With a double dose of drama, Nine’s Director of Programming and Production Andrew Backwell tells TV Tonight, Nine’s drama slate is stronger than ever.
“We’ve got a really strong drama slate at the moment and it’s quite diverse. Love Child was the number one drama last year and I’ve seen series two of it, obviously, and it’s even stronger, it’s gone up another level. House Husbands does a really good job for us. This year, Gallipoli‘s a flagship.
“But House of Hancock has come up spectacularly and I think it’s going to be really good business for us too.
“It’s one of those shows that you start and you go, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe what I’m watching.’ It’s a cracking story… the battle between Gina and Rose… fascinating,” he says.
“Mandy McElhinney’s performance in it is superb. She’s a star. She nails the part. I think she’s fantastic.”
So does the drama depict Gina Rinehart, as hero or villain? And was it a consideration given that she is associated with a rival broadcaster?
“I think that in the show you’ll see that she is a victim as well. She’s had a hard upbringing. Her dad was really tough on her. You see some real depth to the character and you get some really amazing insight into the person.
“There’s been no agenda because she’s got links with Channel TEN, I can guarantee that. Gina is the richest woman in the world so it’s a legitimate story, and the period with her and Rose is fascinating.
“The intention was never to damage anyone out of it. As I say, it’s just a really good story and as the old saying goes, ‘fact is stranger than fiction’ and, in this case, it is, absolutely; it’s all there.”
Three years in the making, Gallipoli is being touted as a return to the classic Aussie miniseries.
“The first episode is the first day in Gallipoli. It’s basically one day. What happens is, the story broadens out then and you get a much broader view of the whole campaign. And it’s not just all about fighting and killing, which is seen quite a lot of in episode one. I think it’s a broad appeal show. It’s a type of show that families will sit down and watch because it’s such an important part of our history,” he says.
“Watching it, I learnt a lot of stuff about Gallipoli that I didn’t know about. I think viewers are going to be amazed to see exactly what went on. I think people understand the broad view of it. Now you’re getting to personal perspectives in there.
“There’s some really big names in the program but the star is Kodi Smit-McPhee. He is brilliant. It’s an incredible performance and the guy’s a star.”
The series begins with a double episode premiere but Nine is confident it has kept the competition guessing where it would launch, and indeed, even to program around it.
“I don’t think in the first quarter in survey there’s any easy slots. All programmers front load the year and we put a lot of good stuff on. I think Seven’s got some very good product coming and so does TEN. So, there’s no easy slots. We’ve obviously scheduled where we think it’s appropriate for the show and I personally think, with this type of show, it is up to the opposition to schedule around this program. It’s such a big flagship program.”
But Backwell acknowledges the competition from My Kitchen Rules, and The Block launched early as a direct result.
“MKR is a juggernaut show that Seven deserves a lot of credit for. It’s an absolute monster and they’ve done a fantastic job with it. So, what we try to do is get in before, to get some more sampling in that.
“One thing we’ve been really focused with The Block is to try and keep it fresh every year. I don’t think we can just churn out the same show year in, year out,” he explains. “You need to add new, fresh elements to it. And it gets off to a flying start.”
This year teams make over multiple rooms simply to qualify for the real competition.
“They’re making over a real apartment which I think makes a big difference rather than a challenge, rather than a square box in a studio or in a warehouse. It’s real so it puts even more pressure on and, for the viewer, you get to see more before and afters which, we know people love to see them. This way you get to see them much quicker and you don’t have to wait. Not even once a week, you see them during the week.”
Also added this season are real estate vendors who judge on value rather than design.
“They talk about the value of the house, the value that a kitchen or bathroom adds to the house that, from the buyer’s perspective, and what’s important to them rather than a design perspective. Just adding a new element.
“It’s up to the couples to take this advice on board and adjust what they’re doing, and use that advice if they want to, to make sure they increase their profit at auction. They’re appealing to the buyers not just appealing to designers.”
