TEN legacy: Mott years were bold, says industry.

David Mott's achievements weren't just noisy Reality formats, but bold moves that have changed the TV landscape.

When David Mott came to TEN in September 1996 it was was a turbulent place, having endured 10 different programmers across 17 years.

The son of a West Australian deputy police commissioner, ‘Motty’ had spent 18 years with TVW 7 Perth. By mid 1997 he became Head of Programming at TEN after the departure of Ross Plapp.

Andy McIntyre worked alongside Mott from 1996 to 2004, initially as Business Manager Network Programming and for the last five years as General Manager, Program Finance and Development.

“When David joined TEN in 1996 his influence was immediately apparent…young, energetic and had a manner about him that was impossible not to like,” McIntrye recalls. “He had served an excellent apprenticeship at Seven, knew the key international players and was supportive of TEN’s objective to build better relationships with domestic content suppliers. The advertising climate was improving and TEN was profitable. What it lacked was the prime time line up of domestic product that made Seven and Nine such ratings powerhouses. To take more control of its own destiny, TEN had to commission more local content.”

Mott’s first commission was a bold idea that had been rejected by his predecessor. Boldness would come to define TEN’s style.

“In the bottom drawer he found the pitch document for The Panel,” says Michael Hirsh from Working Dog. “That chance discovery resulted in hundreds and hundreds of hours of original television. In addition to The Panel, The Panel Christmas Wrap, Russell Coight’s All Aussie Adventures, and Thank God You’re Here followed. Thank God you opened that drawer, David, and by the way, the pencil sharpener you needed was in the top one.”

Piloted during the 1998 Winter Olympics, The Panel was questioned by critics as “radio on TV” but the warmth of the ensemble saw it become a brand-defining hit for TEN, enjoying a 7 year run.

In 1999 he signed Good News Week after its 3 year run on the ABC. Fans were outraged at a public broadcaster brand “selling out” to TEN, yet it retained all of its creative team. The show would be revived a second time in 2008 when networks were feeling the effects of the US Writers’ Strike (a period which also saw Rush emerge as a fresh, young cop drama).

After a short stint on Nine, a former Channel 31 host named Rove McManus was given a shot, with a deal inked in the pouring rain at Melbourne Airport’s taxi rank.

There were many non-believers in McManus’ first year, and the show was reviewed and renewed every 13 weeks, but Mott backed McManus into a second season and beyond. The young host helped affirm TEN’s playful and cheeky brand.

Big Brother revolutionised Reality Television. Daringly hosted by a female in Gretel Killeen, it became a prime-time Reality-soap for TEN and triggered waves of pop-culture hysteria across the country, as obsessed fans mimicked Sara-Marie’s ‘bum dance.’ Big Brother would often run out of control as a TV brand and Mott was one of several network execs on call 24/7 to respond to whatever challenges it threw up. There were plenty, stretching all the way to the media regulator and the House of Representatives.

The Big Brother deal with Southern Star also gave life to The Secret Life of Us, a burning, youthful soap from John Edwards and Amanda Higgs.

Australian Idol was commissioned at a time when Seven’s Popstars Series 3 had bombed in the ratings. Across its 7 year run, it created household names, blockbuster ratings and became a TEN “tentpole.”

Mott also backed the broadcasting of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras and the ARIA Awards.

Some ideas were so bold they were arguably ahead of their time. One was the animated chat host, David Tench Tonight.

Anita Jacoby, formerly of Zapruder’s Other Films, remembers: “It was commissioned at the time George Miller was just completing the first Happy Feet movie with animation and motion capture technology being  refined by Animal Logic. We were at MIPCOM in October 2005 and over a drink with then CEO, Grant Blackley and Motty, Andrew (Denton) started pitching the idea of an animated talk show host interviewing celebrity guests, in real time. Up until then the closest animated host had been Max Headroom, but this wasn’t in real time. It was all done in post production. Motty loved the idea. He virtually commissioned David Tench Tonight as soon as we returned to Australia.”

But the format, with actor Drew Forsythe as the voice of Tench (named after “Ch. Ten”), hadn’t found its feet, and the audience didn’t know what to make of it. In the crushing world of TV ratings, Tench only lasted 15 episodes -a number that would now be deemed a hit.

Other moves would lead the pack. Under Mott, TEN became the first network to ditch the Sunday Night Movie and replace it with series TV. They said it would never work.

Working with the Fennessy brothers at Crackerjack and FremantleMedia, he stripped a US format, The Biggest Loser, into a primetime nightly format. It was the first time it had been attempted anywhere in the world and set the benchmark for Reality TV storytelling across network schedules.

