In its fifth season, the show posted its best ever season premiere this week, two weeks out from the start of 2014 ratings.
My Kitchen Rules this year features plenty of domestic dinner parties and a new ‘big, red truck’ for upcoming location challenges. But Seven’s Head of Programming says the key to the show is in the array of characters.
“Nobody does a better casting job than that show. I probably sound like I’m repeating myself but there will be heroes and villains, people who can cook, people who can’t. As usual with these shows we put a few twists in to differentiate it from the year before. That’s how we’ve grown it 4 years in a row,” says Ross.
“Last year I said I thought our cast was better than the year before and I reckon I can safely say the same again. We’re very excited by it.”
But having such a high profile show, it also comes in for its share of criticism. Last year not one, but two Asian couples emerged as villains. Will ethnicity play a big role again this year?
“Ethnicity plays a big role in all of our casting because we believe in having diverse casts that are representative of the Australia you see today,” he explains.
“There was a bunch of stuff last year with the show that was blown out of all proportion. Ashlee and Sophia were perfectly happy with how they were portrayed and actually enjoyed the publicity. They worked very hard with us to promote the show.
“I think people were trying to drum up a bit of stuff that we were making members of the cast intentionally villains was wrong. It’s just the way that people played out on the show. You can’t control all aspects of the show and we wouldn’t intentionally do that.”
Ross says the length of the season takes the show through until April, with “basically the same number of episodes.” All filming has been completed.
April also sees the return of House Rules, a Seven-created format that had a shaky start last year but finished strongly.
“Lots of people wrote it off,” Ross insists.
“We were watching it very closely, but we’re proud that it managed to hit its stride. (Head of Production) Brad Lyons and I and were in the US for the first week at the US screenings so we were running a lot of meetings from over there. We changed a few elements, the way we were promoting the show. It’s always very difficult with a new show because viewers have to understand how the show works. We made a few changes with the Seven Group, Yahoo!, Pacific Magazines, who all got together and turned it around. It was the biggest new franchise of the year.”
Seven has learned much from the first season and has made tweaks to the format.
“Again the cast is very representative of Australia and we want to get it right from the first episode this year, which will prevent a lot more heart-in-mouth situations!” he laughs.
“The production team have learned a lot and on the production side we’ve learned a lot.
“We’re extremely happy with the casting and within the show there will be a number of new challenges that weren’t there in 2013.”
“I’m sure they will come to us with some ideas on how to refresh the season. Last season we were very happy with it and it performed better than the season before and it skewed younger,” he says.
“The level of skill in that last series was just unbelievable and the audience came back and embraced the show again.”
It’s still too soon to detail plans for The X Factor but the show pulled dominant numbers last year with winner Dami Im enjoying early chart success. There are invariably annual questions about which judges will return.
“We obviously would hope to be seeing all judges returning on that programme. That’s our ideal scenario. It built Year on Year and there was a massive response to RedFoo. The show felt very fresh, great contestants, and in an ideal world –which is a world I like to live in– we’d like to see everybody returning. It was outstanding.”
One genre that Seven has openly embraced, arguably ahead of its competitors, is Magic. Seven prides itself on being ‘The Home of Magic’ as a revival continues in entertainment circles.
“We secured the hottest new magic shows at MIPCOM. We obviously have the Dynamo franchise which has led the way into returning magic into primetime with Cosentino. You will have seen we’ve been promoting Tricked over the holiday season. We think it’s a fantastic show coming straight after the tennis. And we also have The Happenings later in the year,” he notes.
“I’m sure others will try to follow us into this area but I think we have the best talent in the genre under lock and key at Channel Seven.
“Not only are we proud to be the home of magic, what makes us most proud is the ratings!”
As Nine extends it news to an hour, Seven has been under considerable scrutiny, with personnel changes involving Helen Kapalos and Chris Bath, plus extended, 40 minute bulletins and short-lived themes. Of Seven’s long-term plans, Ross prefers to speak to the current state of play.
“It’s business as usual for us,” he insists.
“Nine have opted to go with their one hour news but I always look for flexibility in our news hour depending on news events and we still look for that. With Nine moving to a one hour news and moving ACA to 7:00, we see 7:00 as a land of opportunity. Particularly for Home and Away as the major entertainment option in that slot.
“We’re experimenting in the hour as Nine is, but we’re not going to a one hour news. I think you’ll find some of it might be looking at where commercial breaks fall and things like that, so that we can present what we believe is the strongest hour.”
Home and Away‘s season return was its strongest episode in 5 years, another of Seven’s internally-produced titles. Winners and Losers also returned this year, recently renewed for another season. How many episodes in 2014?
“We will show 26 episodes this year,” Ross confirms. “Sometimes your readers seem to think we’re not showing all the episodes, but we structure our seasons, or what may be called a season, to finish on a cliffhanger way. So at the end of a year we finish W&L and bring it back at the start of the next year. For us it’s really a ‘season within a season.’ That’s how we make the show. But we’re never holding anything back.”
New hit drama, A Place to Call Home will be returning in Q2 after Easter.
Of the new local dramas, Seven is heavily-promoting INXS: Never Tear Us Apart, which will premiere imminently.
“It really punches into our core 25-54 demographic. It’s a 2 part event and Luke Arnold is just uncanny as Michael Hutchence. It’s a no-holds barred look at the band, basically a bunch of suburban boys who went onto conquer the world music scene. They were the biggest band in the world for a few years,” says Ross.
Also coming is a new thriller telemovie, The Killing Field.
