EXCLUSIVE: “For Seven it’s new leadership, a new attitude, and a whole new approach to the schedule. We’ve been given the means to do what we need to do at 7:30,” says Network Director of Programming Angus Ross.
This year Seven has signalled stripped programming across its early-evening schedule all year, which will see a mix of Reality & Entertainment. Refreshed and re-energised, Seven has key assets to bolster its performance including Seven News, Sunrise, AFL, Seven Studios and the trump card, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
My Kitchen Rules: The Rivals kicks off this Sunday, one night ahead of Married at First Sight and Australian Survivor, but against the I’m a Celebrity finale and the Australian Open Men’s Final.
“The Australian Open final is a big event, no doubt. But I think history has shown that there’s always an audience for alternative programming on that night and it’s just about getting your fair share of that,” he explains.
MKR has undergone significant changes this year with “Fans vs Faves” to be mentored by Colin Fassnidge and Manu Feildel respectively.
“We think the aspect of Colin’s house versus Manu’s house gives a new, exciting feel to the show. It gets both of those chefs a lot more involved with the contestants and it really brings their passion to the fore.
“This show we know always has a job to do in Q1, but it does the job for us. You’ll recall last year though there was Married at First Sight, which we know is a huge show, then there was My Kitchen Rules and then there was daylight,” Ross insists.
‘There’s a lot more humour than in previous series”
Rivalries begin from the first instant restaurant in one of 2 home bases used and all 10 teams dining together. Teams must also score as a group, which triggers strategic gameplay.
“It’s quite controversial in some of the scoring,” he continues.
“But it’s still very MKR. You’re going to get heroes, you’re going to get villains. Some of them you know already know and some of them are going to be quite the delightful surprise this year.
“I will say I think there’s a lot more humour than in previous series.”
Also coming in Q1 is dog grooming contest Pooch Perfect hosted by Rebel Wilson.
“It’s very funny and family friendly. I think it’s a good antidote to the harder-edged Reality it’s going to be competing against,” he explains.
“There’s been a lot of interest in the format from around the world and we’re very happy with what we’ve seen so far. Rebel is hilarious in it, very warm and funny.”
First Dates and Home & Away have returned, with the latter locked onto its 7pm slot, while success story The Front Bar and evergreen hit Better Homes & Gardens return soon.
“It is going to create headlines around the world”
International titles The Good Doctor, SWAT, 9-1-1 and new UK thriller Gold Digger all screen in Q1 while true crime Falconio: An Outback Murder is also anticipated.
“It’s obviously an extremely well-known case. When this rolls out it is going to create headlines around the world. I think it’s going to be quite controversial,” Ross says of Falconio.
Seven also has the Academy Awards Live on February 10 and Koala Hospital filmed during the bushfire season due later in February.
Other international titles this year include Flesh and Blood, 911: Lone Star and new seasons of The Bay, Bancroft and Liar.
Q2 will feature Farmer Wants a Wife for the first time on Seven with returning host Natalie Gruzlewski.
“She obviously did an amazing job on the past series, but we really feel that this is a show with its heart in the right place. It is authentically looking for love. With some of our series in the past that were perhaps, lacking some of that authenticity, they didn’t turn out as we’d hoped. So we’re really going back to basics with this one,” Ross reveals.
Despite the nation facing a drought crisis, Seven plans to factor this into storylines.
“We were literally there on one property when the drought broke. And I don’t just mean with the arrival of the female participants. It actually started raining!
“Drought doesn’t affect every farm, but yes there is an impact, and it is part of the show. But it’s not the whole show.”
“There is a major format twist in the show”
Also refreshed is renovation contest House Rules: High Stakes. Now with new hosts and judges, this sees contestants renovating a Gold Coast penthouse.
