The fourth interview in TV Tonight‘s series with network programmers is Tim Worner, Seven’s Director of Programming & Production.
Central to Seven’s 2011 year is its continuing output of Australian projects. Not only does Seven hold an enviable reputation with in-house drama, but it has a rich local slate in other genres: factual, lifestyle, sport and news.
“That’s something that I think is woven into the fabric of Seven: the telling of Australian stories,” agrees Worner. “Whether that be in Drama, which we’ve certainly gone long on this year and we’ve got even more in development, or whether that be in Factual. Definitely the telling of Australian stories is synonymous with the Seven brand and that’s something we work at maintaining.”
More recently Seven has been complemented by its newest siblings, 7TWO and 7mate. Despite the competition Worner views multichanneling less as a problem and more as an opportunity.
“We tend to lock ourselves away for a while and schedule the year ahead. This year the process was a lot more complicated and basically it took three times as long. But we’re happy with what we’ve emerged with and we’re set up to try and gather the most set of eyeballs with the three channels. That’s our aim and there’s a degree of confidence –I wouldn’t call it over-confidence– but I think there’s a confidence we can do that.
“Our three brands are very clearly defined. Our two newest brands will be even more defined by the end of the year. I think it’s pretty clear when you’re watching 7TWO or 7mate what it is you’re likely to get for the rest of the night.
“There’s a minimum of over-lap, that’s something we aim for and something we’ll keep working on.”
7TWO targets an upscale audience with British drama and lifestyle. Newest offering 7mate aims at males 16-49.
“7mate is probably the most defined of the new channels and is going exceptionally well and killing them in its target demographic.”
Seven’s most successful local show is the unstoppable Packed to the Rafters. It will be joined this year by Winners and Losers, from the same creator, Bevan Lee.
“At Seven we’ve worked and worked at growing our offering in terms of Australian drama and I think lately we’ve tried to actively step outside the circle a bit, with a few less uniforms and a few more shows that are fresh and contemporary and probably reflect the Seven brand. Rafters really does that and I think Winners and Losers will as well,” he says.
“In many ways it’s a very personal story for Bevan. It’s something he’s had kicking around inside that pretty amazing brain of his for quite some time. In fact prior to the first read-through I know that some of them were moved to tears by what he had to say. It’s about a bunch of 20-something girls who feel so intimated by what they’ve endured at school that they don’t really want to attend their ten year school reunion.
“But they do attend and it’s a fairly cathartic experience for them. They end up celebrating becoming winners on that night spiritually and they have a pretty big night out.”
The Pilot as been attracting positive comment in test screenings with audiences, but can a show revolving around 4 young females reach out to males?
“I don’t think it’s as broad as Rafters, but there are very few shows that will ever be as broad as Rafters. I wouldn’t say there’s nothing in it for blokes, but it’s the story of 4 young women and they are beautiful stories.”
The greenlighting of Winners and Losers comes at the same time as City Homicide goes on production hiatus. New episodes will air beginning this week, but Worner won’t be drawn on whether the show has come to an end.
“I don’t have a view at the moment. I would dearly love to be in a position where we were doing more City Homicide, but it’s not something that I can confirm right now. I can tell you it’s something that’s not off the agenda,” he says.
“The thing about that show is it’s got a far-greater shelf-life than a lot of Australian drama. It’s an open and close story inside the hour, a whodunnit. They have a value that goes beyond the first run. So in that way I would always like to have something like that as part of our Australian drama offering. It may just be that the best way to get to that point is to go back to City Homicide. It’s a show that I personally love and I’m not going to let it go easily.”
Also in development is Wild Boys, airdate to be determined, described as a colonial western. Worner says people will be excited by the cast that is emerging.
“The pitch for Wild Boys is not a pitch I will forget because they came in and pitched about 6 or 7 things and Wild Boys was about number 5 and we didn’t go much further after about 45 seconds of the pitch,” he says.
“We’re kind of adopting a philosophy of ‘let’s put on what’s not on.’ We looked across the landscape and thought ‘Gee I can’t see any bushranger dramas,'” he laughs.
“When it arrives it’s certainly going to look fresh and will have definite international appeal as well.”
Right now Seven is in launch mode of the second season of My Kitchen Rules. Buoyed by its 2010 success the show has more episodes and a bigger cast. Watch out for the ‘amusing’ team from Sydney, who appear as part of the second grouping.
“They are good-looking boys and you think they are complete klutzes. I don’t want to spoil it but it turns out to be a very surprising episode in a great, great way.
“We’ve pressed the button a bit harder this year, there’s no question. I think the shows are definitely better from the experience of the production team.”
Following on from last seasn’s twist, he also hints at another surprise.
“The last part of the series promises to be very exciting,” he smiles.
But Seven has already retreated from initial plans to launch another reality series, Conviction Kitchen this week. It is now rumoured to roll at the end of the month.
“The path that we are going to follow will give the show a far better launch than it would have ever had. It deserves that. This is an exceptionally well-made show. Sometimes it’s good to do something good with the power of this medium. I think we’ve seen that with the money that was raised for the Queensland flood victims and we see it every year in Perth with the Telethon which is such a tradition in that state,” he says.
“With this show it’s great to be able to give 12 young Australians a second chance. There are 12 amazing stories inside this series and the guy who deserves credit, apart from the show-makers who’ve done a beautiful job, is (Chef) Ian Curley.
