EXCLUSIVE: 2021 is a year of ‘outward commissions’ from Seven, with the network building on 2020 successes Big Brother, Farmer Wants a Wife and SAS Australia. Director of Programming Angus Ross talks 2021 tactics.
“I firmly predict we’ll be bigger in 2021 but we’re trying to deliver more consistency throughout the year with proven formats and COVID-proof scheduling,” says Network Head of Programming Angus Ross.
“We’ve got all our shows up to the Olympics in post-production. So they’ve all been they’ve all been shot.”
Gone are Seven-made MKR, House Rules and Plate of Origin this year. Added are Ultimate Tag, The Voice, returning Australia’s Got Talent and Dancing with the Stars -and there is one more key show to still announce.
But kicking off 2021 is Holey Moley, the boisterous, over-the-top mini golf contest, created by Eureka Productions and already exported to the US as a hit show. With Rob Riggle, Matt Shirvington, Sonia Kruger and Greg Norman, it drew the biggest reaction in a room of media buyers when it was teased in for 2020 Upfronts.
“Good things come to those who wait, and that includes the executives of Channel Seven and the audience, given the path of production the show had to take last year,” he explains.
“It’s been a tremendous effort by Eureka and production executives here at Seven to get that show made. The end, result I think, exceeded our expectations and it’s there in Q1 as a counter programming play against strong Married at First Sight.
“Rob’s pretty good on the ol’ laugh generator I have found. He does an amazing job. He and ‘Shirvo’ work really well together.”
It will be followed in Q1 by Ultimate Tag (pictured top). Based on a US format and produced by Endemol Shine, the series was filmed at an indoor obstacle course, hosted by Abbey Gelmi (House Rules) and Matt Shirvington in his second 2021 show.
“It’s another big, physical family-oriented show again,” says Ross. “All credit to James, he got ‘Shirvo’ over here to Seven. I think he’s been fantastic, on news and and across our entertainment schedule.”
Reality series Wife Swap Australia, will premiere on Thursday February 11, having been announced some time ago along with international dramas The Good Doctor, 9-1-1, The Resident, The Rookie, The Bay plus hit UK drama The Pembrokeshire Murders starring Luke Evans as a detective reopening 1980s murder cases.
Also in Q1 is UK factual Ambulance: Code Red following paramedics in the air and on the ground, while The Front Bar returns with AFL.
“I love that show…. it’s the old ‘lightning in a bottle’ cliche,” says Ross. “The Front Bar is obviously a very important show for us, particularly in those AFL markets, but as we know in both Sydney and Brisbane, AFL continues to grow.”
The return of Big Brother kicks off Q2 for Seven with filming completed -Live finale notwithstanding- late last year. But there were a few last minute challenges.
“Things got a bit tricky at the at the conclusion of Big Brother with the Northern Beaches (and a local fire). But it’s all done and dusted,” he assures.
“The challenges are absolutely next level”
“We were really stoked with the ratings performance, particularly the demographics. It was huge for us on 7plus, as well. There’ll be significant changes within the house itself …a lot of surprises, more than meets the eye. The challenges are absolutely next level. There’s a brand new challenge space that is quite epic. So you’re not going to be left with confined spaces like the backyard or a ‘structurally-challenged basement!'” he laughs.
BB will be followed by more Farmer Wants a Wife hosted by Natalie Gruzlewski and produced by Fremantle -the show was, somewhat surprisingly, Seven’s biggest success in 2020. But Ross acknowledges there was also some viewer reaction to elements more suited to clickbait than to a fairytale ending.
“The idea with this show is to keep it as genuine as possible”
“We noticed that feedback,” he agrees. “The idea with this show is to keep it as genuine as possible and using -that much overused word- ‘authenticity’, which I’m a bit sick of now. I think the aim of this show is to achieve long-lasting relationships and love stories. It has more of those than any other relationship show. That’s certainly the aim we want to get to again this year and we’re pretty confident that we’re going to deliver on that promise.
“This isn’t a dinner party show.”
Due to film in March in Sydney (and potentially screen in Q2) is Dancing with the Stars: All Stars.