“It’s like something stuck in a James Bond film from the 1970s, but it needs to be brought into present day. It is a massive job, but it is the most insane-looking apartment that you will ever see. And at the completion of that apartment, there is a major format twist in the show…”
Jamie Durie co-hosts with Abbey Way while Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, Kyly Clarke and Saul Myers are 2020 judges.
“I just watched the first episode yesterday and was very, very pleased. It’s been completely refreshed and it feels like a very different show,” Ross notes.
Reckoning, a US drama filmed on Sydney’s Northern Beaches with Aden Young and Sam Trammell, is expected in Q2.
“It about a serial killer in a US town and a battle of the minds between the sheriff of the town and the killer.
“The Playmaker guys are great at getting production values on screen.”
New locally-made sitcom Fam Time will be partnered with the final season of Modern Family in Q2. Michala Banas stars as a selfie-mad, blogging mum of Australia’s “most post-modern modern family,” who are all obsessed with their devices. The cast also includes Benson Jack Anthony, Duncan Fellows, Karina Banno and current TV fave, Rhonda Burchmore.
“She’s fabulous in it, very, very funny!” says Ross.
“Sitcoms are difficult but we’re having a crack at it. It’s a great cast.”
One of Seven’s big swings for 2020 is Big Brother, and Ross offers more details for frenzied fans.
“This is a version of Big Brother where the game really has changed. New rules. New housemates. New house,” he declares.
“With the vision that Endemol Shine have presented to us and the really talented people working on the show, we’re very confident with what we’re going to get – a Big Brother for 2020 that will be fun, competitive and thrilling. I’m also pleased to say that Australia will still get to decide who wins Big Brother.
“It’s like the house at the edge of the world.”
“The scale of the Big Brother house that is being built will blow people away. It is a huge, exciting build on North Head in Sydney. It’s like the house at the edge of the world.
“It’ll start filming very shortly and it will be coming pre-Olympics.”
I ask if the network considered The Circle ahead of Big Brother?
“Big Brother at the very least represents an established brand. Look at the amount of attention and the reaction to the announcement. That sort of organic buzz and excitement you can’t underestimate,” he explains. “Most of the time you have to pay for that sort of noise.”
Tokyo Olympics begin on July 24 and runs until August 9, followed by the Paralympics, and with Australia’s love of Sport, Seven is pumped.
“It has a favourable timezone, with access on any screen you like. I think Kurt (Burnette, Sales) has already called it out as being the most-watched Olympics ever. From my purely selfish programming perspective, what better launchpad for new shows than an Olympics? It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Sure enough Seven will unveil big new titles following the Olympics, including new Bevan Lee-penned drama Between Two Worlds.
“It’s a very ambitious drama,” Ross continues. “It’s about these two very different worlds: one is a world of big business and the other is the world of the suburbs. It’s how these two seemingly-disparate families become connected through a series of events. It’s done on a very large scale.
“This is a show we’re immensely proud of.”
“This is a show we’re immensely proud of. It’s 10 episodes and we want to give it the best launchpad possible and the only way we can get the level of awareness that we need for a drama is to showcase it during the Olympics.”
RFDS, with Justine Clarke, Rob Collins and Stephen Peacocke, will also be promoted through the Olympics.
“It’s a look at the real world of outback medical drama, but no relation to the previous Flying Doctors series. Other than a similar setting, there’s no connection. It’s about modern day medicine in the outback, and just how dangerous it really is.”
Seven’s big reality play post-Olympics will be Plate of Origin with Manu Feildel, Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan. A Seven Studios original, it is described as a worldwide food fight pitting cuisine against cuisine, plate against plate, cook against cook.
“We will also have Mega Mini Golf which got a pretty big reaction at our Upfronts,” Ross continues. “We will be making announcements shortly on the commentators and some other special guests. I can tell you is there will be a legendary Australian sporting commentator involved and also, a legendary Aussie sporting icon as part of the show.
“It’s going to be 18 holes of hell”
“It’s going to be 18 holes of hell. We’ll be flying the Aussie contestants over there to use the US course and that’s being produced by Eureka.”
