“The big one for us is Chopper,” Nine Program Director Hamish Turner declares, “A 2 part drama telling a different tale to the movie. Aaron Jeffery is pretty good in the role!”
Set to screen across Sunday and Monday nights, Nine is boldly hoping to claim the first 2 nights of 2018 survey with a Married at First Sight / Underbelly combo (you can read more on Married at First Sight here). It will compete against Seven’s MKR & Winter Olympics offering, while I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here rolls out on TEN.
It’s been 4 years since viewers saw the Underbelly franchise, but Jeffery is winning high praise for his portrayal of the notorious crim, whilst Vince Colosimo, Kevin Harrington & Debra Byrne all return, along with key creatives from Screentime. An early question for 2018 is how it will perform when bio-pic numbers have been challenged across the industry.
“Underbelly promises a certain experience, but at the end of the day the audience will decide. I think it is a much-loved franchise which was ground-breaking when it initially came out,” says Turner.
“We came off the back of INXS and Molly doing 2 million plus, but the world has definitely changed since then. SVOD has fundamentally changed the way people consume Drama.
“Having said that something like The Good Doctor comes out and had a fantastic result at the end of last year.”
Returning Nine Drama Doctor Doctor is currently scripting ahead of an April shoot, whilst 2017 hit True Story with Hamish & Andy will tap into a bigger pool of bizarre stories. New local Drama Bite Club from Playmaker features Dominic Monaghan, Todd Lasance and Ash Ricardo.
“Bite Club is a crime procedural thriller set by the coast. It’s a crime of the week under-pinned by the fact that there is a serial killer, wreaking havoc, which is a series arc,” Turner explains.” It has an interesting feel and tone, kind of haunting…”
The title nods to the habits of the serial killer and early incidents for two lead characters as shark attack survivors.
“There is an incident that occurs which fundamentally changes the path of their life. Then we jump forward to the present time.”
No jumping the shark just yet, its TX date is yet to be determined.
Favourite dramas House Husbands, Love Child are not returning whilst Nine confirms Here Come the Habibs is also not returning.
Feel-good series Travel Guides, which Turner describes as “a sleeper hit” last year, is already back on air, with families visiting Europe, South Africa, Asia, Australia & New Zealand.
“We have 2 new travel groups, a trio of 3 blokes who met at Target, and 2 girls Taash & Mads who are looking for love while travelling.”
They join returning cast including self-professed holiday snobs Kevin & Janetta, plus outrageous Newcastle clan, the Frens.
“They bring a bit of visual comedy. That scene in the Japanese bathhouse…!” Turner laughs. “They don’t take themselves too seriously, so it fits nicely on the back of MAFS.”
Launching next week is Screentime’s Date Night (internally referred to as ‘Swipe at First Sight!’). The series includes both straight & gay couples, with family & friends advising on prospective dates.
“It looks into the trials and tribulations of online dating with a returning cast. It shows their attempts to find love online. It’s fun, with great characters in a similar vein in terms of tone and texture to Travel Guides,” he explains.
“It leads up to them swiping right and going on a date. It’s a nice, fun show, full of humour.”
It is joined by 6 part UK observational A Night with My Ex in which former couples attempt to rekindle their relationships.
Also coming in Q1 are 20 to One, RBT, 60 Minutes, season 2 of Better Late Than Never and David Attenborough series Blue Planet II.
“Blue Planet II was the biggest show of 2017 in the UK, with around 15 million viewers. We expect it to do similar numbers to what Planet Earth did last year.”
Nine also knows this year it has to counter-programme against 2 big sporting events on Seven, the Commonwealth Games & Winter Olympics.
“I think the Winter Olympics is a late-night play for Seven, so they will pick up some good share post-9:30 with that offering. But it doesn’t fundamentally affect our decision-making through that period,” Turner suggests.
“It will be interesting to see how the Commonwealth Games perform in the new media landscape with everything on offer. But it is from the Gold Coast so we expect there to be some robust numbers there.”
Highlights in Q2 include the return of Australian Ninja Warrior and The Voice.
“Ninja Warrior was the biggest show in 5 years with an average of 1.77m which changes the landscape. We’ve obviously seen the reaction to that from our competitors, as to be expected. We’ve shot the second series and we’re looking forward to bringing that to viewers.”
This year there will be additional episodes in the playout, without going overboard, but will the the show address the potential anti-climax of no series winner?
“It took 7 seasons in the States. In a sense that is what is special about the show. It doesn’t play by the rules. Although that sense of ecstasy in not having a winner isn’t there, it is fundamental to the format. So we can celebrate the person who made it the furthest, but to become Australian Ninja Warrior you need to get to the top of that bloody huge mountain!”
Nine is watching Seven’s move with interest as lookalike-promos tease Australian Spartan.
