Programmer’s Wrap 2023: Seven
Live reality, sketch comedy, and drama under consideration for the 7:30 slot? Seven is ready to shake up 2023 expectations.
Sketch comedy, singing, drama, sport and even balloons – Seven’s year is full of returning local hits and bold new offerings, some of which Brook Hall, Seven’s Head of Scheduling, hopes is going to shake up expectations.
This year Seven is looking at scripted local shows returning to a 7:30 timeslot.
But first is the much-heralded return of Australian Idol to television after a 14 year absence.
One of TV’s original Reality juggernauts, its former incarnation discovered such stars as Guy Sebastian, Shannon Noll, Anthony Callea, Jessica Mauboy, Casey Donovan and more.
Seven, which was forced to hold off its return for 3 years due to the pandemic, has gone back to the format’s core of national cattle calls, seasoned judges and raw auditions.
“We’re very excited about the impending return of Idol. COVID has probably made the anticipation a bit bigger, because everyone tried to look at shows without crowds, without travelling,” Hall tells TV Tonight.
“So yes, they’re in Audition rooms. We really did travel to a lot of capital cities, a lot of regional Australia. You’re going to see a lot of scenery on screen. You’re also going to see big crowds. It’s amazing how refreshing that is again. That energy, I think it really comes through the screen…. and weirdly, over 20 countries in the last month have recommissioned it.”
Performance shows with a Top 12 will be filmed at the Coliseum Theatre to screen on Sundays, before a Live Results show on Mondays.
“We have to deal with five time zones”
“Being in daylight saving we have to deal with five time zones. The last thing we wanted was to say ‘This is a Sydney / Melbourne show only.’ We give them around 24 hours, so that the whole country can get involved and vote…. the country decides -not Seven.”
One other change from its previous incarnation: don’t expect 12 weeks showcasing the Top 12.
“There might be more than one going home,” he says of weekly Results shows.
Idol also represents Seven’s biggest attack on Q1 in years, and Hall is candid about previous attempts to knock off Nine’s reality victor.
“It’s going against a juggernaut in Married at First Sight. I think there’s no shame in admitting that our competitors have the biggest show on TV. It’s been a beast. So if Idol works, we know it’s not in an environment where it’s just got lucky or something,” he admits.
“Probably one of my favourite shows Survivor is against it too. So you’ve kind of got all three networks putting their biggest brands against each other. So, a bit nervous, but genuinely excited.
“We’ve managed to be the leading network for the last few years”
“We’ve managed to be the leading network for the last few years, after giving our competitors a running start…we want Idol to make us more competitive in that first quarter. ”
Lastly, are there plans for a finale at the Sydney Opera House?
“There’s still a discussion around, ‘Do we try and do something different?’ but currently, it’s planned for where all the performance shows are.”
Also screening in Q1 is a new locally-produced sketch comedy, We Interrupt This Broadcast.
“It’s very much in the vein of Fast Forward, leaning into television shows. It is quite broad, there’s no show that’s safe -and that includes our own. We haven’t done that thing where you’re making fun of all the other network shows! Some of Seven’s are right up there,” confirms Hall.
“The thing with comedy is it’s very subjective. We’re finding that internally at the office, where something might cause someone to laugh hysterically but then someone else loves another one. But the clips go through at a rapid pace. (Producers) Helium have done a great job on it. It’s a high risk, high reward show.”
Excitingly, the show will sit in a 7:30 slot as part of a bigger move by Seven to vary its schedule.
“We can’t, as three commercial networks, continue to only run reality shows as our big tentpoles”
“We want to give viewers a bit of a different alternative. So you are not going to see strict reality every night of the week in Q1,” he reveals.
“We can’t, as three commercial networks, continue to only run reality shows as our big tentpoles. Now there’s no denying they are the biggest performing shows on TV and are holding up at the moment. But we’re trying to diversify from that a little and we think that the appetite’s there.”
The Front Bar returns this Wednesday with a national focus before the AFL season resumes.
“It won’t be concentrated just on the AFL. They’re doing an All-Sports edition on Wednesday nights at 8:30 in five cities. It won’t be just a southern market show.”
US reboot Quantum Leap screens in double episodes from tonight, UK talent series Starstruck, based on Stars in Their Eyes, will pair with Australian Idol next week, and from Sunday is new UK drama Maternal which centres around three mothers returning from maternity leave, who are surgeons.
“I wouldn’t say it’s like Grey’s Anatomy, because that was so serialised, but it’s the UK’s ‘version’ of that. They do everything a bit quieter and softer.”
Also coming are US abduction drama A Friend of the Family, UK crime drama Without Sin, all part of a bigger picture for 7plus streaming.
Home & Away returned in the first week of January, now in its 35th year as a primetime anchor to Seven’s schedule.
