Last night The 7PM Project reached its 500th episode, and marked the occasion with its first viewer-turned-guest host, Louise Benjamin from Brisbane (pictured left).
TV Tonight was on hand as the occasion rolled by, to ask Charlie Pickering for his thoughts on the show many didn’t expect to see reach 50 episodes.
“I’ll be honest I, probably didn’t think we were going to make it either,” he conceded.
“But the whole time we were doing it we knew there was a purpose for it. That it was new, not like anything else on TV. So things like that kept us going when the numbers weren’t that great.
“There were some really harsh criticisms early on but I don’t think a lot of that got to us too much because we liked what we were doing.
“The finer details of the chemistry between Carrie, Dave and I probably took six months to really click. But I think we all knew there was something there.”
Pickering admits the show would have had a much more severe baptism by fire if Twitter had been as popular in 2009 as it is today. Many in the industry are well aware of the Ben Elton-experience earlier this year.
“If Twitter had been as ferocious as it is now we probably would have got a bit more hurt by it. But I think the Ben Elton experience should be a bit of a cold shower for everyone who puts too much stock in an audience’s response on Twitter to a first episode of something,” he says.
“All the people who are so vicious on Twitter or write posts and criticise shows that haven’t found their feet yet are forgetting you’re talking about 50 or 60 Aussies with jobs.
“You might not like a show, and you can say you don’t like a show, but I will always come down on the side of letting a show breathe, giving it a chance to figure itself out, because you’ve got a lot of people working really hard on it. It’s not like people are lazy about making television. They’re all trying to make something good and successful. Sometimes they get it wrong, or sometimes like our show they get the time to figure it out.”
The exact turning point for the show, which probably came early in 2010, is hard to define. But Pickering remembers when an off-camera moment with Dave Hughes helped their on-screen chemistry.
“Carrie and I clicked very quickly and because we were co-anchoring the show we had to figure that out fairly quickly. But from a comedic point of view it was difficult for Dave and I to figure out each other’s roles as a comedian at the desk,” he says.
“Putting two comedians in that space who both had jokes they wanted to make, I think took us quite a while to figure out that chemistry and balance, and when to give each other room and when to give each other shit as well.
“Dave lost his wedding ring somewhere in the building and for 3 or 4 days he was in the doghouse with (wife) Holly and feeling really glum.
“So I took the time to retrace his steps and I found his wedding ring under a sofa in the Green Room.
“It was a genuine moment of bonding between the two of us, and everything felt easier after that.
“I think a lot of things on the show fell into place when Dave and I found out how to give each other space.”
He also acknowledges the contribution of the many guest hosts that have joined the show, particularly George Negus who helped balance the youthful outlook with some learned experience.
“It’s a bit of an in-joke at 7PM about ‘gravitas.’ Early on our nickname for George Negus was ‘gravitas.’ Because we could talk about anything but he would give it gravitas,” he explains.
“If we were 11:30 every night and aimed largely at young people staying up late then I think you could have young people throwing around jokes and opinions. But if you’re in primetime, seeking a broad audience you need a voice of wisdom in the mix.”
Other guest hosts including Steve Price have often ignited negative comments from the audience. But Pickering defends his inclusion as part of the 7PM family.
“I like to think our show is a place where all opinions are welcome. I think what Steve Price does creates debate. He expresses what might not be the most popular or politically-correct view but he will often express a view that gets people talking and challenges what people think,” he says.
“We’ll get a lot of people writing in saying “I can’t believe what Steve Price said, I’m never watching again.” But we’ve got multiple letters from those people. So they’ve written in and complained and said they’re never watching again but then they write in again a month later.
“When someone writes in or on Twitter says ‘How dare you put that person on saying those things’ it makes me think we’re doing something right. Because you should never censor an argument, or take all views out of a discussion.
“Let someone come on and express their views and then tell them to their face you don’t agree with them. Or let the audience decide they don’t agree with them. But you shouldn’t do that censorship before you even book someone.”
Pickering returned home from a holiday in New York yesterday morning and fought off jet lag to present the 500th show. In September 7PM is planning to mark the anniversary of September 11, but he won’t let on if the show has a “New York” special in the pipeline.
“I don’t think anyone at Channel TEN is brave enough to suggest a week in New York. I don’t think it will be anything quite as extravagant,” he laughs.
“Having just gotten back I’d love to spend another week in New York!
“But the next thing on our agenda is just to say ‘How can we do things better and how can we improve? How can we make interesting TV every night?’ And that’s really all that we’ve got coming up.”