Network Programming Chief Beverley McGarvey told TV Tonight her other priorities for first quarter would include The Biggest Loser, Puberty Blues, Secrets and Lies and So You Think You Can Dance Australia.
It’s been a long time since the network has had a premium sports event at this time of year and it plans “staggered launches” of its key titles around the Olympics.
The Biggest Loser is already underway as a tried and true format, but with some changes for its 9th season, set in Ararat.
“What has changed is the mechanics at the top of the show. We looked all over Australia for an appropriate town and we picked Ararat because the population there certainly has a lot to gain through the Loser experience. They were a great town to work with and very collaborative and co-operative,” McGarvey explained.
“Also we wanted to do something to mix the show up. It was a different way to tell that story.
“Eventually (the contestants) do end up in the Loser house and go through the normal process but there’s always something happening in the town.
“When you’re in Year 9 of a show it’s important to keep the beats that the audience love but add something fresh so there’s always an element of something innovative.”
An international trip has frequently been part of the series. Should viewers expect one this year?
“There are little bits of travel, but to be honest sometimes the travel works and sometimes it doesn’t. It depends really on what’s right for the show. Because we go back and forth to Ararat there’s less of that because we physically get out of the house in a different way.”
Loser will also continue during the Winter Olympics, screening Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“We will have Loser playing throughout that period, but it doesn’t play as consistent a pattern as usual because we’re lucky enough to have Sochi. So really we’re making sure we have a strong entertainment schedule and we have the Winter Olympics as well. So we have a double burst in the Sochi weeks.”
Limited Sochi coverage kicks off late on Thursday Feb 6 late but begins in primetime from February 8th and continues every night across the Games. Australian medal chances will play on TEN but there will also be events on ONE and 8 channels streaming on TEN’s digital platforms.
However the Olympics have come under some controversy due to Russia’s hardline stance with the gay community, including calls for boycotts and criticism from world leaders. Does TEN as a network have any thoughts on the Russian situation?
“It’s not something for me to comment on,” says McGarvey. “My interest is in the Games and if you’ve seen our News coverage you’ll see we have been looking at those issues, but our interest is in supporting the Australian team and the event.
“There’s coverage all over the world on those issues but it’s probably more appropriate to handle that through our News services.”
Also launching in less than two weeks is the revival of So You Think You Can Dance Australia, coming to Sunday nights where TEN had its greatest successes with event television.
“Having event television at the top of the week is important to us and we intend to get back into that space. The reason we’ve come back to Dance is it’s an excellent format and one of the few that exists that currently nobody in Australia is making. It was a great success for TEN,” McGarvey explains.
“We played it mid-week in its last year and it didn’t perform as well as we would have liked. This year it’s a slightly truncated format, in that everything will happen as a one-night-a-week show.
“You get group performance, individual performance and a result which is how the show has worked in America for the last few years and it really reinvigorated it. It’s a snappy, pacy show and obviously we have new judging talent as well, with Carrie Bickmore hosting and she has an interest in dance herself.”
Dance will tap into a community that television hasn’t explored at great length for some years, and in doing so unveil diverse, multicultural talent.
“There are different dance styles that suit many different communities and ages. Even when we had it on a couple of years ago, the casting was always very diverse, and it is this year, from the Top 100 right through. The talent comes from all walks of life. The ballroom couples can be a bit older but the really energetic stuff tends to skew young. So there’s a good mix of gender and diversity from all over Australia.”
Season Two of the acclaimed Puberty Blues moves away from the original novel as source material and develops its own storylines.
“The storyline has been designed to make it very real. The positioning of the show is that times have changed but being a teenager hasn’t,” she says.
“We see the girls growing up but there’s a lot of content around the older characters because people connect with being a young parent and raising a teenager. It’s as strong as it was in S1. Probably slightly more so.”
It will be joined by the anticipated Secrets and Lies from Brisbane-based Hoodlum Productions, starring Martin Henderson, Diana Glenn and Anthony Hayes.
“Secrets and Lies is fantastic. It’s a great whodunit and I think people enjoy that kind of classic storytelling. It’s done in a contemporary way but it’s a classic whodunit. There are lots of opportunities for you to guess and play along and get engaged in the drama. We’ll also have a second screen application on Tenplay. On air it plays as a thriller and online it’s a little more of a crime procedural with a bit more evidence,” McGarvey explains.
“It’s been picked up by NBC in America and Channel 5 in the UK which is pretty unprecedented for a series that hasn’t aired yet.”
In July TEN has the Commonwealth Games from Glasgow. Also returning this year are The Living Room, Bondi Vet, Bondi Rescue, Have You Been Paying Attention? and MasterChef Australia featuring Kylie Kwong as guest mentor.
“People love the essence of what MasterChef is about: the food. It’s premium and inspirational, and really this show will focus on those values this year,” she says,
“We’ve shot the first couple of episodes already and we have an amazing Top 24. Their food skills are spectacular.
“The quality of the food in Masterchef really determines the quality of the series.
“We actually had a much more arduous casting process because it was important to us to really focus on that expertise.”
