Executive Producer Pam Barnes got it right when she picked her presenting team for The Circle.
“I guess the biggest surprise for me was how funny the girls are. When we chose them, we thought they all brought something unique. But how the chemistry was going to actually come together was something you don’t know until you start,” she says.
Denise Drysdale, Chrissie Swan, Yumi Stynes and Gorgi Coghlan had never met as a team until their first photo shoot. Within a week they would be filming daily test episodes of their new morning show for TEN. A week later they were on air. Even for a seasoned producer like Barnes, it would mean throwing everyone in the deep end.
“One of my big things was that I hate shows where people talk over each other. I said right from the start ‘There will be no talking over each other’ and they don’t. Occasionally it will happen of course. But they just work it out between them. Initially we thought there might have to be signals, but it just doesn’t require that,” she told TV Tonight.
“They just have got to know each other and each other’s timing or which way they will take things. They discuss it themselves beforehand, and obviously we have suggested questions and all that sort of thing.
“But we don’t have to get in there and prompt them to go here or go there, they just naturally know how to do it. Producer’s dream!”
Following on from 9AM with David and Kim, the show needed to build a brand around the revenue-raising advertorials whilst competing against Seven’s Morning Show and Nine’s Kerri-Anne. With the prospect of four chatty women, many had memories of a short-lived afternoon venture from Nine.
“In the beginning a lot of people said, ‘Oh it’s like The Catch-Up.’ But it’s actually nothing like The Catch-Up because we didn’t cast for conflict. They probably went along the lines of The View more than we did. The only way we are like The View is that there are four women.”
Barnes says the show has been performing better than 9AM did, and last week it scored a win over Kerri-Anne.
“It’s very gratifying when you’ve only been on the air for four months. Some days we are catching Kerri-Anne in some markets. The Morning Show is still in the lead but they’ve got the Sunrise lead-in.”
Feedback for the show is instant via emails, while older viewers still take the time to send in hand-written letters with messages of support.
“A huge part of our audience are people that are never going to have a ratings connection on their telly because people watch in their offices. We get a lot of feedback from those sort of areas,” she says.
“There is a lady whose son had passed away three years ago and she’s been pretty well been a hermit ever since. And then she found The Circle and now she watches us everyday and for the first time in three years she laughs. Isn’t that beautiful?
“We just get the most wonderful emails from people saying how much they love it and how it makes them laugh. I think that they just get a joy out of it because the girls are so natural and they’re funny and just sort of say what they think and I think it’s quite refreshing.”
The Circle has also been impressing overseas artists, says Barnes.
“Meatloaf said ‘I love this show, when I come back, I wanna come on and host it.’ And we said to the record company, ‘Right did you hear that?’
There are also hopes to travel the show interstate sometime soon. Barnes says it was Head of Programming David Mott who endorsed the idea.
“I think we would want to go to Sydney first because it’s the biggest market and we hope to do that before the year is out. 7pm got to do it and it paid off for them!” she says.
“So we just need to work on that in terms of getting some sponsorship, it’s only money that’s holding us back. But we will do it before the end of the year.
“The network want us to go and travel all around but it’s just the logistics of taking all of these people that make it happen.
“You would have to do a week and that would mean taking everybody in the staff because everyone of them is integral to the production of the show.”
Barnes has a formidable CV in producing including Logie Awards, The Einstein Factor, Australia’s Got Talent, Bert’s Family Feud, The Singing Bee and an extensive run on Hey Hey It’s Saturday.
In taking the top job at The Circle did she give up the opportunity to continue with Hey Hey?
“I did the reunion shows which was appropriate for me, because I’d done 10 years of the show but I think to bring back Hey Hey it needed new mind sets, so I was happy to have another challenge and I just feel blessed this came along for me.”
She also notes that while there are more women rising to Executive Producer level there are still inroads to be made in management levels within networks.
“There’s a lot of women producers in television and I think more and more they’re developing to the EP level,” says Barnes.
“Women are quite well represented in the Production of things -in fact there’s usually more females in actual Production. It’s the next level (above) that there’s a completely sad lack of women, in my humble opinion.”
The Circle airs 10am – 12 pm weekdays on TEN.