“It’s not going to be Live, it will be a multi-night format. We’re trying to reinvigorate the format in this market, with a different style of roll-out and a real nostalgia. If you look back to those past winners past and high achievers, they are now at least 10 years on. There’ll be a level of interest as to how people have changed, who was the best …and we’re also going to add a few wildcards into the program as well.”
And on the question of hosts?
“It’d be great to get the old gang back together….” he teases.
The Tokyo Olympics are due to open on July 23 with the International Olympic Committee adamant they will go ahead even if athletes cannot be vaccinated beforehand. It represents a roadblock to all TV planning, the chance for Seven to book big ticket advertising and promote its key titles for the remainder of the year. The virus bows to none of those, but Ross is cautiously optimistic.
“We are proceeding as though it is happening”
“We are proceeding as though it is happening,” he insists. “Clearly if it were not to happen, we’re not going to miss a beat programming-wise. Our content would just roll on as usual. Those two weeks are filled with programming if they, for some reason, did not occur. But all indications are they are going ahead.”
The Voice will shoot in February and March with coaches Keith Urban, Guy Sebastian, Jessica Mauboy and Rita Ora and screen post-Olympics in a trimmed, 13 episode run.
Set to film in May in NSW is SAS Australia, which Ross describes as “the most talked-about show last year, when you look at the the amount of column inches it generate.
“This show is a bit different in that you don’t have to chase people to participate in it. They will come knocking on your door, because it’s quite a different experience, as we saw last year, versus most of the other reality offerings on on television.
“It was a bit of a riskier swing at 7:30”
“It was a 9:00 show on Channel Four (UK) so it was a bit of a riskier swing at 7:30. But Big Brother, Farmer and SAS were our biggest shows on 7plus last year after Home & Away, of course because it has a very high volume of episode. So this new strategy contributed to Seven becoming number one in the commercial BVOD space in 2020.”
The All New Monty is back in 2021 with discussions underway on casting and how to creatively differ from previously outings. Australia’s Got Talent, held over in 2020 due to the pandemic, hopes to resume later this year but plans are subject to COVID restrictions.
“Australia’s Got Talent will come back provided we can make the show we want to make. We’re not going to be in the business of of making shows where production values are severely curtailed by COVID restrictions. For a show like AGT, we need to get a lot of overseas participants to come into this market. But we’ve still got time on that, because that program is scheduled later in the year.”
“What’s colouring all thinking this year is ‘certainty'”
He adds, “What’s colouring all thinking this year is ‘certainty.’ It pays to still be a little bit conservative in your locations. You’ve got to be aware of potential border closures and the chaos they can cause -not just for television but for everyone in their life.”
On the local drama front Home & Away has resumed this week, while RFDS, filmed in Broken Hill, will screen in the second half of the year. It features Stephen Peacocke, Rob Collins, Emma Hamilton, Justine Clarke and Ash Ricardo.
“We feel the new action drama RFDS sits right in Seven’s wheelhouse. It’s adrenaline-pumping action drawn from the real-life emergencies these medical heroes from RFDS face every day. We’ve got a really exciting cast who have brought these epic stories to life against the spectacular backdrop of the Australian outback.”
Seven also has hopes for Australian Gangster, starring Alexander Bertrand (Les Norton), pending current legal cases. Season 2 of Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries will premiere in Australia on Acorn TV before a later broadcast through 7TWO.
Other international dramas this year are Around the World in 80 Days starring David Tennant, and a second season of Manhunt with Martin Clunes, with Ross noting, “I think it was our biggest drama of the year when we ran it. That’ll probably be first half.”
Across the year is more Better Homes & Gardens, Seven News, Sunrise, The Morning Show, The Chase -there is no decision yet on Beat the Chasers. These are joined by more of Border Security, Highway Patrol, Supercars, Bathurst 1000, Spring Racing Carnival and new nostalgia show Australia: Now and Then. Produced by Blink TV, this has celebrities discussing whether Australia was any better in the 70s, 80s and 90s than it is today?
In true crime, Seven News Spotlight specials tackle Ivan Milat: Buried Secrets while Homicide with Ron Iddles is produced by CJZ.
Ross adds, “We’ve still got one more format to announce for the the back part of the year.”
Tomorrow: ABC’s Michael Carrington