EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Nine’s Managing Director of Programming & Production Andrew Backwell
- Q1 big on Entertainment & Factual
- Nine avoids stripped Reality, offers AGT & Big Bang
- 9NOW streaming
- 5 new shows commissioned yet to be announced
- Gay couple to be ‘married’ in NZ on Married at First Sight
- NRL Footy Show may move nights
- No decision yet on Hotplate
Nine is emerging from Summer with a strong performance, its best in 9 years. In late 2015 it overhauled the network, moving the primary channel to High Definition, adding 9Life and a complete rebranding. In the last week 9jumpin has been replaced by 9NOW with streaming of all channels.
“This will be the first time Nine has won summer in many years,” Andrew Backwell tells TV Tonight.
“Our summer has been very strong. TEN has had a good run with the Big Bash but Seven have had a tough run and demographically been very challenged.
“We launched 9Life at this time specifically for this reason.”
“The extra channel has certainly helped our share but even when you look at the performance on our primary channel it’s very strong.
“It’s been great and given us a good platform to launch survey.”
In a break from recent tradition, Nine isn’t launching its year off with The Block -but it will come later in the year. While Seven and TEN both have stripped Reality shows across multiple nights, Nine is offering Entertainment tentpoles with Australia’s Got Talent and new episodes of The Big Bang Theory -both running two nights a week. This week it also returned The Farmer Wants a Wife.
“We have a fair bit of Factual and Entertainment on our slate, so we’re trying to provide a big point of difference to stripped Reality and the big commitment of 5 nights of viewing,” he says.
“MKR is a juggernaut and Seven have done a fantastic job with it… and now you have S2 of I’m A Celebrity on TEN. So you are putting shows into a very tough environment.
“With Australia’s Got Talent and Farmer Wants a Wife it is much easier to launch a known-brand rather than trying to get people to sample something brand new.
“I think we have the strongest Australia’s Got Talent that’s ever been shown in this market. (Producer) Julie Ward has done a fantastic job and it’s a cracking show. It will be very hard in that slot but as a point of difference, I’m hoping our strategy works.”
“The strength about Farmer is it’s authentic”
Farmer returns after a 4 year absence with new host Sam McClymont. Since its 2007 launch the show has chalked up eight marriages, ten babies and three long-term relationships.
“The strength about Farmer is it’s authentic. These are genuine farmers looking for love and I think that’s what comes across in the series. So you go on this whole emotional journey, that’s it’s strength.
“We’ve tried to strip it back, removed the tabloid elements and just let it play in front of the cameras. There’s no gimmicks in it, we just essentially film what unfolds.”
Despite a concerted move away from US content, Nine holds fast to new episodes of The Big Bang Theory, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“New Big Bang still rates well for us and we have some consistency across the week, playing twice a week.”
Comedy on Tuesdays will also help the launch of its most ambitious project in Q1: sitcom Here Come the Habibs. Production company Jungle (The Moodys) parachutes a family of Lebanese-Australians into an affluent Sydney suburb, gently mocking views on multiculturalism and race. For a commercial network it’s an enormous gamble, but with great rewards if it gets it right.
“It’s a tough area to get right but I love the show and they’ve done a fantastic job with the production,” Backwell agrees.
Even before its premiere Habibs has attracted criticism. So is controversy good to launch a new show?
“It’s been controversial, there’s been a petition about it, but bear in mind they haven’t seen the show yet. When you see the show, I think you get it,” he explains.
“We call it ‘noise’ and all the noise that surrounds a show the better. People might come in because they think it will be controversial, hopefully be surprised and have a laugh and come back for episode 2.”
Inside Story and King’s Cross ER return on Thursday while on Wednesday factual series The Embassy is back with cases from Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.
“The Embassy is stronger than series one. Trudy is a fantastic character,” he states.
“It’s a known brand that did very well for us, so we hope it does well against First Dates on Seven, and Madam Secretary on TEN.
“Inside Story with Leila McKinnon has come up really well and with the flow-on from A Current Affair, which is dominant in its slot, it should do pretty good.”
Spectacular nature series The Hunt is also due in Q1.
“The Hunt is a great series and premium content like Attenborough looks magnificent in High Definition.”
One of Nine’s 2015 hits Married at First Sight is back for not one but two seasons this year, including a bold casting move in Season Three.
“We have same-sex marriage in the show and, as I promised, we will send the couple to New Zealand to highlight the fact there is no same-sex marriage in Australia –which I’m delighted about because I think it is an important issue. It will be fascinating to see how it all plays out,” says Backwell.
Reno Rumble is currently filming for Q2, while Love Child will be the first 2016 Drama after Easter.
“Love Child this year moves to Vietnam. The previous series ended with closing down Stanton House, so we move to the Vietnam War.
“Out of all the Aussie dramas, and not just because it is on Nine, it’s my personal favourite drama. I love the show, it just resonates with me.”
“They get hypnotised to do silly things to lose money”
Another new title for nine this year is hypnotism series You’re Back in the Room heralding the return of Daryl Somers.
