EXCLUSIVE: It’s the biggest TV series event in 2019 and it will screen on Foxtel from April 15: the final season of Game of Thrones.
Executive Director of Television Brian Walsh likens it to the finale of MASH, Friends and The Sopranos.
“This will be one of those moments when the world will be watching. It will be a massive television moment,” he tells TV Tonight.
The final season is fast-tracked to Monday April 15 but Seasons 1-7 are available for binge viewing on BoxSets. There are six final episodes plus a 2 hr. special Game of Thrones: The Farewell Event to follow the finale.
“It will be a tribute to one of the most beloved series of all time. It will be fantastic, fun and emotional, as a love letter to the cast and crew as they make Series 8,” Walsh explains.
“There’s one scene where Kit Harington cries as he reads his script.”
Walsh also reveals that in March Foxtel will launch a locally produced chat show Game of Thrones 360 for devotees and newcomers. A host will be announced soon.
“It will give subscribers the opportunity to catch up on past seasons and understand what all the phenomena is about. If you’re a fan it will be everything that is rich about GoT.”
There are rumours of a new streaming platform, an Entertainment equivalent of Kayo Sports, to draw in new subscribers and Game of Thrones is tipped to signal its launch.
“We’ve made no secret of the fact we will be expanding the Foxtel business beyond the cable and satellite legacy product we have. Kayo was the first of the streaming products we intend to roll out. I acknowledge there have been suggestions we will also be entering the general entertainment space,” Walsh concedes. “But that’s all I can say on that matter.”
“We are being provided with more hours than we’ve ever had before.”
Premium drama from HBO and FX, Foxtel’s two primary Drama suppliers, are gearing up for a huge output and viewers will reap the rewards. Walsh counts some 25 “blockbuster titles” from these 2 alone.
“That’s largely come about through the ownership change. AT&T acquiring Warner Media has resulted in a significant investment in more original productions in HBO, who are competing with Netflix, Amazon etc,” he continues.
“We are being provided with more hours than we’ve ever had before.
“FX is also stepping up its slate who will want to compete with HBO in the US market.
“So it’s an incredible strong, busy, rich slate this year, so it’s a matter of how we can accommodate it all, to be frank, a major change for what our viewers will notice.”
International dramas include The Watchmen, His Dark Materials, Gentleman Jack, Euphoria, Chernobyl, Pose, Mayans M.C., American Horror Story, Devs, The Walking Dead, Fosse / Verdon, the Deadwood movie, and season 2 of Big Little Lies with Meryl Streep.
The War of the Worlds, originally due in January, has been delayed by producers and expected in April / May.
Comedy highlights include Veep‘s final season and What We Do in the Shadows from New Zealand creators.
“It’s the story of vampires brought back to life 300 years later. It is so funny and out there.”
On the local Drama front is Secret City: Under the Eagle coming in March.
“It looks like establishing itself as a franchise for us -maybe not every year- but we love Anna Torv, Canberra as a vista, and we love having a contemporary political thriller on our slate. Chris Uhlmann & Steve Lewis have a couple of other cracker ideas that could sit under the Secret City banner,” says Walsh.
“All is not what it seems…”
Wentworth returns for a seventh year with production on Season 8 to begin in September (S9 is also approved).
“We’re really going to revisit Wentworth in terms of how we position and market it, to ensure the next 20 episodes are jaw-dropping. We really want to push it hard,” Walsh explains.
“It is a form of some pride that we will have eclipsed Orange is the New Black in terms of the number of episodes. We’ll hit 100 episodes by the time we wrap, which is great for Australian drama, women, our acting fraternity and writers.”
Walsh also confirms that following a two season renewal further footage will be filmed for Season 7 and teases that “All is not what it seems…” in storylines.
“We are not reshooting scenes but we are shooting additional scenes that will influence the narrative of subsequent seasons. But I will give away the storyline if I tell you any more than that….”
“It’s probably our biggest drama gamble in some time.”
Filming wrapped last week on the Gold Coast on The End from SeeSaw Productions and features Frances O’Connor, Harriet Walter and Noni Hazlehurst.
