2012 is Nine’s Olympic year.
In July the network will offer viewers 17 days of adrenalin sport, including Live Opening and Closing Ceremonies, 18.5 hours of coverage every day, Live sport from 6:30pm, Daily Highlights from 9am, digital coverage and for the first time, 3D broadcasts.
Nine’s Director of Television Michael Healy, tells TV Tonight, viewers can look forward to plenty of action.
“We’ll pretty well be giving over almost our entire schedule to the Olympics. Obviously there will be a lot of Live events and highlights packages, but there will be very extensive coverage,” he says.
“The morning events out of the UK will happen primetime in Australia, but there are so many events happening that we’ll be picking up Live events and bringing the coverage wherever and whenever possible.
“Swimming is always the first week so effectively after the Opening Ceremony you’ll get Australians swimming for a period of about a week. So it’s a pretty good way to start.”
Nine is keeping its cards close to its chest about the use of its multichannels, but is tipped to be screening some events on GEM in High Definition while GO! is likely to offer alternative viewing (neither is confirmed).
Joining in the celebrations are Hamish and Andy, relocating to London, and potentially Nine News and A Current Affair. The games will also give Nine a platform to promote its upcoming product.
“It’s our view to launch some new Programming following the Olympics and historically it’s been a great launch pad. So we’ve got a couple of great shows in development and pre-production with a view to launching post-Olympics,” says Healy.
This year Nine is also stripping Reality shows at 7pm, following a gamble in 2011 that paid off handsomely.
“We had a lot of success last year at 7:00 and for us now it’s about big brand shows. What we are doing is less of the smaller shows is less of the smaller shows and more of the bigger event-type shows,” he says.
“What we’ve seen success if the bigger events and franchises and it’s becoming a harder event for the smaller shows in what is effectively a 15 channel environment.
“The early evening sets up your night and what’s becoming clearer for all of us is that it’s becoming more and more about local content.”
When TV Tonight spoke to Healy last week, ratings had not emerged for Excess Baggage, now battling it out with The Biggest Loser.
“I think we’ve got a really strong cast both with the celebrities and the everyday-Australians, and I think it will resonate with the audience. It has great locations and the presenters with Kate and Christian are really strong. It’s a different take on weight loss, but we’re really proud of it and Fremantle has done a great job with the production,” he says.
Also returning are The Block and Celebrity Apprentice.
“The Block is well into production and we’re seeing some great material and a great cast. Scott Cam and Shelley Craft are back, so it’s the same show with a different view and twists and turns along the way. So we’re really delighted with what we’ve seen to date,” he explains.
“There will be a slight evolution in some of the format, so a few surprises coming.
“Celebrity Apprentice casting and the publicity it’s generating already speaks for itself. So we’re all very excited about that.”
The local series of The Voice, to be hosted by Darren McMullen has already impressed the market with its judges Delta Goodrem, Seal, Joel Madden and Keith Urban.
“It’s a stellar cast and it has positioned the show very well and the cast and judges are already generating publicity.
The show had over 15,000 applicants who have been culled ahead of the show’s launch.
Nine raised eyebrows with its bold announcement to revive Big Brother, to be hosted by Sonia Kruger. The show will air after the Olympics, but Healy remains coy on further details including the location.
Nine is no longer promoting the series as Big Brother: Secrets. So is this a question of branding or is the ‘secrets’ element now out of the mix altogether?
“Watch this space on that one…. It’s not to be decided, we have a position, but I don’t know that we want to blow that position at this stage.”
Farmer Wants a Wife will return “anytime from mid-year.”
Nine has a busy local Drama slate this year too, with series, miniseries and telemovies to come. Hit series Underbelly will return this year from prolific producers Screentime.
“It’s a finely tuned machine now and we always work in advance in terms of the stories on the next chapter, so we’re already working on the chapter beyond the next one.”
So what can we expect from the franchise this year?
“We promise to excite the audience and it will be an Australian story,” he says.
“Tricky Business with Shane Bourne, Gigi Edgley, Debra Byrne and Lincoln Lewis will launch in the first half of this year.
“It has a very strong balance between family and procedural.”
Some have drawn early parallels with Packed to the Rafters based on promos alone. Healy is pragmatic about early reactions.
“I think it’s an understandable assessment because it’s a drama about a family. It’s not a hard parallel to draw but we see it as being a very different show.”
There are also three true-life projects to be dramatised by Southern Star and Cordell Jigsaw.
“Beaconsfield (1 x 3hr) has great performances by Shane Jacobson and Lachy Hulme and The Great Mint Swindle is fantastic.”
