Tonight that the 7pm Project would be much more competitive? Maybe the real problem lies in its 6.30 slot? The 7pm Project since the return of Neighnours this year has continually rated better than its lead in show – something that H&A and Two and a Half Men have not been achieving with such consistency.

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