She arrives at the position at a pivotal time. On the one hand there is the excitement of steering the network’s content, but on the other hand there is enormous pressure to lift the performance when some of the problems stem to higher management during an advertising downturn.
Despite this she remains optimistic.
“It’s a great opportunity and it is very exciting. It’s a really great job but that opportunity obviously comes with a lot of pressure. But I enjoy it. I like what I do. I enjoy content, I enjoy TV so it’s great to get to work in that environment every day. We have lots of talented and creative people at TEN,” she says.
“I’ve worked at TEN a long time. I really like it here and I like the brand. I appreciate what you’re saying in that it has been one of our more difficult periods but while I haven’t been here forever, I’ve been here almost 6.5 years now and we’ve had some good times and some bad times. Things are cyclical, so you just keep your head down and do your job. It’s still a great job and a great place to work.”
TEN has refocussed on its Under-50 audience and has kicked off the year with a variation on the dependable MasterChef. Launched ahead of major competition, thus far it has been well-received.
“We’re very happy that we’ve had a solid start, but you’d be aware we’ve gone early for a number of years now. This is probably the sixth year we’ve gone early, given we have a very competitive sports schedule on both Seven and Nine. So we feel we have an opportunity to offer our viewers a slightly different entertainment schedule.
“I think they’re getting to know Marco (Pierre White) and like him. Marco is a very authentic person. His performance in the show is very true to who he is. He’s very genuine about food and his passion for people. Audiences are very savvy and they recognise that and respect that.
“He and Matt (Preston) have great chemistry as well. They’re a really good team and its a very different dynamic to (the conventional) MasterChef.
“Our next big push is Elementary and thereafter we have Mr and Mrs Murder coming into the schedule. We’ll obviously be launching first run episodes of Modern Family, NCIS, Bondi Vet, Bondi Rescue, Can of Worms, Glee and The Living Room are coming back. So really we are working back up into our schedule.”
Starring Shaun Micallef and Kat Stewart, Mr and Mrs Murder is the first new drama from a promising TEN slate. The FremantleMedia production is harder to categorise than genre mysteries, mixing procedural with its offbeat lead characters.
“Mr and Mrs Murder is something that’s a bit different. There’s a lot of procedural crime on TV, but I think what Shaun and Kat offer is deep characters with a sense of fun. They lighten that sort of genre up. It’s actually a very hard job to offer a through-line with a bit of comedy on top. So it is a drama but is has comedic elements in it,” McGarvey explains.
This Sunday night TEN launches CBS drama Elementary, a modern take on the Sherlock Holmes tales which has been well-received in the US, despite the obvious parallels to the UK Sherlock.
“Elementary has already been picked up for a full season. Its quality, really well cast, quite procedural crime stories but they have a bit of a twist. Both Lucy Lui and Jonny Lee Miller are really watchable,” she says.
“They’re young and a bit edgy and I think our audience will respond well to that. It also helps our consistency to have that volume of episodes so people can watch and enjoy and know that it will be there every week the whole year.
“I really enjoyed the Pilot. The early episodes are good but it does get better, I think. Obviously with any show there’s a lot of exposition in the first episode. We really have to establish in the first episode how Sherlock Holmes has come to be in New York and how he meets Dr Watson.
“But once you get through that exposition you get into really meaty storylines.”
TEN will enjoy 24 episodes of Elementary, 12 more than a season of cable-produced Homeland.
“It really helps us build our Super Sunday throughout the entire year.”
McGarvey confirms that the “Super Sunday” brand is returning this year, now with 30 annual episodes of The Graham Norton Show at 9:30pm.
“It worked really well for us last year. We didn’t have the content to sustain it for 40 weeks but we do now.
“Graham Norton becomes the icing on the cake to Super Sunday. It’s an excellent show and he probably has the best guests of any talk show.”
Romantic dramedy Offspring has been renewed for both 2013 and 2014 and is currently in production. Last year’s season grew week to week, especially in Consolidated numbers, and was the darling of social media.
“People just love Asher (Keddie) and the rest of the cast as well. We’re well down the track, we have all scripts delivered. It’s a really interesting series this year and as you probably remember from last year’s finale Nina is pregnant. So as you can imagine that gives us great scope for all sorts of interesting storylines,” McGarvey says.
“It did well on the first TX but then when you look at it a week later it did really well. It’s great for our brand and sits in the heart of our demo.”
It was TEN’s dramas that endured through a difficult 2012, with Puberty Blues attracting critical acclaim and becoming the network’s strongest performer during a bleak period. In its second season it moves beyond the original novel, part of the reason TEN tweaked the ages of the central characters with a series in mind.
