Up until about a week before it premiered, The 7PM Project was originally going to be titled 7PM.
Thankfully, somebody had the bright idea to add the word ‘Project’ to the show. Now that it is moving to 6:30pm the news-based show won’t have to undergo such a radical name change.
“Pretty much every show I’ve worked on with Roving we just go with the working title of the show, because we think ‘That’s what it will end up being called anyway,’” Executive Producer Craig Campbell explains.
“7PM was the working title of 7PM and that was literally going to be it, but for some reason in the last week or so. Suddenly we decided it might be better with something else around it and Project developed. It had been the day’s ‘project’, it was what we had been working on.
“So thank God we did!”
Campbell is now overseeing changes behind the scenes that will expand the show from 30 to 60 minutes. But while the staff numbers are increasing they haven’t exactly doubled.
“TEN have been really supportive in listening to what we need and what we have to do to keep the standard of the format going. The one thing we didn’t want to do is look like we were padding and making the show a little bit looser just to fill the time,” he says.
“There will be a bunch of new people coming on board because we’re chasing more content everyday. But it’s out there. There’s lot of stuff we leave on the shelf every afternoon in our half hour.
“By the time you go ‘There’s our three major stories and Dave’s funnies and a cross somewhere else’ suddenly your 22 minutes just goes. So it will give us the opportunity to explore a few things a little bit harder. And a little bit longer which I know will make a lot of people happier.”
When it launched in 2009 the show took several months to hit its stride. Stories were too frenetic. Numbers were dire. But TEN management under Grant Blackley and David Mott resisted calls to axe the show. Over the summer season it enjoyed later replays and -as many have since forgotten- one hour editions on Mondays and Fridays. So the show is no stranger to a longer format.
Those leaps of faith, together with some fine tuning and confidence from the on-air team, helped it forge an audience.
“We all grew up and got off the red cordial a little bit,” Campbell concedes. “Not everyone shares my ADD techniques!”
Summer programming experiments helped the show to hit the 2010 ratings year with more confidence. Things really took off with the combination of the end of Daylight Saving and the return of MasterChef.
“It gave us the chance to expose ourselves to new viewers and a different set of eyeballs,” he says.
“So when we came back in 2010 we were a little bit of a different show.”
Being off air during the Delhi Commonwealth Games hurt the show, and one that Campbell isn’t keen to repeat. Like its new competitors, The Project plans to remain on air over summer again, ensuring that not all the presenters are taking holidays at the same time.
“With the Commonwealth Games I think we learned a great lesson which is to never leave the seat. We just have to be here and on air,” he says.
Now the network is relying on its former experiment to rescue its failed News revamp. How times have changed.
Campbell is relishing the opportunity, mindful of the task ahead.
“It’s like being given a gift. Here’s an extra half hour of airtime, go and make more TV. That’s cool!” he laughs.
The revamped Project won’t be making radical changes. George Negus returns, while regulars including Jennifer Byrne and Steve Price will sit at the desk for the duration of the show.
“We’re very grateful to the likes of Jen and Steve and the ‘wise owls’ for coming to play with us. It’s given us, in David Mott’s words, gravitas.
“There will be more time for all of the things we do and segments that have been sitting on the shelf from the original pitch document will now get a chance to air their head,” Campbell explains.
“So we’ll be trying a few things here and there but without a sense of losing what we’ve learned in the last two and a half years.
“Some guests will be able to hang for two segments rather than just the four minute interview we had to squeeze in.
“The balancing act of The Project has always been humour, news content, public affairs and entertainment. So an hour gives us more chance to get that right everyday rather than worrying when we have a Steve Carrell on that it’s going to swamp over the news content and people who watch us for news will get pissed off with us.”
But what of his new competition, Today Tonight and A Current Affair?
“They have their place and they do their thing and they’re institutions really. We’re just going to do what we do at 6:30 and hope we find an audience,” he says.
“I don’t honestly believe at that time of the night someone is sitting down to watch the show. I think it’s on in the background while you’re cooking dinner or doing stuff around the house. Something may grab your attention and you sit and watch that segment, we may tell you something that brings you back to the TV.”
This year while TEN fiddled with its 6-7pm hour, the show has lacked a strong lead-in and there has been renewed competition from The Block.
“We can’t really compete with a Reality show with big characters, promos and a huge marketing budgets and storylines, but the thing we have going for us is if we are constantly there with a great product we can actually deliver something that people get hooked to and becomes a habit.”
“Rather than trying to look at the stuff we have no control over we just need to fit into where they need us to be and they want us to play.”
TEN will have four weeks to assess the performance in survey before Summer intercedes once more.
“Then let’s see what happens,” he muses.
In the game of Programming you never rule anything in or out. The network could yet decide to make more changes before the 2012 season begins in February.
Since the name has been changed, could the show wind up at 6pm?
“Now that I haven’t heard. Wow!” he gasps.
“They could ask us to go anywhere!”
The Project airs 6:30pm weeknights from Monday.