“It deals with how you choose to die. That’s the A storyline. The B storyline is a multigenerational family drama that deals with a young teenager who is identifying sexually as the opposite sex. It deals with palliative care, how we treat our elderly, dementia.
“It has humour and emotion, but it’s very important to me how we handle this in terms of how we market the show. It’s probably our biggest drama gamble in some time.
“It will be very controversial and provocative. It will have to be marketed with sensitivity and care.”
Also coming is a second season of hitman drama Mr. Inbetween, plus Tim Minchin drama Upright and Lambs of God about an isolated trio of nuns.
Foxtel has also been meeting with local producers to commission a returnable drama to fill the void left by A Place to Call Home, and hopes to make announcements soon.
“We like to have drama with an edge.”
“We’ve always said that in addition to Wentworth we want a signature, returning drama series with broad appeal,” he reveals.
“Our brief is always different to Free to Air. We like to have drama with an edge.”
‘Broad’ is the key to Foxtel’s plans, contrasting a string of recent productions that have been darker in subject.
“It’s true we have followed what has been a global trend in doing subject matter that you might describe as ‘dark.’ That’s certainly been the case, but I think audiences are looking for something a bit lighter. When HBO deliver shows like Sharp Objects, True Detective, what should we be doing in that space?”
Also to be announced soon is a new Head of LifeStyle, following the departure of Hannah Barnes. It is a genre that Foxtel prides itself on investing in. Adding international titles, Foxtel has 80 exclusive series and over 170 back catalogue titles, amassing to some 6000 hours in the genre.
Local hits include Selling Houses Australia and Love it or List It Australia, both of which star Gold Logie nominee Andrew Winter.
“Andrew Winter, who has been with the company for over a decade continues to be an outstanding performer. His two shows book-end the year.”
Another audience favourite The Great Australian Bake Off will air from August and there are no less than 5 new local titles to be announced spanning property, medical, well-being, and enhancing your life through better money management.
Gogglebox returns tomorrow with a new household, Malay-Australian siblings Tim & Leanne & Tim.
“We are in discussion with Shine about how Gogglebox evolves moving forward,” he adds.
“Currently we shoot in Melbourne and Sydney but I would like some households representative of regional Australia.”
“We’ve had our first summer of Cricket and have been absolutely thrilled”
Contrary to some press reports, Walsh says Foxtel is delighted with how FOX Cricket has performed, and notes it has topped STV channels across the summer.
“We’ve had our first summer of Cricket and have been absolutely thrilled with the numbers. The ratings every day over the summer have way exceeded our expectations. Steve Crawley and the production team has done an incredible job, our subscribers have embraced it. For the first time in our 23 year history we are a 12 month sports proposition,” he observes.
“We pioneered 4K and we will do more this year. There’s a very extensive line-up of 4K and we will add movies and series to the mix.”
“Sydney won’t happen again. Once bitten twice shy”
In other confirmations there will be no more of Australia’s Next Top Model (“We think the time has passed on Top Model. We’ve closed that book.”) nor The Real Housewives of Sydney (“Sydney won’t happen again. Once bitten twice shy”) but The Real Housewives of Melbourne remains a potential, with some hurdles to overcome.
“Housewives remains an important franchise but we have to be convinced the narrative is there to take it forward,” he admits.
“After the last series it started to become somewhat repetitive with the girls. It always comes down to Gina having a falling out with the new one. So they are working on that.”
“The biggest problem we have is where to put everything.”
But if Walsh has any challenge for the year ahead it is scheduling an embarrassment of riches. While subscribers are streaming more from On Demand, Foxtel still has a finite 7 day schedule to juggle on its traditional linear channels.
“The biggest problem we have is where to put everything. That sounds ridiculous but whilst we are very focussed on making everything On Demand, so therefore it shouldn’t be an issue as to how many shows you put up, we still have a linear business as well,” he remarks.
“I don’t forsee adding any linear channels. People are watching channels less and less and watching On Demand more and more. Our focus is on improving our VOD rights and our VOD library.
“That’s how people are consuming TV.”