“The first week had it’s highest streamed episode ever, the total is currently 1 million viewers, and it’s just so encouraging saying that show.”
But why didn’t Seven mark the 35th episode with more fanfare?
“It’s one of our most important shows, and it is often discussed,” explains Hall. “The tricky thing is, and maybe we’re reading this wrong, it’s that fine balance between going, ‘This is a really important legacy brand -and highlighting its age.’ Maybe that’s overthinking it, but people become so fickle now, wanting ‘shiny and new’ …so there is there is a nervousness about saying it is 35.”
US events the Academy Awards and Super Bowl will also screen on the network, along with E! Live frm the Red Carpet: The Grammys, on new 7Bravo channel.
Seven’s second quarter consists of three reality tentpoles –Farmer Wants a Wife, Blow Up and Million Dollar Island, but there’s no insight yet as to which order they will screen.
Dutch format Million Dollar Island hosted by Ant Middleton is currently shooting in Malaysia.
“Having 100 contestants on a show can sound very scary, because ‘How can you get to know them all?'” Hall asks.
“This was a bare island before they built the structures around it….yes, everything can be derivative but the visuals will cut an amazing promo, from the shots we’ve seen.
“We could have put a more traditional host on this”
“Eureka have done an amazing job to get that format and then adapt it to the Australian market…. Ant is hosting but he’s conversational. We could have put a more traditional host on this, but you’ll see him in a different light.”
Also from the Netherlands is balloon-art format Blow Up, debuting as a ‘short run’ series.
“If you talk to someone on the street and say, ‘We’re doing a show about balloon artists,’ you get an eye-roll. That’s fair enough. But we could see the Dutch version which went into The Voice‘s timeslot and held all the audience.
“It’s big and epic and the good thing is, it’s going to cut through”
“It’s big and epic and the good thing is, it’s going to cut through. You’re going to look at it and go ‘Oh my god!’ Becky Lucas and Stephen Curry, a comedy double-hand, I think are going to work quite well.”
Seven’s season was shot late last year and Hall says the casting genuinely surprised him.
“I thought we were going to end up with a certain type and that was a concern for us. I’m truly amazed that there is this ‘balloon-making community’ out there that are quite extraordinary. They make dresses, they make huge sculptures. It’s quite fascinating.”
Eureka also produces one of Seven’s most popular shows, Farmer Wants a Wife, and at time of publishing, is sitting in a unique position: all of the farmers have found love.
“There’s five couples and the show finished filming three months ago!”
“As it stands at the moment, they’re all still together. It’s quite amazing. When you look at a lot of these shows, it can be hard. People are cynical about these things. But there’s five couples and the show finished filming three months ago!” he declares.
“Farmer is our play in the dating space. Everyone says, ‘There’s so much dating’….there’s a lot of Love Island, MAFS, Bachelor and they’re all amping it up. We’re always pulling Farmer back to keep it true to its nature and that’s been a directive in this one.”
This year’s series will also highlight many farmers from the past, who have chalked up an enviable number of marriages and babies (albeit many from the Nine edition).
7News Spotlight returns in Q2 while US dramas will include Alert: Missing Persons Unit and anthology drama Accused, based on the UK series of the same name.
“Accused has a different story, different actors every episode. You start with the verdict and then it’s going back (to ask), are they guilty or are they not?”
The Voice kicks off Q3 with hosts Guy Sebastian, Jessica Mauboy and Rita Ora all confirmed. With Keith Urban touring this year, Seven is yet to reveal its fourth coach.
“The fourth won’t be an Australian, it will be an international,” Hall reveals.
“It was probably the only show in the last five or six years that has shown it can really dent The Block. When The Voice roared out of Tokyo Olympics there was a period there I was thinking, ‘Oh my lord their linchpin for a decade is in serious trouble.'”
Seven also has FIFA Women’s World Cup from July staged across Australia & New Zealand.
“We’ll be broadcasting all the Australian matches and another match during the rounds, and all the Finals. We’re really excited about that. Obviously, the Men’s World Cup did amazing numbers in a relatively poor timezone. This one’s a great one, being ours.”
Sporting highlights also include AFL, AFLW, Cricket, Supercars, Horse Racing and Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
“Last year was really important for re-establishing MKR.”
My Kitchen Rules is also back in Q3, produced by ITV Studios Australia, but Nigella Lawson is not returning.
“Last year was really important for re-establishing MKR back as home cooks, people sitting around a table, and bringing it back from that extreme dialogue that had infected it, right at the end of its run. Nigella’s face stamped that, I think.
“This year the judging panel will change,” he confirms.
“We’re really confident we have the foundations of MKR. Again, we won’t be extending it, it will still stay really short. Idol will be our longest running reality.