Miniseries Howzat! is likely to be shot in Melbourne, and features Lachy Hulme as the former Nine mogul.
“It’s an extraordinary story about Kerry Packer and the story of how he pulled off World Series Cricket. So it has the highs and lows, what he went through personally to achieve the success that he did with the series. Obviously it’s a very important to Nine and a project that John Edwards is very proud of,” he says.
Healy also announces for the first time, a new local drama.
“There is very likely to be a new Australian drama launching in the second half of the year,” he says.
“It’s a great idea and it’s really taking shape. It’s a very contemporary story.”
Next week Nine premieres two international drawcards.
“Alcatraz has done 10 million for FOX on a Monday night and that’s a big number, particularly for drama, on FOX nowadays. It’s a really strong complement to Nine’s schedule this year,” he says.
The challenge for serials in the current market is not to succumb to convoluted storylines that leave viewers dissatisfied (FlashForward, The Event anyone?).
“What they do cleverly with Alcatraz is they make sure each episode is self-contained, although there is an over-arching storyline as well. So at the conclusion of the hour you feel satisfied with each storyline.”
Then there are the three diabolical telemovies from the UK, Sherlock.
“Sherlock is brilliant. It’s the kind of show where you have to sit up and take notice and it’s gone to another level this season.”
Healy is clearly excited by the acclaimed thrillers. Meanwhile period US drama Pan Am features Australian Margot Robbie is awaiting clarity on it future.
As evidenced by Sherlock and Attenborough documentaties, Nine has cleverly forged a relationship with BBC after years of uneven success with Warner Bros. product with audiences.
Three Great Barrier Reef documentaries will air in the near future. Whilst not David Attenborough docos, these will be narrated for Australia by Karl Stefanovic.
“We’re a co-producer so we were always in the position we were always going to put in a local host,” says Healy.
Earth Flight, a documentary series about birds, will also screen. BBC period drama Parade’s End will air in late 2012.
Despite the loss of Two and a Half Men as a nightly offering, Nine has had remarkable success with Big Bang Theory .
“He keeps pumping them out. Long live Chuck Lorre!,” jokes Healy.
New US comedy Two Broke Girls is co-created by Michael Patrick King (Sex and the City) and would seem to be a perfect fit with Big Bang and Mike and Molly.
“If you look at the success of New Girl, Two Broke Girls is actually doing better in the US so we have high hopes for it. It’s about putting it in the right slot and giving it an opportunity to find an audience.”
Nine has historically been known for its News brand and after some tough battles, Nine News has been winning in Sydney, neck and neck with Seven in Melbourne. The Today show, which recently refreshed its set, has also been winning the two biggest markets, now joined on air by Mornings.
“Sydney is doing extremely well and we’ve had a really good run in Melbourne of late, so we’re really happy with the way it’s tracking. And the Today show is doing extremely well,” says Healy.
“It’s a really warm set with a great cast and a new set revitalises them for a new year, so everyone’s really up on the Today show. There will be a real relationship between Mornings and the Today show. There’s a great chemistry between Sonia and David and the whole idea is to create a relationship between the shows.”
Hot Seat regularly beats Deal or No Deal, then there are proven performers ACA and 60 Minutes.
But what of Top Gear Australia, which failed to attract enough numbers last year?
“We have 6 episodes in the can that will probably go to air at some point in the next couple of months. So we’ll see how the next local series performs.”
This Is Your Life?
“We still hold that under license and when we decide there are some worthy recipients we’ll certainly push the button on that again, as specials rather than a series. We were happy and Eddie did a great job with it.”
“I’m a big fan of Survivor, it’s been no secret. Last year it’s overnight numbers weren’t bad but it does extremely well in catch-up. Almost 70% of its audience in catch-up. We certainly hope to have it on air very soon, but I can’t confirm if it’s a Nine or a GO! proposition at this stage. But we’d like to get it to air as soon as possible.”
Rumoured Jamie Durie projects?
“I’m personally a big fan of Jamie’s and there are a couple of projects we’re talking with him about, so we’re not at the point of making any announcement.”
And lastly, with Nine’s cricket commitments tieing up some nights until the second week of March, how difficult is it to launch new series when they are interrupted by sports? Or does it give the network a platform to drive other fare?
“We see it as an absolute positive because we have an expectation that cricket will do enormous shares,” says Healy.
“The cricket is consistently on the Sunday and Friday. It obviously poses greater problems if it’s scattered through the week, and obviously there are a couple of nights where we have it on a Tuesday or a Wednesday but at this stage it’s consistent scheduling and we’re very grateful for it.”
And really, based on the numbers the Cricket has been doing this summer, who can blame him?