Michael Cordell, from Cordell Jigsaw, says Mott took a big punt on Bondi Rescue and their new production company in 2005. The show has gone on to reach seven seasons, five Logies and international sales.

“Motty’s been one of the great champions of bold and innovative programming in Australia. But more than that he was always a pleasure to deal with, always ready with a laugh and a smile, even if he was axing one of your shows in the process. It’s hard to imagine the corporate pressures he’s endured,” he says.

Arguably his biggest gamble came in axing Big Brother for a cooking show into primetime.

As TEN’s Head of Drama Rick Maier remembers, “If you were at the Up fronts the year David announced Masterchef you would have heard the crickets. People from every corner of the business thought he had lost the plot. In its second year Masterchef‘s finale was watched by 4.8M. Still a record audience.

“When choosing the Masterchef judges David saw a big guy wearing a cravat. He just had to have him because of his look.”

The ‘MasterChef phenomenon’ phrase bestwed by media became one of his personal triumphs.

Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation brought Shaun Micallef broad commercial success, averaging 1.5million viewers in its first season. The 7PM Project struggled for nearly 12 months, with TEN resisting calls for the axe, before its hosts found a rhythm that brought it a dedicated audience.

The Australian Children’s Television Foundation also nominated TEN as the standout performer in children’s drama, under Kids drama exec Cherrie Bottger.

But there were also gambles that misfired: The Hothouse, The X Factor, The Resort, Yasmin’s Getting Married, Crashburn, The Cooks, Australian Princess, Celebrity Dog School, Guerilla Gardeners and more. Such is the nature of TV. The Renovators  failed when viewers felt it had cloned MasterChef’s format too closely, and they were outraged when it was programmed in the middle of the show’s 2011 finale.

On the back of MasterChef and Your Gen‘s success TEN ambitiously sought to realign its channel to a broader audience and pitch ELEVEN to a younger crowd. Together with a massive shot at News and Current Affairs, the move proved to be fatalistic.

TEN has since undergone seismic change from within including a new board and a new CEO. In his time at TEN Mott reported to four different CEO’s and one Acting CEO. Responsibilites, including such shows as The Circle and The Project, were later taken away from his portfolio.

While Offspring, Homeland, The Biggest Loser and Masterchef succeeded in 2012, recent commissions generated negative press: The Shire, Being Lara Bingle, Everybody Dance Now, I Will Survive, Don’t Tell The Bride. There are media reports of “other hands at the wheel”.

“Anyway you slice it this is one helluva body of work,” says Maier. “Fortunately for many of us at TEN, we got to see most of this first hand.

“David’s successor, Beverley McGarvey, takes on the role with her own ideas, and her own vast experience in the industry. Beverley has also had the distinct advantage of working alongside David for the past six years. She will be brilliant.”

Andy McIntyre, now Executive Producer with Rocket Science Entertainment, says, “Motty is boy from the ’burbs and proud of it. He always assessed new content from the viewpoint of a broad suburban audience, TEN’s heartland. That’s not to say he dumbed it down. Good News Week also stands as testament to his appreciation of clever, iconoclastic comedy.

“There’s no doubt we will see Motty re-­emerge as a player in the industry he knows and loves. I’d happily be his wingman again anytime.”

Ian Hogg CEO at FremantleMedia added, “David Mott’s legacy will be profound. He is an outstanding television executive, an outstanding father and husband and a great friend to so many people in the business who have learnt so much from him.”

Mott is understood to have left TEN with a 1 year payout of $1.6m, a 6 month non-compete clause, and currently considering his next move.

In departing, he noted he was proud of taking those bold programming risks.

“In a job where you live and die by the numbers, perhaps I’ve been luckier than most,” he said.

“It’s been a great ride, and I’ve loved every second of it. I leave behind a focused and committed creative team and I wish them all the best for the future.”

28 Responses

  1. I am not sure when Mott came along but there were some good things and bad things in his time.

    Buying GNW from ABC and making it a success was one thing.
    Moving the Simpsons to 11 replacing Homer and Bart with George without thinking of people with children and big kids at heart who can’t stomach 6pm News and did not have at that time 2010/2011 Digital TV.
    Last but not least 4:30pm Bold and the Beautiful Who apart from old people and the retired is home for that.This time twenty five years ago that time of day was for C rated shows.

  2. @ George100……I take issue with your approach, as a viewer I do not give a stuff about ‘industry perceptions’ and all that BS exec speak. I do give a stuff about shows starting on time, sticking to the scedule, watching a full season, I do not want a renovation show splitting an MC final. If I like a show, well it would be great if it could stay in its timeslot. Fail to deliver this and as a viewer I am gone…..just like a lot of others who have left ch10

  3. It is interesting reading commentary in our sector. In fairness Mott should be applauded for his work and commitment over many years…just not the last couple which have been plagued with issues.

