“It’s MKR season!” Seven Head of Programming Angus Ross declares.
It’s that time of year when Seven’s reality juggernaut makes rivals nervous as the biggest show on TV spearheads Seven’s year and provides an unrivalled promotion platform.
“My Kitchen Rules was the biggest show on TV again last year, as it was the year before,” Ross told TV Tonight late last month.
“There was daylight between MKR and the next regular show, in terms of ratings.
“But the competitive landscape will certainly be different. None of the shows Nine had last year are returning into that mix. But we go in knowing we have another great series of My Kitchen Rules. That always gives you a lot of heart when you know you’re dealing with a really great show.
“It is like Live Sport meets a Soap Opera”
“It is like Live Sport meets a Soap Opera and you get that rolling thunder of multiple nights per week, and you just get this momentum with a show like that. That’s why we believe in the 3 or 4 nights a week roll-out, with a result every single night, using punters.”
With a week of episodes already under their belt, Ross says there are three records broken this week (last night contestants Bek & Ash scored 26 of 100 points -the lowest in MKR history).
“It’s a fantastic bunch of instant restaurants to conclude Group 1. But you will be getting more instant restaurants than ever before, and you will go on a fantastic journey with some of the biggest stars in Australian television –the headliners being Pete & Manu and of course Colin. And a new mystery judge who will be joining Colin’s round, as per last year.”
Despite running across several months, Ross says MKR has fewer episodes than MasterChef and The Block and notes that this year the extra instant restaurants may not be quite so straightforward.
“How they roll out is something that viewer will experience as we move through the show. We’re always looking at how we can switch the show up. We don’t just want to serve up the same show as 2016.
“We also stunt the series with those key hero or villain eps, which are always the ones that spike very high. We obviously have those falling on key dates for us, so we can sell a whole line-up. Those ‘spiked’ episodes are very strategically placed as we move through the series.”
“Some of the opinions put forward in this show are quite confronting.”
Launching off the back of MKR is controversial observational series Bride and Prejudice with couples’ relationships opposed by an outspoken family member.
“They have obstacles in the way of the happiest day of their life –chiefly their parents- whether they are disagreements around sexual orientation, the colour of your skin, age and those sorts of things. It creates a lot of inner family conflict and we follow the journey of these people as they head toward their wedding day. So it’s the trials and tribulations of ‘Will everyone get to the church on time?’ if you like, ” Ross continues.
“It’s done in an ob doc style. Very raw, very emotional.
“Like Seven Year Switch it’s from A&E and we are obviously taking the format and ‘Australian-ising’ it for a big, free to air audience. We had great success with Seven Year Switch and we think this is another show that can do the same thing with a unique, Seven-slant.”
But Seven kept the title of the show under wraps from its participants, to avoid them being influenced by the US edition.
“We needed the engagements / weddings to be a surprise to the families.
“I think the show will spark off a lot of chatter. We all have different opinions on things and we all have a right to, thankfully. But some of the opinions put forward in this show are quite confronting.
“They are family and you’re born with them whether you like it or not, as the old saying goes, and that’s where the conflict is. Ideally everyone wants their parents at their wedding day and therein lies the journey.”
In recent years Seven has launched its slate with big bio-dramas around INXS, Peter Allen and Molly Meldrum. Next Sunday Hoges premieres with Josh Lawson as the larrikin Aussie comedian.
“Hoges is one of the biggest stars Australia has ever produced with his TV shows and his foray into Hollywood being the biggest-grossing Aussie film ever, with Crocodile Dundee. Obviously he has a colourful past, working on the Harbour Bridge but also his love life. So it makes a great ‘battler’ yarn with an Aussie-made-good on the international stage, from very humble origins.”
Bravely sporting a period wig, Josh Lawson is one to watch, says Ross, before adding. “I’ve always been a massive Ryan Corr fan ever since Packed to the Rafters, so I think he’s great. Justine does a fantastic job, but I’m very pleased with everyone in that show.
“We like them because they are big events to kick off your year or a second quarter. You lock in a whole night with Seven News, My Kitchen Rules, Hoges and hopefully a great promotional platform to promote the rest of your week,” he notes.
“They are low-commitment (for viewers) versus a lot of drama as well. It’s 2 nights or 1 night and you get a great story over and done with.”
“Blue Murder was one of my favourite miniseries ever.”
