EXCLUSIVE: Three weeks is a long time in Television.
While Seven and 10 are dealing with all manner of headaches with their programming, Nine has been firing with Married at First Sight, on the back of the Australian Open. For the first time in a decade, Nine has opened the survey year in pole position.
As Adrian Swift, Nine’s Head of Content Production & Development tells TV Tonight, there is a ‘halo effect’ that is resonating across its schedule.
“The tennis was a gift. We always would watch the tennis on Seven and think ‘We’d love to have that.’ Make no mistake, we never moaned ‘Tennis is not as good as Cricket.’ And when we got it, it was as great as we thought it would be,” he reveals.
“But did we think MAFS would come out of the gates as hard as it did? No, we did not. We didn’t think ‘This is going to change everything.’
“But we knew what had happened (in 2018) so we knew it would work.
“Bad Mothers is doing well, Travel Guides is doing well, Australian Crime Stories is doing well. It’s what Seven always had with My Kitchen Rules. Seven could launch anything off the back of MKR. Suddenly we find ourselves in the same situation.”
He adds, “60 Minutes has a new lease of life. Sarah Abo what an absolute star. A Current Affair is doing amazing work against Home & Away, our News last night won nationwide for the first time in a while.
“But be careful. Schadenfreude is a dangerous thing,” he warns.
“Our guiding principal has always been: if it happens, you show it”
MAFS has been described as a TV ‘wrecking ball’ crushing ambitious new 10 shows, punishing MKR to new lows and giving media an insatiable stream of clickbait articles and radio gossip.
Within Nine there are ongoing conversations about just how extreme the storylines should go. There were reports CEO Hugh Marks wanted the show to be toned down, but Swift plays down any CEO directives as part of a network approach.
“The nub of the matter is, there’s a lot of talk internally about ‘How far do you go with these shows?’” he asks.
“Our guiding principal has always been: if it happens, you show it, and you never concoct anything.
“But when it gets really weird, do you not show it then? If you live by your own rules you are kind of duty-bound to show it.
“There have been some extremes that have happened, but to what extent do you feature that in the storytelling?”
“Hugh has been an advocate for less Ines & Sam.”
Yet the conflict -to put it mildly- has driven ratings and fashioned the show into a kind of primetime soap. At its worst the show has depicted infidelity, betrayal, abuse, and denigrating women.
“They are a little bit of a sugar rush, versus the core stories with genuine relationships developing. That’s the conversation we have internally. Too much Ines & Sam (versus) Not enough Ines & Sam,” Swift continues.
“Hugh has been an advocate for less Ines & Sam.
“Yes you can have a bit of that… but you always have to come back to the people looking for love, playing by the rules.”
But rules are made to be broken and there are plenty across subsequent seasons who do just that. Swift insists the show takes the high moral ground in addressing affairs and bad behaviour.
“It happens, and we need to show it, but it’s not actually what the show is about. The show itself cannot condone that behaviour.
“It’s a subtle difference. Whoever thought we would be applying relatively philosophical judgements to a show like this? But we do. We think about it a lot.
“If people think it’s a giant wife-swap party, it’s over. We’ve lost.
“The core of the show is, we genuinely hope people will find love. Have we had a lot of success at it? No. But it is our absolute aim.
“At the end of this series hopefully we’ll have more.”
“What shocked us was the reaction to Mel.”
Incidents such as psychologist Mel Schilling reprimanding Bronson for directing the C-word at Ines blew up into a storm, much of it directed at Schilling for failing to address Ines’ behaviour.
“We were very clear not to broadcast (the C word), and we were very clear that anything which may have identified the word (was not broadcast). We have a responsibility to our audience,” he insists.
“What shocked us was the reaction to Mel. We get that Ines behaved terribly with Bronson. Yes Ines was appalling, but you can’t treat women like that.”
So if the audience is crying foul, it’s a disconnect in the show’s storytelling?
“Yes, there is a disconnect. The audience reacted in a way we didn’t see coming. Believe me, we spent hours talking about that episode.”
Married at First Sight has only just passed its halfway point, which is bad news for the competition and Nine has every reason to remain optimistic about its key titles for the remainder of the year.
“Lego Masters is a complete change of pace, so we don’t do what Seven did with My Kitchen Rules into House Rules.
“We have The Voice, Australian Ninja Warrior and The Block all coming. All of which are very different to Married.”
He declines to detail plans for Q4 and whether Family Food Fight is returning.
“But we are very happy with our end of year,” he teases.
“We’re not concerned. We are absolutely convinced we will get there.”
But if there are any question marks over the schedule it is around breakfast television. Today has hit all-time lows and failed to benefit from the MAFS halo. Media continue to scrutinise the show, even forced to apologise for incorrect reports.
Swift insists the network has patience for a long term results.
“The reality is when you change your line-up it takes a long time to bed in. We’re not concerned. We are absolutely convinced we will get there.”
Nine is also close to confirming its plans for a new-look AFL Footy Show, taking a strong entertainment approach under producer Anthony Watts (Spicks & Specks).
“We’re really happy with where we are,” Swift assures.
“It’s taken a long time and the Melbourne Footy Show has taken up more of my time than MAFS!”