But with so many cooking shows on television can it ‘cut through’ this year?
“You’ve got to play to your strengths and not be distracted by the things around you. So we’ll really be playing to our strengths this year,” McGarvey insists.
“It’s also had the longest break off air since we launched it. It launches later in the year and will have been off for more months because we’ve always done 2 cycles.”
With Nine giving up the 7pm timeslot for Reality, has TEN considered adjusting its schedule and returning shows like Biggest Loser and Masterchef to 7:00? McGarvey isn’t ruling it out.
“When everybody makes their move you have to consider all of the options. Of course while everyone is shuffling around you look at everything,” she agrees.
“The Project is really important to us. It’s consistent. I would never say we don’t consider all of our options. We certainly do but we don’t intend to make any kneejerk changes.
“But with those sorts of moves you really have to commission for it. It requires planning. But we’ll certainly look at everything.”
TEN had also committed to an unannounced 6pm ‘family entertainment show.’ When can we expect a title, or with potential schedule changes is it now off the cards?
“The absolute truth is we have not made a decision yet. We are quite a way away from making one,” McGarvey insists.
“Before Christmas we had a short list, and I think we have a ‘shorter’ short list now but I suspect it could be a month away before we even announce anything. We genuinely don’t have a signed contract or form decision.”
McGarvey also promises some “big announcements for the back quarter,” and a return for The Bachelor.
“The Bachelor had a great finale and it probably took people a while to find it and connect with it but we think we’re coming off a much stronger base this year. It will be complemented by new content as well,” she notes.
Would TEN ever consider The Bachelorette?
“Obviously we’re open to looking at all the other iterations of the show and at some point we’ll consider all of that. But we’re currently looking for our second male Bachelor.
It just wouldn’t be a year on TEN without Nina Proudman and her clan. Offspring is currently filming its 5th season.
“I’ve seen a couple of the episodes. It obviously handles the situation that happened in the last season but it very quickly goes back to the Offspring roots of having some light and shade.”
Keddie will also appear in a new 6 part drama about a woman’s campaign to become the next State Premier.
“Party Tricks is a great story with a high pedigree from the Southern Star and the guys who do Offspring and Puberty Blues with Asher Keddie and Rodger Corser, who are well known to our audience. It’s a short series that will play later in the year.”
Wonderland has been renewed for a second season of 22 episodes, with another 9 eps from last year to air in 2014.
“It was shot as one long series but designed to play in 2 parts, which I think happened with Rafters. S1 Part Two will play later in the year. Some shows take a while to build but we’re very happy with Wonderland and the second half of S1 is very strong,” she says.
“It will look like a second series on air but it is effectively the back half of S1.”
Returning international titles include NCIS, NCIS: LA, Law and Order: SVU, The Good Wife, Elementary, Under the Dome, Homeland, The Graham Norton Show, Modern Family, and new titles include Crisis, Extant, Tyrant, The Millers and the rebooted 24 -likely due around May.
“Our intention to go as close to TX as possible given we think that show will get a lot of international buzz.”
Modern Family, soon to film in Australia, is tipped for a new night, “Because the thing with the half hours is you have to find a running mate, with another first-run comedy.”
Of The Simpsons, McGarvey says, “We’re holding the current series and we’ll air it quite soon, but we’re just deciding what to do.”
Our discussion preceded the exit of Adam Boland from TEN, but I asked about the performance of Wake Up and Studio 10.
“We’re very happy with how the shows are going in terms of their editorial. Over the summer we saw some slightly higher numbers in certain areas that we were very happy with, particularly with Studio 10.
“It’s for the long haul and we know that it’s not easy, but we’ve always acknowledged we’d be in for a battle.”
Next month former Seven exec Peter Meakin helms the network’s News and Current Affairs, but it’s too soon to foreshadow his plans.
“I’ve never met him,” McGarvey admits, “but it’s great to have someone of his experience coming on board, so I’m looking forward to getting to know him.”
On ELEVEN this year sees American Idol, Sleepy Hollow, Supernatural, American Horror Story, Glee, and a number of US comedies. Neighbours is currently casting the offspring of Scott & Charlene and 2014 also marks 20 years for Jackie Woodburne and Alan Fletcher.
TEN CEO Hamish McLennan has also hinted at changes to ONE at some point.
“Most likely later in the year,” she says. “We have Sochi and the Commonwealth Games so it’s a great platform to be able to have Live alternative events. Probably some time after that we’ll be reconsidering what our options are.”
Lastly I ask for a checklist of other TEN titles that haven’t been mentioned much of late.
Batavia: “It’s shooting this year but will air in 2015.”
Can of Worms: “Not this year.”
Revealed: “Still looking at that.”
A League of their Own: “No.”
Mr & Mrs Murder / Come Date with Me: “No.”
This Week Live: “We genuinely haven’t made a decision and we’re working with the production team on what we would need to do to appeal to a broader audience.”
Wanted: “We love the brand and we are working with the production company about how to bring it back this year.”
Recipe to Riches: “We’re looking at that at the minute. Our partner was our incredibly happy.”