It’s no secret that 2011 was a year of seismic change at Network TEN.
There were huge upheavals in management, cost-cuts, staff exits and programmes axed. But already under new CEO James Warburton, TEN has surprised the market with some brash moves. Media agency Aegis has allocated extra revenue to a ‘more sharply focused’ TEN.
Programming Chief David Mott tells TV Tonight the move to launch its Super Sunday line-up early was to send a signal to both advertisers and audience. The alternative would have been amid further competition.
“We know that in the first couple of months there would be a lot of Sport, so when is a good time to launch these shows? I know there’s been a lot of commentary with the fans of your site, which I do read. It does my head in sometimes but we do take notice. Everyone has a view and that’s fine, but for us it launched well and the reason we went when we did, understanding that Survey doesn’t start until February 12, is the fact that not only did we have the Tennis but then we go into One Day Cricket,” he says.
“So there isn’t a window of opportunity until early to mid March.
“We didn’t think the market would be prepared to wait to launch or Sunday night and I don’t think it’s fair on the viewers.”
Even against profile tennis matches, the mix of Young Talent Time, Modern Family, New Girl and Homeland has held up well.
“That line-up sits exactly where TEN needs to be in terms of creating brands and nights. Super Sunday isn’t rocket-science but it certainly sends a very clear message to market that you’re going to have a lot of great content on that Sunday, and you’re going to hear a lot more about how we will create greater consistency throughout the entire year.
“The one that thrilled us the most was to get over a million viewers for YTT and even the encore did well with over 500,000 against the tennis. The show has to settle into now with the competition element and we have some amazing kids to come.
“We know there will be a lot of Sport for a while yet, but it just feels tonally right for 6:30 on a Sunday as a family show and then leading into the very broad comedy of Modern Family, then New Girl it just makes sense.”
Mott even makes some public commitments on Super Sunday.
“That line-up won’t move. It will be a rock solid schedule for a long time to come. And the other one that came out of the block and surprised us was Homeland. We always believed in the show, hence we put it on 8:30 Sunday and of all the shows that have come across my desk –because there are some you have to watch and some you really want to watch– that was the DVD that I grabbed first of all,” he says.
“Serial-based dramas can be a bit tricky, but that’s the reason why we decided to go when we did and that show will not move. You’ll see the 13 episodes run consistently all the way through. We’re not moving on that because we think you have to be loyal to the viewers, and that’s the sort of show that’s got to be there one week after the next.
“The final episode of Homeland is probably one of the best hours of television I have ever, ever seen and I reckon I’ve seen a few hours of television.”
Other US titles on air at the moment include new supernatural drama A Gifted Man.
“A Gifted Man has done a very good job for CBS on Fridays, winning its timeslot every week. It just feels like it has a bit of a Ghost Whisperer element, and that did a good job for Seven on Thursdays, so it feels like it could do ok.”
Also back on air are new episodes of The Good Wife.
“The Good Wife is an outstanding season, probably one of the best to be honest,” Mott insists.
“It reminds me of the years of LA Law for those of us old enough to remember. It’s got a great legal drama, she is brilliant in the role, a fantastic ensemble and the big ‘A’ story every week and then a strong B storyline. It’s a smart, quality drama that deserves to be seen.”
Coming later this year is the new Kiefer Sutherland drama, Touch, which had one episode already screen in the US ahead of an upcoming season.
“We’re not running with that episode now, we’re going to wait. We’re in discussions with FOX at the moment, but it’s an outstanding show. It’s a brilliant role for Kiefer Sutherland and it’s been well-received by media buyers late last year.
“But we’ll be looking at when FOX are going to go with it to see if that timing works for us.’
Police procedural The 2-2 is also coming, but will be scheduled mid-season by CBS.
TEN will also have Bones spin-off The Finder.
“We’re just waiting to see if it picks up a bit of traction. It will benefit off the back of American Idol (in the US) so we’ll see where it fits. It’s from the Bones creator with a great leading character,” Mott says.
TEN will also have Tim Allen’s return to comedy with Last Man Standing to air mid-year after its run on Foxtel.
“It has all the points of the traditional Home Improvement but I can see it working with an 18-49 audience,” he says.
But what of Queensland-filmed series Terra Nova?
“We’re waiting on confirmation from the US. It did a good job for FOX demographically.”
Was this part of the reason behind running new episodes of the dino-drama during summer?
“What’s really the point of disrupting a schedule? I don’t know how the other networks feel, but my view is –and these sound like easy words to say– the viewers have invested in the show,” Mott explains.
“Clearly you have to react to a show and if it under-delivers then clearly you’ve got to make change, but the benefit is you’ve now got your multichannels to be able to do it.
“With a show like Terra Nova people did invest and it rated well. We would have ended up with 3 episodes. So what was the point in breaking it and not being loyal to the viewers who had committed to it? But I know that comment will get some traction.
“Clearly (adjusting schedules) is always going to happen and we’re never ever going to satisfy everyone. But where we can, like with Homeland, like we did with Terra Nova, like we will do with our Sunday line-up, is be as faithful as we can while understanding all the market forces including media buyers, viewers and all those factors that come into play. We demonstrated that with Terra Nova and Merlin.”
TEN’s local drama slate includes new and returning titles.