“Daryl was just the perfect choice for the show, he’s added to it. I don’t believe there’s a performer in Australia that screams Entertainment more than Daryl Somers. We have high hopes for the show,” Backwell insists.
“He gets into it. He’s engages with the show, researches it and is incredibly professional.”
But can a primetime hypnotism show work? In the UK the format has been a big hit and Backwell assures the premise is aimed at sceptics.
“The 4 contestants are playing a game show to earn money. They work together so it’s in their interests to make as much money as they can. But they get hypnotised to do silly things to lose money. So that premise shows hypnotism is real: why would you go on TV to lose money on purpose?
“Also in the show we play back the clips to them when they are not hypnotised, so you can see their reactions. They can’t believe they did these things on screen and lost money by acting this way.
“This was one of the highest entertainment shows on ITV last year and is being picked up around the world.”
House Husbands returns for S5 while new 2016 Dramas Hide and Seek and Bond will air after the Olympics. The title role is yet to be cast.
“Hide and Seek is about terrorism in Australia and the people hiding in plain sight in our cities, as a big, glossy, international-feel drama,” he continues.
“Bond is a rollercoaster story of Alan Bond who started with nothing and became the richest man in Australia, obviously there are links with Channel Nine, America’s Cup, who lost it all then rebuilt his wealth.
“And Playmaker are the best drama producers in the country and (Drama execs) Jo (Rooney) and Andy (Ryan) have done a fantastic job keeping House Husbands refreshed and returning.”
The Voice will return with solo host Sonia Kruger and new judge Ronan Keating joining.
“Australian audiences know Ronan Keating well, Jessie is back, she and Delta added a lot last year and the Maddens are back.
“The blind auditions always do well but we’ve seen a drop in audience when they finish. Last year the audience held steady because Jessie J got all the judges to step up and I think we will see the same this year. Other judges had to fight to get what they wanted.”
Backwell is keeping his powder dry on plans for the NRL Footy Show -this year there are matches on Thursday nights, giving Nine two possible options.
“The AFL Footy Show will continue on Thursdays but there are about 18 NRL games on Thursdays. So we have 2 choices: we either move The Footy Show (NRL) to Wednesday or we play it on the back of the NRL. I’m not in a position now to confirm which one we will go with,” he teases.
“We’ve done it previously and it’s worked well for us because you get late night share.”
“Hot Seat will be winning the slot again.”
He also makes a prediction in the heated game show battle between Hot Seat and The Chase.
“The Chase has done a good job in the spot, but Hot Seat is still competitive. We launch with a week of family specials and then we have a consumer promotion the week of survey,” he says.
“Obviously it’s a very strong format and what I believe will happen is that by mid year Hot Seat will be winning the slot again. I think the gap between the two will close.”
He goes one step further to explain the role of the 6pm lead-in, measuring the success not solely on the ratings but on the audience it delivers to News.
“There’s only one number that counts in 5:30 game shows, or in their case 5:00 –it’s the 30 seconds to 6:00. That’s why you put the show there –to deliver an audience to the News,” he explains.
“The show that delivers the biggest audience to the News is the show that’s winning the slot. That’s the number that counts.
“Primetime ratings start at 6:00 so you don’t write premium revenue into 5:30.”
This year Mornings is getting a makeover, returning with Sonia Kruger and David Campbell now branded as Today Extra.
“Rather than having Today finish and you go to a new show, the idea is to have a transition of the audience from Today into Today Extra. So there’s no break. All you will see is some branding changes.
“There will be one production team putting the whole show together so the tone will be consistent.”
Was it a concern that Advertorials are now part of Today‘s brand?
“It was discussed at length but I can’t see someone (saying) ‘Because there is an advertorial at 9:20 I won’t watch Today at 7:00.’ Content drives the shows, and talent is vital. I don’t think it will have any impact.”
“By the end it started to get much closer”
Karl Stefanovic is back for The Verdict but not until later in the year.
“Backwell concedes he is contemplating a new night and that the show needs further improvement.
“The Verdict we thought was close. Obviously it did it tough in the ratings. Every episode, in my opinion, improved. It got off to a shaky start. I’m happy to say the first episode wasn’t as strong as we had hoped,” he admits.
“That show is all about tone and balance and by the end it started to get much closer to what we were looking for.
“I think it will return and build its audience.”
And the verdict on another profile 2015 series, The Hotplate?
“There’s no decision on Hotplate, a courtcase is still pending.”
60 Minutes returns this weekend with a new look, the Logie Awards are back in May and key sporting events include State of Origin, NRL and Cricket continue.
Also coming are music doco series Soundbreaking and new observational series Prison: First & Last 24 Hours, later in the year. Cameras are also about to roll on a new transformation series as people pledge to change their life within 12 months.
“This Time Next Year is about to go into the studio and obviously we shoot the first part of it. Then there is a whole year in production for the stories to develop and be revealed, hopefully in the first quarter of 2017,” he says.
“And there are about 4 or 5 few local productions we’ve commissioned which we haven’t announced yet.”