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TV execs discuss ‘What’s missing in Australian TV?’

Exclusive: TV network programmers are agreed. We need more Live Television in 2019.

EXCLUSIVE: Every year as part of the annual Programmer’s Wrap I throw a question without notice to each Programmer.

In the past they have varied from “What show would you like to revive?” to “Which show would you like to pinch from another network” to “What kind of TV / Sound set-up do you have at home?”

This year I asked “What’s missing in Australian TV in 2019?”

It was an open-ended question that could describe a show, genre, personality, or anything to do with media or audience. The follow-up was also what plans they had to address it….

This year several Programmers hit on a common them: Live, Live, Live.

Daniel Monaghan, Network 10 Head of Programming:

I’m not just saying this because we’re about to do one, but I do think variety is missing from Television at the moment. It’s always been something Australians have done very well. We have a very good heritage in Live variety shows and I think it’s high time we get back into the game of entertaining audiences and keeping people on the couch, and make them tune into a Live, entertaining show.

And I don’t think there is only room for one, but a variety of variety shows across the year! As an industry we need to give people a reason to watch us Live and not revert across to the various platforms.

The other thing that’s missing is a little bit of cohesion about the reporting of our numbers. There’s a lack of positive responses as to how many combined people all the Free to Air networks bring each night. We are quick to pull shows down, but there’s not enough chatter about how many people we bring as a group every single night.

We’re very quick to say 25 million people watched Netflix across the globe, but very shy to say 4 million people watched us last night.

Even as the landscape diversifies, it’s quite an extraordinary number on a nightly basis.

Hamish Turner Nine Programming Director:

It would be good to embrace Live Television more. It’s something I feel it needs to come back, and the art of surprise in terms of what Live delivers. Things can become too constructed and Live is the antidote to that. When you are going hard down a certain path it’s sometimes good to turn 180 and go in a completely different direction.

And not just Entertainment. In the US they did Grease Live. It’s an expensive show. And you would remember they did a Drama that was Live. So there are formats that are tried and tested but maybe delivered in a different way.

What Hey Hey was able to capture was the intrigue of what’s going to happen next? No safety net. Things could capitulate quickly but that was the excitement and the fun of it.

We’re always talking about ways to do things differently, or spike the schedule. ‘Retro-tainment’ is continually talked about in the US. Everything old is new again.

As part of every commissioning discussion, all these things are discussed at length. But it’s about finding the right vehicle, or the right talent, to do it.

Brian Walsh, Foxtel Executive Director of Television:

When I think back to other eras we had IMT 4 nights a week, we had Don Lane, Bob Rodgers… it’s the one missing primetime show on Australian television. When visiting performers come to Australia their choices are the breakfast shows and that’s pretty much it. There’s not even a performance on The Project. It’s a huge missing link in the content offering by Australian television networks.

(At Foxtel) we don’t have scale. If you’re a publicist from a film company or record label you will always go to Free to Air first because you have the eyeballs.

Paul Murray Live on SKY is introducing a different format which includes Live performance. SKY News has done a deal with Sony Music so there are a number of artists appearing when it tours regional Australia. Hopefully that’s the start of something.

Ben Nguyen, SBS Channel Manager:

What comes to mind is The Chaser. I think there is a space for people who are doing comedy with a political undercurrent. I’m not necessarily saying we should have more Chaser. But there is room for the ‘anything could happen’ moments. There’s something really exciting about Television when you can create those moments where you’re not sure where it is going to go.

A bit of provocation and snark.

It’s something we’ve been talking about. It’s something we have dipped our toe into with Nazeem Hussain, John Safran.

A priority for us is to find lighter moments in the schedule. Whether it’s that or something lighter like Child Genius. We don’t want to be typecast as the heavy issues channel. We’ve always had more breadth than that.

Angus Ross, Seven Director of Programming:

What’s missing: An outrageously funny Australian animated series in primetime.

What am I doing about it: 7Mate is on the case.

Michael Carrington, ABC Head of Specialist & Entertainment:

If I had a wish for 2019 it would be that iview is seen as a streaming service and that we had the resources to create iview as a streaming service and not just a catch-up service. We are doing more and more of that by streaming to iview. We’re launching shows first on iview or as close to a linear launch as possible. What’s missing for me is the resource to turn iview into a fully blown free VOD service that the audience understood and went to, in the same way that they go to a Netflix or Stan app.

At the moment it feels like a Catch-Up app and that’s maybe what it used to be 10 years ago. So what’s missing is the audience connection to iview. But we’ll be doing everything we can to try and turn that around this year.

37 Responses

  1. There are a few things missing in television today, the most vital absentees are as follows: Diversity, talented direction, understanding of theatre within a corporate framework, talented programming, and a clearly defined sense of dignity and purpose.