“Their stories can keep going, they’re still young, so we’re really excited about that show. We got a great response to Puberty Blues and at that time on air some of our other shows were really struggling. But Puberty Blues still held up ok. It was critically well received and again the Consolidated numbers were excellent.”
TEN has four other dramas due in 2013: Batavia, Wonderland, Reef Doctors and Secrets and Lies: The Track. The latter comes from Emmy-winning Brisbane-based Hoodlum productions and includes a heavy online component to complement its on-screen narrative.
“For years people have been trying to get shows that work online and have a really strong second screen, but Secrets and Lies is really the one for us that pulls that together in a really considered way. It doesn’t really matter what part you engage with. It will work in pieces or together. If you only watch on air, great- you’ll get the whole story, if you only play online you’ll have a different experience but you’ll get a beginning, middle and end,” McGarvey explains.
“It’s a thriller with a lot of twists and turns along the way. There are 6 episodes and you get a conclusion at the end. The cop who is involved in the search for the protagonist is actually the through-line of the series. Secrets and Lies is a brand that is returnable so that we can return to the series next year and there will be a different crime.”
Also from Queensland is Jonathan M. Shiff’s first adult drama, Reef Doctors starring Lisa McCune. The series was due in 2012 but held until 2013 amid messages about whether it would work better in summer or winter. It is now due mid-year.
“For a variety of reasons, not least because we wanted something bright and fresh for winter, people really relate to that aspirational material. And we wanted to wait until we had really high sets in use,” she says.
“It’s an early evening series for the whole family.”
Meanwhile romantic drama Wonderland from FremantleMedia will also air in 2013. Is there a chance the latter could be led by Hugh Sheridan, given he signed a network deal with TEN last year?
“We have our projects in development and he is always our first call. He’s a young actor we’d love to get in one of our dramas so really it’s just about working with him and his availability,” McGarvey insists.
“He would always be our first consideration if he was available to do it.”
Also due this year is the lavish Batavia miniseries from Screentime. As a period miniseries yet to begin production, is TEN convinced it will air in 2013?
“We certainly hope to have it on screen this year, but the production will be determined by the casting. So we would love to have it on screen by the end of the year but if we have some amazing cast then we might decide to wait a few months just to get them. It’s not the kind of event that is time-specific. It’s not connected to any particular date or anything. So I think we will wait until we get the project right.”
On the Reality front there is a second MasterChef series, The Biggest Loser: The Next Generation and a local version of Recipe to Riches.
“Recipe to Riches will be on later in the year. We’re very near the end of production. Due to the nature of the series and the products having to appear on supermarket shelves there’s quite a bit of time between filming and TX dates,” she explains.
“It’s not really a cooking show. About a third of it is cooking and the other two thirds is inventor, Apprentice-type challenges, with marketing and business. The word Recipe in the title makes people think its more food oriented than it is.”
But what of Come Date With Me, originally announced for 2012? As a stripped half-hour show, McGarvey won’t be drawn on whether it will air on TEN or elsewhere.
“Come Date with Me will be on later in the year. It’s targeted to a predominantly female audience and will likely skew quite young. Now that we’ve just had it all delivered we will look at it and decide where it will do the best business and be most effective for us. Truthfully we haven’t made that decision yet,” she says.
“We haven’t decided yet whether we’ll play it on TEN or ELEVEN.”
TEN has also signalled its intent to return to Breakfast Television, but isn’t hinting at new plans yet. After last year’s failed Breakfast the network received plenty of feedback, whether it wanted to or not.
“Obviously we know what people responded to, what we got right and what we got wrong. So we’ll consider all of that moving forward.”
Other international titles this year include Ripper Street and The Americans with new local titles Shock of the Now and The Truth Is with Hamish Macdonald.
“We are also in development for several slots in the back quarter and we will be making announcements at an appropriate time, I suspect not much before March or April.
“But we definitely have more to announce later in the year.”
On paper, McGarvey’s plans look pretty strong, spearheaded by a bold drama slate under Drama Exec Rick Maier. But in the television game there are so many unpredictable factors. The one dependable is the OzTAM ratings but McGarvey, who is still the only female in a top programming role at any Free to Air Network, actually looks forward to a daily snapshot of her performance.
“Every morning at 8:30 you press a button and you get the numbers and you get a bit of a report card for the day. We don’t just look at Overnights, we look at trends,” she explains.
“It becomes something you get used to and I actually quite like that now. I don’t think I’d like an environment where you only got tracking four times a year. I think I’d hate that. It’s good to know where you’re going.
“There was a day last year where we didn’t get ratings till about 3:00 and we were all a bit low!
“People tell me patience is a virtue but I’m not very good at that!”