“Offspring is quite simply the best season yet. When people see the episodes they will understand that. Asher (Keddie) and Kat (Stewart) just jump off the screen, there are beautiful moments in the series. It’s a great cast, the writing is superb and John Edwards has again stepped up with a really cool show.”
Also coming soon is the miniseries based on the Milperra massacre, Bikie Wars.
“We’re thrilled with what we have seen so far and it will be a marquee event for us. Screentime have really delivered on a great cast and terrific storytelling.
“Puberty Blues is in pre-production and we’re about to announce some cast. Again it’s from John Edwards and the script is in very good shape.”
Reef Doctors marks the first primetime production by children’s producer Jonathan M. Shiff, with Lisa McCune on board as actress and associate producer.
“Lisa has really embraced the programme and that will be later in the year and the rushes are looking great. We’ve shot the exteriors and we’re now at Warner Bros. World shooting the interiors.”
Then there is Underground: The Julian Assange Story.
“The script is now finalised, it jumps off the page and we love it. Now we’re in the process of casting, and we’ve put it far and wide in terms of the getting the calibre of a marquee name,” he says.
“But remember you’re talking about a young Julian Assange.”
The telemovie is due to begin filming shortly, does he have any hints on who may land the role?
“I can’t see really Josh Thomas as Julian Assange!” he laughs.
Mott also acknowledges the way The Project team has embraced change, moving timeslots twice, doubling in length and adding a sixth night to their schedule. But by moving Reality shows back to 7pm, what does the network plan post MasterChef?
“We are and have been looking at the long-term strategy of 7:00 so we’ve not made this decision with a short-term view. Clearly we have a very long pipeline of opportunities that will feed into 7:00. And that’s all I’m prepared to say.”
Does that mean The Renovators is in or out?
“There’s no decision on Renovators at this point in time,” says Mott.
Yet TEN already announced the show’s return in its August upfronts.
“Obviously there’s been a lot of discussion back and forth on Renovators, and we obviously have a new CEO on board who is actively involved and just terrific and wanting to be involved in building brands and content.
“Part of the discussions now are other marquee brands and franchises and in those discussions obviously the sentiment towards a show like Renovators.”
In December TEN learned that Chrissie Swan would not be returning to The Circle. After her Logie nomination, it was a huge loss to the show.
“It wasn’t a surprise. We’d been talking to Chrissie for some time and I think she’s fantastic. I had a chat to her a couple of weekends ago and she had been great for the show in creating brand for us. For largely family reasons she moved on and thought Radio was appropriate for her, so that’s all fine. The other team have really stepped up and we’ve got a good show which will get a further benefit with a Breakfast lead-in.
“We haven’t rushed into making a decision on who else (will join) but we’ll be assessing all of that in time. We’ve got a great ensemble and Gorgi and Yumi are quite possibly the best in the business. We love their energy and their passion.
“Whilst we will miss Chrissie we think the show will survive and live on and it’s already doing that.”
Another big change in presenters was Colin Lane replacing Peter Everett on Ready, Steady, Cook -a move that generated a huge backlash from the audience.
“Ready Steady Cook will be coming back and we have confirmed it with Southern Star. I know there’s been a lot of discussion but we have moved on. Whenever you make a change with any hosting position there will be a reaction. For various reasons we had to make a change,” Mott insists.
“I think Colin stepped up in filling very difficult shoes but over time he warmed into the role.
“The performance of the show was terrific and didn’t miss a beat from a ratings point of view. Colin was great and Peter was also great.
“Ready Steady Cook is coming back and we want Colin Lane to come back.”
There have also been rumours about returning TEN Late News, but Mott says no.
“No truth to the rumour…our ratings are up double digits since we included general ent programming to late night.
“We continue to have a strong commitment to news with. Breakfast, TEN First at Five and The Project. That’s 5 hours per day, more than we have ever had before.”
There is bad news for fans of Good News Week, with the show not returning.
What about the future of Before the Game?
“Certainly we want it to come back for Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. It’s a great brand and one we love. There’s life in it for TEN even though we don’t have the AFL. It’s a great show for Saturday night.
“Discussions are happening with Roving (Enterprises), but it’s just about making sure the talent is there.”
Lastly, coming in February is TEN’s return to morning television with Breakfast. In an already-crowded market, what will be the show’s point of difference?
“A lot of it has to do with the tone. The current breakfast shows are very good breakfast shows and we know there’s a job at hand. But this is really building the network for the future, Mott explains.
“We were the only alternative with cartoons but that has completely changed with animated and non-News content.
“So we really have no option, but there is great upside for us both in revenue and ratings potential, but it will be a long haul chipping away and being confident in the product. Eventually something will define the show.”
Already there has been much discussion about one of the co-hosts, New Zealand’s Paul Henry.
“He’s a very smart, witty guy. People think he’s a shock jock but he’s not, he’s just a very clever guy who is a qualified journalist and he will add some value to it,” he says.
“This is a strategy for the long term and it gives us a more saleable breakfast environment for Sales and it will offer viewers an alternative to the current offering. It will have all the points and beats you need in a Breakfast show but a tone that will set it aside from the others.
“You also get the cross-promotional benefits of being able to talk about your shows and to leverage integration from a Sales point of view. We’re averaging about 15,000 people a day with our Cartoons so we know there’s some upside there and we know our revenue is very low in that environment.
“It’s not unlike when Today took on Sunrise. It will feed into The Circle so it does make sense strategically.”