“The Killing Field will be in Q2 with Rebecca Gibney, one of the biggest stars on Australian television. I read the script that was an absolute page-turner right to the very end. It was one of those ones that you couldn’t put down. I read it very quickly and it will make for a great telemovie that we’re very confident will lead to a lot more.”
“Blacklist was the biggest new overseas drama last year. It launched very well in the final quarter of the year and is back straight after the tennis, shown quite close to the US broadcast. We’ll be catching up very quickly to the US broadcast. Fast-tracking has its advantages and disadvantages. With all their pre-emptions you tend to catch up pretty quickly,” he explains.
Joining them are new US titles Resurrection, Intelligence and sitcom The Goldbergs.
“Resurrection is from Brad Pitt’s production company coming mid-season from ABC. We think it’s very different to anything on TV in Australia at the moment. We think it will click very well with our core female 25-54 audience. No matter how it does in the States we think we can make it perform very well here,” Ross declares.
It’s a claim made on the back of the success of Revenge in Australia.
“Revenge was a middle of the road show in the States and we made it absolutely huge here in Australia. We’re very confident we can make (Resurrection) over perform in this market.
“Intelligence we’re very confident will do well for us too. Probably in Q2 for us here. It’s the reimagining of The Six Million Dollar Man with action, humour and movie-like production values. It’s basically a weekly procedural which makes it easy to get into.”
With so many profile titles, Seven has also been criticised for not fast-tracking. Ross says the decision to fast-track The Blacklist was due to its ability to promote through the AFL finals. A move that paid off.
“It really is a show by show and season by basis and the question is always ‘Will the strategy result in the best ratings outcome for the show and our overall schedule?’” he observes.
“But there seems to be an opinion from some of our competitors that just because you fast-track a show it’s going to rate. It doesn’t. It’s got to be a good show and a show where consideration has been given to the promo campaign and timeslot. All those things are important, you can’t just suddenly drop something in.
“I’m hoping that Blacklist is the show that breaks that mould in terms of the curse of fast-tracked programming. On its current performance given how strongly it finished its season we’d have to be hopeful that it will.”
Seven stable shows Better Homes and Gardens, Sunrise, The Morning Show -which all dominate their timeslots- are back while Sunday Night is expanding with newly-hired personnel including Denham Hitchcock and Helen Kapalos.
Simon Reeve is now installed as host of Million Dollar Minute -but what is the outlook for Deal or No Deal? Seven has been airing repeats since October. Will it ever go back before the cameras?
“They’re performing well for us. We obviously have an option to go back and shoot more episodes if we want but at the moment we will stick with the repeats,” he declares.
Acclaimed local series The Amazing Race Australia but is no longer produced by activeTV, despite their International Emmy win.
“There are a lot of machinations that result in a decision like that. We’re very confident our production team at Seven they can do a great job on it. They’re pretty good at making Reality shows when you look at what we churn out here,” Ross notes.
“We’d love to have Beauty and the Geek Australia return this year too and we’re in conversations with Shine about how we can make it different to last year and how we can step it up.
“It’s a great little show to have in the back end of the year and delivers great demographics on Thursday nights.”
Talk of another season of Brynne: My Bedazzled Life are correct, despite Edelsten separating from her husband.
“It’s a short-run series but yes, it will roll out this year. Given current events it may need a few graphics explaining things,” he adds.
“The events that have happened with Brynne should only add a little more interest. It’s got a lot of, let me put it this way, honest content in it!”
“It’s a show where, as an example, someone was the prom queen but 20 years later they’re not feeling as good about themselves, they’re in a rut or not the right weight they want to be. They have a school reunion coming up and they want to try and get in shape and feel better themselves,” he explains.
“We’ll follow them over several months and they try to wind back the clock with an inspiring transformation.”
Also coming is Young, Lazy & Driving Us Crazy hosted by Lawrence Mooney.
“As the title says it’s kids who are driving their parents crazy and they’re given the opportunity to improve their lives and impress their parents. It follows the same sort of redemptive journey as World’s Strictest Parents.”
Essential Media produces a new drama-documentary, Australia: The Story of Us which looks at our origins and the nation we inhabit today. It is based on similar versions in the US and UK.
“The aim is to have it ready by Q4 and then we have the option if we want to run it then or Q1 of 2015.”
“In 2014 it will have more premium first-run content than any other digital channel. We have a bunch of new commissions and exclusive content, including Paul Fenech’s new series Bogan Hunters and another season of (Australian produced) Outback Truckers. 7mate is the only place you can get brand new Family Guy, American Dad, World’s Craziest Fools, Tattoo Nightmares and Hardcore Pawn,” he says.
Pawn Stars, American Pickers, Swamp People are all returning.
7TWO has also undergone changes from its abundance of UK titles.
“Over the course of 2013 we’ve introduced more Lifestyle, Adventure and Movies and a lot more Sport. So we started to drive the 7TWO audience younger. Over 2013 it’s had a lot of growth over the key demos of 25-54s,” he says.
“In 2014 we will be running a bunch more first-run content that hasn’t been seen on Pay or anywhere else: Air Crash Investigations, Vicious, Citizen Khan, Mighty Planes and a new lifestyle series called The House that a $100K Built.
“There will still be some English drama nights and shows like Fantasy Homes by the Sea, Homes Under the Hammer, Escape to the Country.”
With their strong local content, international titles and ability to promote, Seven looks assured of another strong year, which can only be a win for viewers.
“Our aim for 2014 is to be #1 for the eighth year in a row,” Ross attests. “And I think we have the depth and consistency to do that again. In 2013 we had record shares in All People and our Key Demographics and we want to maintain our #1 position and see improvement in those Key Demos in 2014 and leapfrog Nine on a couple of them.”