SAS: Who Dares Wins, unrelated to former series Who Dares Wins, will also be filmed overseas with celebrities from sporting and entertainment worlds.
“This show really is the toughest test and I think it puts the ‘real’ back into Reality. It’s more an ob doc, following celebrities getting put through the course you have to go through, to get into the Special Forces.”
Ross describes the show as “tougher than Bear Grylls” and adds, “the level of cast that we have on this show is really going to surprise people.”
Australia’s Got Talent, now with Sonia Kruger as a judge, will be a Champions versus Challengers edition.
“It’ll be a mix of overseas acts and new Australian acts.”
Also coming are Wife Swap Australia and All-New Monty: Guys & Gals with Sam Frost, Adam Dovile, Shane Jacobson, Todd McKenney and Georgie Parker.
Now-axed are Bride & Prejudice, The Super Switch and The Proposal while there is no decision yet on Secret Bridesmaid’s Business, The Real Dirty Dancing, Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries or Instant Hotel.
“It’s not coming back this year,” Ross says of Instant Hotel, “but it is a Seven Studios format and it’s one of those ones that Netflix really likes. I wouldn’t rule it out.”
Little Big Shots is also not returning this year.
“Factuals were once great blotting paper, when there were less choices for people.”
There will be more Border Security, new Surveillance Oz episodes and Highway Patrol specials. There is no decision on Motorcycle Cops.
“Factuals were once great blotting paper, when there were less choices for people. Now there are more choices. They don’t do the same sort of numbers that they used to, unless they’re in a really favourable slot where they can pop, which is what you saw with Paramedics on Nine or Ambulance. Quite often when they’re up against a stripped reality show the floor is wiped.”
Drama series Australian Gangster is also yet to play but awaiting court cases to conclude.
What about rumours of a new midday offering and changes to afternoons?
“No changes at present,” Ross advises.
Meanwhile 7mate sees new Simpsons in February, plus a renewal for Fat Pizza: Back in Business later.
“It was the number one show on 7mate for the year.
“It hit the sweet spot with that audience so we’ll be going again.
“(Paul Fenech’s) got amazing energy and an amazing production model and he’s brilliant to work with.”
Also coming to 7mate is ‘Australia’s answer to South Park’ in Regular Old Bogan from Melbourne duo Stepmates.
“That one’s right out there! It’s very, very full on -possibly even more so than Family Guy. It’ll be a little bit controversial and noisy, I think. I might have to take my phone off the hook for a week!” he laughs.
“The Seven News brand is incredibly powerful, and we wield it at will.”
Without Sunday Night Seven plans a mix of true crime specials, drama and entertainment from 8:30 Sundays. But is it a concern the network no longer has current affairs?
“Seven News brand is the dominant news brand in Australia. Craig McPherson leads that team and does an incredible job. Sunrise, Seven News during the day, 6pm News, The Latest… all of these are crucial to our Seven News brand.
“We also have the option of moving The Latest earlier. We very often bust into the schedule with a Seven News special as event programming, and run specials from time to time. The Seven News brand is incredibly powerful, and we wield it at will. ”
“It’s making sure we don’t give our competitors a night off”
While Sunday Night was cut under James Warburton, Ross says the new CEO is “a highly engaged CEO with the programming department. As you would expect him to be…”
He adds, “Working with James since he’s been here we’re of the view that we need to be in that stripped programming space year-round. That’s the overall strategy. It’s making sure we don’t give our competitors a night off throughout the year.
“It’s much easier to turn around a 7:30 stripped timeslot than it is to turn around a struggling news brand or a struggling sport. At Seven we’ve got the dominant news brand, the dominant summer sport, the dominant winter sport, the building blocks are there for us. We’ve clearly got to improve our game at 7:30.
“But I think, what we’ve put on the deck for for this year, that’s going to happen.”
Tomorrow: Michael Carrington, ABC.