“He cares about these guys. I’ll never forget watching him walk off into the late night with one of the youngsters in this show. He was walking the guy to the train station to make sure he got home and didn’t breach his Parole conditions.
“Everything that guy has done for the group and for this show is not just put on for the cameras. He’s really injected himself into the whole project.”
Worner insists the show is not a cooking series, but a show about transformation, without the hard edge of its Canadian prototype. Before sitting down to a meal at the Brisbane-based restaurant, he watched original casting tapes for a “before / after” experience.
“It was amazing to see them a few hours before in their casting tapes and then to see them going about their jobs. The stories of transformation in some cases are truly amazing and quite heartwarming.”
Returning this year are Australia’s Got Talent (with judges Kyle Sandilands, Dannii Minogue and Brian McFadden all returning) and Dancing with the Stars. Brynne Edelsten has been rumoured to be joining.
“There’s a few names signed already and I think there will be some eyeballs popping, especially in Melbourne,” he hints.
The Matty Johns Show has also been on the rumour mill with talk of a later slot or even airing on 7mate.
Worner says the show’s budget precludes it as a 7mate proposition, but he doesn’t rule out similar ideas for the future. There are also questions about an AFL show.
“As soon as digital penetration reaches the right level, which it very nearly is, the prospect of doing football analysis shows on 7mate is very real. But specifically there is no real decision on either of those projects but they will become front-burner in about 10 days.”
Despite Seven’s failure with The Bounce, there is still a desire to have an AFL counterpart to Matty Johns, but is not guaranteed.
Of the new US titles, Worner is especially upbeat about Body of Proof, starring Dana Delaney as a medical examiner.
“To be honest the Pilot was a bit dodgy in that you didn’t really like her character. But having watched subsequent episodes it keeps on getting better and I think by about Episode 4 or 5 it becomes the procedural crime drama of the last couple of years. I really think it’s got a good chance here. Dana Delaney plays well in this market, and Nic Bishop is exceptionally well known to Seven viewers from Home and Away.”
Also coming in 2011 is No Ordinary Family starring Michael Chiklis and Julie Benz as parents of a family who attain super-powers.
“No Ordinary Family is not a Heroes or a FlashForward. It’s broader and you can join after a few episodes. You don’t need all the backstory. It’s a family show.”
Seven also has Law & Order: Los Angeles, Detroit 1-8-7 and Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior with Forest Whitaker and Janeane Garofalo.
“You’ll know we’re in trouble if you see us with both Criminal Minds shows in the schedule at once,” he jokes.
Meanwhile Desperate Housewives is now switching to Thursday nights, joining How I Met Your Mother, Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. Seven is hopeful the new line-up might return its Thursdays to the force it enjoyed with early seasons of Lost.
“With this depth of shows it’s a super line-up. You can settle in for the night’s viewing. We’ve got incredible assistance from FOX and ABC Disney in terms of what their artists have done for us with the promos,” says Worner.
Brothers and Sisters, Parenthood and Cougar Town -infamously described by CEO David Leckie as a “sh*t show”- all air earlier in the week.
“David Leckie are in serious agreement on most things but Cougar Town wouldn’t be one of them,” he admits. “I’m a bit of Bill Lawrence fan and I actually think the show has a fair bit more worth than that. I’ve been playing penny-can ever since I saw it on Episode 5 of Cougar Town.”
Coming in the first half of the year is hit UK period drama, Downton Abbey.
“Downton Abbey is exquisitely made and Hugh Bonneville is fantastic in it. It’s an unusual choice for us but we found it was a show where people were hankering for the next episode. The girls in the office loved the show and were just about taking it intravenously after episode 2.
“It doesn’t happen with many shows but Downton Abbey is one of those shows.”
Seven has also picked up Great Migrations, the spectacular documentary series from National Geographic.
There are also question marks about two 2010 series yet to be renewed or rejected.
Iron Chef: “Not something we’ve put a line through. We’re more focussed with what’s on the front-burner.”
The X Factor: “We’re still deliberating over The X Factor and over the judges. I will say it was a tremendous-looking show and was in a pretty-tough timeslot. I fear what the opposition might have done with no X Factor against them and you have to factor that into any decision you’re making about it.
“Certainly we’d like to bring it back.”
Of multichannels 7TWO and 7mate he says, “We’ve been getting through some of the lower-tiered content. The offering for both of those channels will improve.”
Doc Martin will be joining 7TWO while 7mate will finally see Jersey Shore.
Finally there is the question of reality juggernaut The Amazing Race.
Season 18, which includes a Sydney stop, premieres in the US on February 20. But Seven also has The Amazing Race Australia which has internet forums buzzing with excitement. Mindful of internet spoilers for the US series, Worner says Seven is still mulling whether to premiere the Australian edition first.
“The very discussion that is going gangbusters in the blogosphere is also going gangbusters in the Seven Programming offices right now,” he says.
“It looks fabulous and the cast is very funny. They make you smile and you don’t really realise that you’re smiling.”
Hosted by Grant Bowler (Border Security, The Mole, True Blood, Lost, Outrageous Fortune), the Aussie race may also draw upon 7mate, but Worner won’t reveal how. Wherever it appears, it seems assured of a big audience.
“On the research we do it scores higher than any show on any network in terms of intention to view and yet we’ve hardly run any promos for it,” he says.
“I’ll say this there are some contestants who haven’t travelled very well. So there are some extremely funny moments.”
TOMORROW: Nine Network