    I consider one very important point that has not been made is this :

    – Mott was the Head of a Team. We should acknowledge the entire Ten team for their bold and aggressive commissioning and passion,
    – None of the successes would have eventuated without an innovative and vibrant independent production sector who create and market these ideas,
    – Finally, Mott will surely have had support and guidance from his peers and CEO which make these ideas come to life (albeit I don’t think we can count Murdoch and current CEO in that).

    So lets think about the whole of the equation rather than the pieces.

  4. Well Ten hasn’t become any better with ncis new eps still coming this sunday! The problem i have is the fact the 4 eps it has it going to take it to the new season which means they will have another 20 plus eps to use but i’m just praying they dont play all those on sunday and return it to its home on tuesdays.

  5. To have lasted in the job for as long as he did, David Mott must have been doing something right. Some of the negative comments written here are ill-informed and poorly thought out.

    He had the courage to take chances. Aussie TV as a whole is better for it.

    If you didn’t like his style, too bad. Get over it.

  6. Some decisions would have been from the top such as Andrew Bolt & Paul Henry which are stupid appointments. But majority i think was all Mott.
    He was head of programming. He approved Everybody Dance Now, The Shire, Lara Bingle. Don’t Tell The Bride, I Will Survive. And worse he spoke about them like they were the best shows when anyone could see they would flop. How are you head programmer if you can’t see that?
    And as head programmer surely he’s responsible for shows starting at 8.43 and running late every night. He’s responsible for putting The Renovators between a split Masterchef finale. He moved hit shows like TAYG, Modern Family, House and moved them around to numerous different timeslots. He had to go.

  7. I have to agree with Shintaro, Ten have consistently produced top drama in recent years. Puberty Blues, Offspring and Rush along with telemovie Hawke, have been fabulous and successful. I can’t wait for Underground, the Ten’s movie about Julian Assange. The drama department is Ten’s strength.

  8. Alex, State Coroner was a big success for Ten, but the problem was it skewed really old…as most Aussie dramas do. Mott’s brief was to commission Australian dramas that skewed to the 16-39 demographic, but still do okay total people figures to stay on the air…which is a really hard thing to do. Ten don’t get the older audience that Nine and Seven get watching their dramas, so that’s why the total people figure doesn’t look as high. However, Offspring (for example) wasn’t that far away from Packed to the Rafters in 18-49…it just didn’t get many over 50s to give it that bulk viewing number.
    Also…you have forgotten about mini-series and telemovies like Hawke, Jessica, Mary Bryant, Society Murders, Go Big, and the Julian Assange movie coming up this year…some of those had huge ratings.

  9. @Alex, like you I don’t care too much for critics. The important measure for me, as I stated, is the size of the audience of the drama relative to the overall performance of the network. Seen in this light, recent Ten series like Bikie Wars, Offspring, Puberty Blues, etc. are all clear hits for Ten without question.

  10. @ Shintaro I think that’s the difference between what the “critics” consider a success and what the people or the “masses” want and consider a success. The “critics” love Rush, Offspring and Puberty Blues but that has never been reflected in the ratings as being loved by the masses. Similarly, the “critics” absolutely hate Seven and Nine’s early evening current affairs offerings but night after night the masses love them.

    I also remember how much praise and how many rave reviews The Surgeon was given by those same “critics” when it premiered, only to achieve some of the lowest ratings for an Australian drama ever, obviously not loved by the masses and for me personally one of the worst dramas in that list.

    Also @ David I think only A Country Practice and possibly Echo Point were before David Motts’ time, the rest were all under his tenure, yet flop after flop he kept commissioning the same kind of dramas over and over again.

    1. Yes they were before his time, so it’s odd you included them. Others developed before he took the reins. No question there were years in the wilderness for TEN drama, but we a TEN drama will never get the kind of numbers as Seven and Nine when the target demo was 16-39 for years. Generalising doesn’t help. Ironically, it is Drama this year that people are responding to.

  11. Alex, I’m another of the view that Mott generally did a great job until the recent changes in management, which suggests he may not have been at fault. So far as drama is concerned, I think Ten has been getting it right consistently in recent times. LIke many others, I would regard Rush, Offspring and Puberty Blues as real hits, certainly relative to the overall performance of the network. In my opinion, drama is the one area in which Ten has made very few mistakes over the past few years. Not even 7 can say that and the other networks have launched terrible flops during this period. I accept your point that there haven’t been any “huge hits” in drama lately but there are surely a number of reasons for this and I wouldn’t blame Ten for them. While there aren’t too many of the creative brains behind Number 96 still running around, for example, there are some from the other three you’ve quoted. Quite a few of these talented people struggle to find work, many more gave up trying to work in tv long ago and some have simply refused to ever work in tv ever again. The world of television is not only tough but also stupid.