An Olivia Newton-John bio (its full title is still to be decided), featuring Delta Goodrem, is in production while Warnie may or may not be seen in 2017.
“I like have these things in the bank as options. So ideally, we’ll have it ready for the end of the year. But if not we’ve got it for the start of 2018.”
One of the most anticipated new projects is Blue Murder: Killer Cop.
“It has outstanding performances from Richard Roxburgh, Toni Collette, with an all-star cast. The original Blue Murder was one of my favourite miniseries ever. I was so amazed by it, so to be able to do the follow-up is amazing. It will come with an absolutely lethal promo.”
Together with returning dramas Wanted, The Secret Daughter, 800 Words and Home and Away, Ross has every reason to be upbeat about its local drama slate.
“We’re very happy with where we are in the drama space.”
True crime series Murder Uncovered, produced by Mark Llewellyn, launches on Wednesday reinvestigating famous Australian crimes hosted by Michael Usher.
“If you look at what we did with the (Anita) Cobby storyline last year, that would be the blueprint for this,” Ross continues.
“It’s more about somebody who’s never spoken about a crime before, bringing you new insight into these crimes.”
Million Dollar Cold Case will profile Victoria Police crimes that carry a $1m reward, perhaps echoing the network’s long success with Australia’s Most Wanted.
“I don’t like to trivialise things by saying they are amazing yarns, but a lot of murder cases are very interesting with lots of twists and turns. So this is looking at those cases, putting forward the reward and hoping to bust open those cases,” he says.
On the question of reward payments, that will be up to police.
“There are very strict protocols around what qualifies for that but we’re hoping to expose them to a large Free to Air audience, and re-igniting interest in the cases.”
New Seven-produced series Yummy Mummies will appeal to fans of the Real Housewives.
“They are some of the most outrageous mummies you’re ever likely to come across,” he insists.
“It’s one of those show where you will not be able to believe your eyes, to be honest. It’s a glimpse into lives that you certainly don’t see every day.”
Another Seven-produced series is a new local format, Aussie Property Flippers.
“It follows the best property flippers in Australia and gives you an insight into how they make a lot money in really quick time, doing up houses. Every episode you will get a couple of auctions, and see how well they’ve performed in (tight) time-frames. The amount of money they make! I wish I had the skills to renovate.”
House Rules is currently filming “amazing renovations on a scale we haven’t seen before.”
“Absolutely no apologies….. it’s a hugely-sticky show.”
The dating / relationship genre has been big for Seven with First Dates and Seven Year Switch.
“The relationship space, on a whole, had one miss with Kiss Bang Love.
“Seven Year Switch last year was the biggest new demographic powerhouse on TV. It was massive for us, launched behind MKR. It’s coming back this year in Q2.”
Last year married couples were forced to live with new partners, as “marriage therapy,” which attracted plenty of criticism -something that is important for network publicity. Ross remains unapologetic about the show’s controversial format.
“Absolutely no apologies,” he answers. “It’s a noisy show, and with the subject matter you expect you will get some criticism, but it’s a hugely-sticky show. It had a great audience, with great demographics who came back week in, week out.”
But this year won’t the participants know they are going to be separated and living with new partners?
“They do. And we were still inundated with people who wanted to be on it.”
It takes all kinds…
But this year there is no X Factor or Dancing with the Stars, leaving empty timeslots later this year. Seven has already announced Marco Pierre White for Hell’s Kitchen Australia with more local titles to be announced.
Previously-announced Sunday Night Take-Away is also not expected.
“We love the show but obviously Ant & Dec in the UK are lightning in a bottle. They are such big stars so you have to find that. It’s a very expensive show to make so like Dancing with the Stars you have to run a ruler over them and see what the expected audience delivery is, and work out if you’re getting bang for buck. At the moment the equation doesn’t quite add up for us,” he concedes.
“It’s still a show we like but it’s a matter of getting the financials right.”
On the question of unaired Cannonball episodes, Ross assures it is coming this year.
“It’s all about having options to swing to, or in that case, leap to and splash in the water!” he quips.
“Don’t forget Celebrity Splash came in at 1.4m for the first episode. And yes, we should have stopped at one!”
Clearly in a lighter mood, Ross ends with a programming caveat. Or possibly a warning.
“I do reserve the right to resort to Cats! I’ve got a whole new season 3 of Make You LOL . I think there’s about 100 episodes!”
Tomorrow: Nine Network’s Hamish Turner.