    The tenants overdue for eviction, are these: Some of the (so-called) reality programs, overpaid and overrated front persons, very shlocky ads produced on a shoestring and voiced by nasal resonators and “screaming skulls” produced by camera operators and/or directorial imposters. The quality of these ads is so low as to be hardly perceivable, the best way to elevate them to the artful level they require is for the networks to deem them unworthy of airtime.

  2. Really need to wind back on the (so called) “reality” TV which is scripted nonsense i.e. nothing real about it.

    I rarely watch FTA these days as there’s nothing worthwhile (IMO) worth watching. Most of what I watch these days is SVOD (Netflix/Stan) as I can watch it when I am ready to watch.

    I really like the idea of ABC making IVIEW a streaming service in it’s own right.

  3. Hey Hey’s fall in the ratings was Nine’s own fought, because they gave into Daryl Somers wanting twenty shows in 2010. Also, Daryl didn’t change or tweek or change the vintage format. I like it how 10 is trying to revive live variety shows, such as Takeaway and Rove’s Saturday Night. But, people on social media always have something negative to say about it and then switching it off!

  4. Logically if something is deemed to be “missing” there must be too much of other programming. Too much reality, hours of pointless (almost back-to-back) news hosted by selfie-taking 20 somethings. Whats missing is: diversity, risk taking, budgets, new talent, original ideas (see risk taking), regional production outside of Syd &Mel. This whole centre on those two places is a giant yawn for everywhere else, and that’s the greater audience actually…The very problem with the current crop of industry thinkers is that they are way too much like dogs returning to their own vomit (thanks PJK). Time to turn the thinking upside down….. The execs above are largely uninspiring in their responses.

  5. HHIS used to be almost compulsory viewing as we chose our wardrobe for a Saturday night out. Pretty much without even thinking about it, it would just be there. Even Rove on a Sunday night was a little like that. Australian television needs to grow up a little. Drama like Janet King was almost really good, but stumbled with clunky dialogue and baffling storytelling. Performances great all round, but the story took eight weeks to really end up nowhere. Surely someone like Bevan Lee could grab a great premise and polish it up into something great. Mystery Road suffered from the same lack of strong guidance. By episode three it was hard to follow. It’s not really that hard to tell a compelling story that makes sense week to week, but the audience attention span has shrunken in modern times.

  6. Well if Seven are planning an animated show they may want to stop shuffling their wednesdays animations. 3rd week their line up has moved next week.
    I like that 10 is trying new stuff but it’s either a panel show with the same comedians rotated around (project, hughesy, movie) or if its not a panel then its a gameshow with the same hosts.
    If then want the younger demos back they need some younger major hosts in the know.
    I like Julia, Grant etc but they arent very fresh and apealing to your modern 25 year old, so to stick them on every show isnt wise.

  7. I miss all those juicy mini series from the 80s. Like Thorn Birds where Rachel Ward has an illicit affair with the sexy priest, Richard Chamberlain, and Return to Eden, where Rebecca Gilling gets thrown into a croc infested river by her meanie husband, James Reyne. Only to survive, and get plastic surgery for her croc scarred faced, and then becomes a supermodel whilst exacting revenge on the lead singer of Australian Crawl… You know, the good stuff. Way better than that MAFS business.

  8. The execs sound like they could be one of us talking about more live TV….are they forgetting they are in control? If they want more live TV, maybe they should actually commission more live TV. 10 are doing this & taking risks with Dancing, Takeaway & Rove’s show. Hope it doesn’t blow up in their face

  9. I’m surprised that there wasn’t a stronger emphasis on the “Late Night” style shows that America does so well. I can only really think of The Panel and Rove coming anywhere near those in an Australian context in the past 20 years. The social media following of a James Corden, Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, or a Graham Norton in the UK is fantastic – releasing easily digestible snippets from famous people that can lead you down the rabbit-hole of You Tube etc. Although the Australian Networks would find a way to stick way too many ads or pop ups in it and totally ruin it.

  10. I wasn’t a fan of most of the live shows mentioned so far. The only one I would make a point of watching would be Whose Line Is It Anyway?. But it feels like all of the best shows go to streaming now.

    If I was asked this question, I think I would answer “persistence”. No new show is ever given the chance to build an audience anymore. By the time the word gets around, the show has been bumped or cancelled. So many people are just now discovering Pointless – if it was moved to a reasonable time slot the ratings would be climbing.

  11. For those who remember the King , Graham Kennedy, made live an icon. Whats wrong seeing a dog piss on the floor, that famous Kennedy segment. Remember Kennedy playing the old man with his wife. Then there is Hey Hey and Red Faces n such. That is live TV. Bring that back…..but l doubt we will see it ever again.