“There’s an absolute, deliberate tactic in terms of doing that. I doubt that they would be denying that. We’re very proud of Ninja as a phenomenal ratings hit and the audience spoke. (Seven) is reacting to that and as programmers, that’s what you do. I guess the question of being derivative is up to the audience to decide….
“We assume it is post-Commonwealth Games is the environment you would leverage to promote it. I believe there might be 2 seasons in the can.
“As a programmer you are always surveying the competitive landscape, looking at the scheduling to try and give your brands the best opportunity you can. I think we just watch it day in, day out… they have a pretty heavy presence with the promos at the moment, so that would indicate it is coming sooner rather than later.”
Joe Jonas replaces Seal as a coach on The Voice following his appearances in the US series.
“Both Boy George and Kelly Rowland were amazing and added a freshness to the show. Joe Jonas will add to that dynamic and bring something different to the table.”
In Q2 The Big Bang Theory will be joined by breakout US spin-off Young Sheldon.
Also expected in Q2, Nine is reviving hit TEN series Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation with Shaun Micallef and new captains Robyn Butler, Andy Lee and actor Laurence Boxhall.
“It doesn’t skip a beat. There’s a new panel bringing something different to it, but they haven’t completely shifted away from what people loved about the original iteration,” he continues.
“Shaun is a superstar and delivers a consistent performance and provides such a unique (intellectual property). It’s retro-tainment. There’s a big trend for it overseas.
“We are definitely looking at it being a returning franchise.”
There’s no word on when Love Island will launch on 9GO! but with filming to take place in Spain, expect that to get underway in warmer weather and a later playout in the calendar year.
“Love Island has been a phenomenal hit in the UK for ITV2, and we have Sophie Monk so that’s a big drawcard. A big strategy is investing in a multichannel, as a dual acquisition for 9GO! and 9NOW.”
Turner assures it won’t gravitate to the primary channel in order to remain true to targeting a 16-39 audience, and it won’t digress into raunchy content.
“It’s implied. It’s not over the top. A lot of it is tongue in cheek, and a bit of fun. The majority of them are 18-28 and they go to pair up, so they kind of believe they are in love within 24 hours! It’s dating on speed in a way,” he suggests.
“Any salacious scene is a pan away with a comedic voice-over. The V/O is really important to the format and there is a whole vernacular around the show. It’s visual but it’s not Temptation Island. They phrase it ‘Accelerated Reality.'”
Also new this year is 2 part UK series Eat Well For Less plus local shows, Buying Blind and Driving Test.
“Driving Test is shot in Darwin where your instructor is also your tester. So you get that continuation throughout the narrative,” explains Turner.
“There are people who have lost their licence, some going for it for the first time, so it is cross-generational.
“Buying Blind has a couple who can’t make a decision about where to live because of price, location or whatever. They hand over their life savings to 3 experts who purchase a house for them. So as you can imagine there is a reveal of dilapidated pad and another reveal of what it looks like after they have done it up.”
One of the biggies of the year is The Block back for its 14th season after dominating Q4 last year.
“The Block was up 20% year on year and what we saw spike were the characters. It was interesting going back to a suburban block, but The Gatwick in St. Kilda is far more public which will be interesting for the show -and interesting for the area. It will fundamentally change the fabric of the area,” says Turner.
Hot Seat remains under pressure from the dominance of The Chase, with Turner conceding, “We’ll be looking at the front-end of the show and what would best serve the format is an hour version.”
Change is also afoot for The Footy Show, especially the NRL edition, now revamped and hosted by Erin Molan, after more matches are scheduled for Thursdays. Turner could not confirm if it would retain its Live audience.
“I think we are still looking at what it will look like. We had to look at ‘What does the show look like in 2018 in an environment of later starts?’ So the changes are a reaction to that.
“With Eddie back at the helm of the AFL Footy Show it’s fair to say that was a fairly quick change. Now they’ve had a period of planning what they want it to look like. Dave Hughes is not coming back, Bec Maddern is heavily pregnant….(as is Erin)… which is great news for both of them.”
A Monday NRL panel show, expected to be titled Footy Classified, is also coming.
Finally, Family Food Fight has also been renewed, expected once again towards the end of the year.
“There was great sentiment towards series 1 of the show, with audiences responding to its inclusiveness. We believe in the format and will build on the strong foundation laid out a first series under our belt.”
But while This Time Next Year will not hit screens in 2018, Nine is returning a host of familiar titles including Today, Today Extra, A Current Affair, Getaway, State of Origin, NRL, Academy Awards, Carols by Candelight, ARIA Awards, and the Logie Awards on the Gold Coast.
With Nine now having topped revenue share for the first time in 13 years, Turner is optimistic about the months ahead and the lessons 2017 delivered.
“What we had to do was have a consistent schedule across our platform, and if there was a trend it was content that drives co-viewing. It allows a shared family experience, not just for us but on other networks as well,” he says.
“(Audiences) are dictating how they want to consume things and I think everyone has taken note. But that’s exciting because it opens up other opportunities for us.”