Backwell confirms a second Block season for 2015, again set in Melbourne. But how much renovation is too much renovation?
“It’s always tricky and there’s two schools of thought. One is that, when you’ve got a genre working like this, you go for it because they’re never going to last forever. The other one is that you protect your franchise. We’ve decided, obviously, to put in two series. It works for us in terms of ratings, it works for us in terms of the audience level, and in terms of advertisers, so that’s why we’ve decided to do it.
“Will it burn up The Block quicker than if we had one series a year? Yes, I believe it will.”
Nine is also revisiting Renovation Rumble, oddly announced by Seven’s Tim Worner because it pits ex-House Rules teams against former Block winners.
“We’ve got Renovation Rumble which we haven’t really announced but Tim Worner did that for us, which was bizarre, but we thank him for that.
“We’ve brought it back and we’ve put some twists in it. We haven’t released any information on it apart from what Tim has told the media. But it starts shooting shortly. We think it will be good.”
Backwell also told TV Tonight about a new ‘stripped’ food Reality series, being produced by Endemol and the arrival of The Experiment: Married at First Sight, in which couples sight each other at the altar on their wedding day. Yes they are legally married on television.
“This is one of my favourite series, and if you had to ask me, ‘Is it going to work on Channel Nine? Is it very commercial?’ I can’t tell you, I don’t know, but I know it’s riveting TV. It’s only six episodes, it’s a very short run.
“The title makes you think it’s going to be like one of those drecky reality shows that skews young. But this is a documentary series that follows these couples that are absolutely genuine, that go through this process, and it’s real life.
“It may even feel a bit like an SBS series. It’s a solid documentary series rather than a light commercial fluffy series.”
It will air in the first half of the year.
Also returning this year are local dramas Love Child, already filmed, and House Husbands.
“I love series two of Love Child. I was calling for the episodes, not because I had to watch it for work, but because I wanted to find out what happened. It’s fantastic. There’s never guarantees that it’s going to rate. Will people still watch the series? I don’t know but I know it’s a brilliant piece of TV, it really is,” says Backwell.
House Husbands will air later in the year but Backwell declined to comment on new casting changes.
Critically-acclaimed series The Embassy resumes in Thailand featuring Trudy McGowan.
“She’s a great character and she’s fantastic and if you had trouble over there, that’s the type of person you’d want helping you out, don’t you reckon?”
Nine is also gearing up for the ICC World Cricket Cup series, playing predominantly on weekends.
“The first game launches on the Saturday of the first week of survey − Australia against England − and then it plays on Saturday nights right through and I personally think it’s going to do really, really strong audience numbers. And it’s going to be fantastic.
“What is even better, is that it plays on Saturday night so it doesn’t even affect the rest of your schedule. It plays through a few other slots but it really complements the rest of the schedule.”
Mornings remain the home of Today and Mornings while there are no changes to early evenings with Hot Seat, Nine News and A Current Affair.
“If you look at the News nationally, particularly in Sydney, the Nine News has been on fire. It’s been doing an incredible job over summer and the gap is enormous now between us and Seven, and we think this will now continue through survey.
“Darren Wick is no doubt the best head of news and current affairs in the country at the moment and he’s taken Channel Nine News and Current Affairs to the top again. And so much credit to him and his team. But that bloke, he’s fantastic.”
The AFL Footy Show adds Dave Hughes and Backwell says the NRL Footy Show has grown its audience.
“Glenn Pallister the EP of the (NRL) show is doing a great job and he has taken away the cringe worthy aspects of it.
“It’s timely now and talks about the game more seriously. I think he’s done a really solid job on that show. It’s back to being a really solid entertainment show and the audience have responded and the viewers have grown.”
New international shows Stalker starring Maggie Q and Dylan McDermott and Forever will play in the first quarter.
Gotham has being renewed but there is no return date as yet. New episodes of The Big Bang Theory “always seem to work for us, and they’re solid.”
Stay tuned for further comments on Big Brother, Hamish & Andy.