  12. Thank God he’s gone. This man is solely responsible for never having a single hugely successful high rating Australian drama ever since he took over in the whole time he has been at Channel 10. Don’t believe me? Well here’s the list:

    A Country Practice, Echo Point, Medivac, Big Sky, Sweat, Breakers, State Coroner, The Secret Life Of Us, Above The Law, White Collar Blue, Crashburn, The Cooks, The Surgeon, Tripping Over, Out Of The Blue and most recently Rush, Offspring and Puberty Blues which have all struggled with paltry ratings that can’t even get a million.

    Where are the huge hits like Number 96, Prisoner, Neighbours and E Street that created household names and are still synonymous in people’s minds today? It’s pretty sad when you consider Ten’s last hugely successful drama was actually E Street which ended almost 20 years ago and since then nothing. I mean surely when he was commissioning all these shows he would have at least watched them to see if they were any good.

    While Seven have had plenty during David Mott’s tenure and Nine have at least had a couple, we the people are still waiting for Ten’s one and only drama hit.

    He will not be missed.

  13. The new programming team need to find stable slots on their 3 channels, for accommodating shows they’ve consistently treated like crap like :
    Hawaii Five 0 (didn’t have its last 2 season 2 episodes air).
    White Collar season 3 (was promised on One, but got taken off).
    Burn Notice season 6 (this should be fast tracked from next month).
    Californication season 5. I know it was its worst and lamest season, but there’s people who are into it.
    Blue Bloods.

  14. On a positive note about David Mott…. well given that he has reportedly received a big pay off, he will not be strapped for cash so can take time to reflect upon his strengths and weaknesses.

    To me he seems to have had considerable success in bringing in overseas formats and developing them for the Australian market. Maybe that’s where his future lies. I hope he steers of programming, he has lost his touch with that, regardless of the rumours about other hands steering the network….

  15. I was wondering when the insider accolades for Mott would begin, now I know. The list of programs mentioned in the article really don’t stand up as a testament to greatness, but rather a litany of repetition.

    Ten are not alone in serving up mediocrity, all the networks are guilty. Remember back to the days of shows like 96? Terrible acting, terrible plots, but they did push societal norms and raised a ruckus. TV today (and people like Mott are to blame) couldn’t push an envelope if they tried. No wonder the internet is taking over.

    Ten are in serious trouble, but they know that already. My suggestion is to take all the programming from One and shove it into Ten… with the exception of the 5pm local news.

    I hope Mott’s replacement is not afraid to ruffle some feathers… it’s sorely needed.

  16. Surely Mott had to get approval from his boss before he went ahead with some of the ‘bold’ programming decisions he made.

    Let’s have a look at when Murdoch took over and the programming decisions Mott ‘boldly’ made.

    Not bidding for the AFL rights.
    Not bidding for the NRL rights.
    Changing ONE from a ‘sports’ channel to whatever the heck it is now.
    Hiring Paul Henry
    Giving Andrew Bolt a rightwing soapbox
    Changing the successful GNW to whatever the heck it was in it’s final dying stages.
    Axing The Circle
    Not renewing TBYG
    Axing Rush
    Moving Neighbours and Simpsons to Ten
    Endless repeats of NCIS, MF and Glee
    Stuffing up the YTT revival
    The Renovators
    Sticking The Renovators in the middle of the MCA finale
    Giving us Lara Bingle
    GIving us the Shite ..I mean Shire
    Giving us Sarah Murdoch … I mean the Sarah Murdoch presents some dancers and some overseas judges.

    All these fiascos occurred under Murdoch and his mate Warburton.

    Surely Mott wasn’t responsible for all these???

  17. This is a terrific article David! Thank you for providing some much needed balance to the ongoing dramas at Ten!

    You nailed it I think when you said – “There are media reports of ‘other hands at the wheel’”.

    It’s all too easy to be myopic and focus only on the past 12 months. He should be judged on his 16 year history which arguably includes a very long list of successes that are well known to have made the other networks very jealous.

  18. He stayed too long and was massively overpaid. $1.6 million equals madness.

    He had some huge stuff ups and some big successes. Much of the success was from adapting overseas formats for the ausssie market.

    I fail to see what was so daring about a female presenter for BB…..the UK had one right from the start, so just a copycat as far as I see it…

    He left under a huge cloud and at an all time low. I hope he stays away from tv programming in future

  19. Still not convinced. Seems to me that for every good move there is 3 or 4 colossal disasters. And in the latter years it was only disasters. But of course history will remember him as the Australian idol and big brother guy.

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