  12. I think live TV is great, but it needs to be original. Nostalgia only gets your so far. The few Hey, Hey specials some years ago rated through the roof as people re-lived some memories, but when it went to series it died. Will and Grace is a similar case it point, nice to re-visit the characters we used to love for a few episodes, but times have changed and it’s now one of the lowest rated prime-time shows on NBC. The TV landscape has changed so much with catch-up and streaming and FTA needs to work out how to stay relevant, live is certainly one element it has at its disposal to do that, but I really don’t think bringing back ‘live’ format shows that people used to love is the way to achieve it.

  13. Way too reality shows on TV and most in my opinion are awful. I much refer the cooking shows done by the likes of Ian Huetson (sp), Ben and Scoffield with no drama which is what I think brings in the ratings, not what they are cooking. Not looking forward to this new Channel 10 show with Dr Chris and Julia, I find her over the top. What else is missing is good shows like when we had Don Lane, Bert Newton, Mike Walsh, Tony Barber and Ray Martin; Darryl Summers. They have also forgotten that there are people over the age of 55 in this world. We aren’t even worth rating what we watch. Most I know prefer the older shows on the ‘off channels.’ We have lost Miss Fisher Mysteries and Dr Blake which were fantastic. I hope the new Miss Fisher show does well. How about a quiz show like Temptation; Pick-A-Box. The two hosts on Pointless would be good for a show like that surprisingly they make…

  14. One of the big problems with bringing back “live” TV is that nobody knows how to do it well any more. I started in the industry in the 60s and “live” was what we did, but the post-production industry has taken over and the “we can fix it in post” has become the mantra. The more recent US live shows mentioned were full of errors because you can’t just throw a bunch of freelancers together and pretend that they’re a “crew”. The only one doing it well these days is SNL because the same people have been at it for years.

  15. As ‘daggy’ as HHIS is, there needs to be a modern version of it. Hopefully Rove’s Bring Back Saturday Night does that.
    But yes – less reality shows. Just because they rate well, networks tend to neglect the audience that cannot stand them. That’s why they turn to Netflix. Not just because it’s ad-free and to watch in our own time, but it’s because of the high-quality content for drama, comedy, soaps etc. Reality shows may be cheaper in the long run, but along with it comes the negativity.

    With ‘Retro-tainment’, how about you release classic shows online? There may be lots of red-tape, but that’s where ads and monthly subscriptions could cover some of the costs. You simply need to YouTube a classic show to find someone’s VHS copy up there – and look at the view / hit rate. There’s an audience out there… just a thought.

  16. The US made one successful live show, and once the novelty wore off abandoned them. They returned to singing competitions and hospital/paramedic soaps: Gray’s Anatomy, The Good Doctor, The Resident, New Amsterdam, Chicago Med, Chicago Fire, 911 and what is getting renewed. What’s missing from Australian TV is the audience. 4m people watching means 20m weren’t!

  17. What is missing? Quality Oz TV dramas!

    Currently, the scripts are poor, the casting is terrible (the same faces appear in almost every show) and the ones doing the rounds right now are just plain boring. Seven’s “Wanted” series (two women on the run) was a step in the right direction. Whoever scripted Wanted….give him or her more work.

    Bring on Quality Oz Dramas!

      1. Completely agree. Peak TV has completely happened with out us. High quality European dramas are now being consumed by the world, but ours look like they’re a generation behind. Wentworth is the only show that even comes close. Secret City was decent, great cast, terrible dialogue. I’m yet to meet someone else who saw it. Mystery Road is the kind of depressing, boring, worthy clunker we have made far too long.

  18. Quality scripted dramas with three dimensional characters, compelling storylines and talented actors? Scripted dramedies which are funny? A musical TV series (e.g. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Glee, Smash, etc)? A good science-fiction or fantasy TV series with a budget to do justice to the setting? A good apocalyptic TV series (e.g. a Mad Max-esque world based in Australia following a global catastrophe, whether climate change or otherwise)?

  19. Brian Walsh “we had IMT 4 nights a week, we had Don Lane, Bob Rodgers”. Not sure that Bob Rogers was ever on TV, as a regular show host. A Sydney radio announcer, aged 91, currently a DJ on 2CH. He is correct in saying “It’s a huge missing link in the content offering by Australian television networks” but when 1.4M voyeurs watch the soft porn garbage on Nine why would Nine be keen to make anything else? (“Voyeur: a person who watches other people’s private lives”-Cambridge Dictionary)

  20. Thx yet again David.
    I never stopped watching HeyHey. ,And would still be.
    HHIS had everything these execs are talking about. I’m sure they regret its original demise, as they found out later , it is hard to get that ‘weekly fix’momentum back.

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