Hard decision to let Murder Uncovered go
Seven news boss reflects on the economics of culling a show, and the strength of Sunday Night.
In Part 2 of an interview with Seven News boss Craig McPherson he discusses Sunday Night, late night news, and ending Murder Uncovered.
It’s never a pleasant occasion when a network executive has to pull the plug on one of their shows. It means staff who have worked hard on a show will be let go. But in the stark reality of cost-effective television it happens frequently.
For Seven’s Director of News & Public Affairs Craig McPherson, shutting down Murder Uncovered came just weeks after it had been announced as returning in network Upfronts.
“It was difficult. It was a creation of mine and Mark Llewellyn’s and there were a lot of good people involved in it,” McPherson tells TV Tonight.
“It was a strictly economic decision and a hard decision to make, and hard to tell people it no longer existed when… it was announced and it was planned.
“There is some (unaired) product that needs finalising but you will see that in other forms in the weeks and months ahead.”
One story that had been investigated by the programme was the unsolved mystery of the Beaumont Children.
In February Seven’s work to uncover new evidence led to a police dig in South Australia. Media was fascinated with the potential that a 50 year old mystery might finally be solved. Realigning the material under the Seven News brand, Michael Usher and his team led news coverage.
“They believed they found the most-likely killer and found some issues with a site that was identified previously,” McPherson explains.
“We gave the police all of what we had, and to be fair the collaboration was terrific. SA Police were very good.
“On that basis the programme and what we had suddenly became public knowledge very quickly.”
“A case of that magnitude was always going to create noise”
But the official police dig did not discover human bones. Was it a major disappointment to the team?
“It turns out it wasn’t there. So mixed feelings, sure,” McPherson admits. “I won’t say it needed to be done but when you have programmes that go to places that have been missed, or not seen, a fresh pair of eyes and intense work takes it somewhere.
“A case of that magnitude was always going to create noise and we understood it had to get out. The police were doing an official dig so that created a whole expectation.
“But it’s still unresolved and that is the sad part of it all. From what I have been told they got dozens of new leads.”
Sunday Night recently returned to the schedule, now in its 9th season.
“It’s been in a tough slot in an environment that hasn’t been doing what we would all hope. That will soon change. Last year it grew in All People numbers which was no mean feat. They have a very good bank of product and I think it will have a very good year.”
“Yes, it does get frustrating, but that’s the way it is now”
The show often moves in the schedule, airing any time from 7pm to 9pm. While it proves robust with programming changes, is it a frustration to those behind the show?
“Yes, it does get frustrating, but that’s the way it is now,” he admits. “The whole landscape of media & television is changing, and continues to change. But it also goes to the malleability of the brand and the product that it can be moved and still have an audience. Not a lot of programmes can sustain that.”
Late night news is another opportunity not currently being pursued by commercial networks. McPherson elaborates on how getting the right model is a stumbling block within.
“It’s a debate News directors have with Programming bosses. There’s the way they would like to see it done and the way we know we can do. It’s getting that other element that sets it apart from every other News programme that gives it a bit more reason to watch,” he continues.
“That to me seems to be the stumbling block. It’s not necessarily our forte in coming up with that style, but at some point it will sync up.”
“Free to Air stations will be characterised more than ever before by their News products”
Finally, McPherson also hints at a desire for more in-depth news coverage, and how News will remain a brand distinguisher for Free to Air networks.
“I feel there needs to be programmes that dig deeper into the never-ending 24/7 new cycle that gets exhausted on Free to Air and all over the digital space. So some more specific programmes in that regard. These things cost money and at the moment the equations don’t add up but I think in time that will change,” he observes.
“I think Free to Air stations will be characterised more than ever before by their News products, particularly with the insurgents and distractors, Netflix and those big-scale operations. They are big in scale but they don’t really hone in on the locality of where they exist.
“I’d love to have other programmes. I don’t know any head of News & Current Affairs who wouldn’t be saying that.”