“It gives us a chance to swing with more different shows as well. It’s great when you’ve got a big success and it can run for 50 eps, don’t get me wrong as a programmer you love it! But when it doesn’t work it’s a world of pain.”
Seven has also snared the Logie Awards for the first time in nearly two decades, but yet to confirm a date or destination.
It is also yet to confirm when its other local drama properties will screen, but is excitingly considering returning drama to a 7:30 slot.
The Claremont Murders features Ryan Johnson, Catherine Văn-Davies, Aaron Glenane, Laura Gordon, Andrea Demetriades, Jeremy Lindsay Taylor, Tasma Walton, Joel Jackson, Erik Thomson and Kate Ritchie.
“The Claremont Murders in highly emotive and brilliantly done,” he continues.
“(We’re discussing) where we put it… is it a big 7:30 stunt event or are we pairing it with one of the big tentpoles … we won’t be playing it Blow Up. It’ll probably pair with something a bit more suitable.”
“Do we bring a drama forward and put it at 7:30?”
RFDS also returns in 2023 as Seven continues to rethink key timeslots this year.
“RFDS will be Q2 or probably third quarter. Again, the timeslot’s up for discussion. Do we bring a drama forward and put it at 7:30? So we are trying to look at doing things differently. You can can be a genius or a moron in the same sentence with these things. We don’t want to be shaking things up too much. But we’re actively looking at trying to change the marketplace.”
Another show destined for 7:30 is new quiz show The 1% Club. Hosted by Jim Jeffries it is based on a UK format in which contestants must correctly answer a question that only 1% of people got right.
“I think it’s going to look great on screen. It’s amazing the visual effects they can do with lights. But again, a bit of comedy, a bit of quiz, something a bit different other than the big stripped reality shows.”
“The heat is scorching, and it will be grittier.”
Q4 includes the return of Big Brother and SAS Australia, which both saw extra seasons when pandemic production saw other shows halted. If that impacted on their brand performance, Hall says Seven is holding them back for maximum impact.
“We’ve actually run three SAS series in 12 months and it might have fatigued. But it will be nearly two years since it aired, in late 2023 and -it’s in the Middle East.”
Filming will commence in late March.
“This season they’re going to the desert, they’re harder challenges, the heat is scorching, and it will be grittier,” he teases.
“This is a show where you confront your demons. It really breaks people down. We do have controversial cast members and that will be a part of it. But in the ‘mirror room’ reveal you’re going to see some cast that are known, but you might not think of them first.”
Early rumours suggest Pauline Hanson and Ben Cousins?
“There’s no Pauline Hanson … Pauline could not do it. I know we stunt a bit, but it won’t be that…. I would love if Ben Cousins wants to do any of our shows. I would say that.”
“This will be a more stripped-back, traditional Big Brother”
Big Brother has also completed filming (save for its finale), but Seven is dumping an early subtitle it teased.
“We won’t be calling it House of Love, it will just be Big Brother, ” he confirms.
“We tried over the years to broaden Big Brother out and had varying success on broadcast. We’ve tried to make it pre-recorded, family safe, more games. This will be a more stripped-back, traditional Big Brother, where the cast is younger.
“There won’t be so much gameplay, it’ll go back to more Big Brother from the past. It was becoming almost Survivor-esque. During COVID we had control over it, it was an amazing thing. We’ve now thought there’s so much in that space, let it be more raw Big Brother.”
Seven is also planning 4 or 5 new This is Your Life specials to screen as events in the schedule. Also new in 2023 is true crime documentary Con Girl, the Free to Air premiere of The Good Cop with Ron Iddles (both from CJZ) and new observational series Animals Aboard With Dr Harry.
Despite an earlier announcement, Kitchen Nightmares Australia is not on Seven’s schedule this year.
“Kitchen Nightmares we haven’t recommissioned at this stage. It did a good job and Colin Fassnidge was good on it. I personally really liked the show. We’re looking at it, but it was quite an expensive show.”
There’s also no decision on more of Australia’s Got Talent or Dancing with the Stars.
“We’re actively looking at that one. If we do it, it won’t be All Stars.”
What about Hey Hey it’s Saturday specials?
“We’re still looking at the next thing we can do in that space. We just want to make sure it’s something slightly different. We did Red Faces, we did 100 years. I don’t know if you can do 200 years.”
Apartment Rules, previously announced for 2022, may be replaced by a different format.
“There’s currently a tender out for a property renovation show. We’ve just got to determine who makes it… Are the Rules a brand, or actually a hindrance? That’s being discussed.”
Alas 2020 sitcom Fam Time, with Michala Banas, Benson Jack Anthony, Duncan Fellows and Rhonda Burchmore, is still yet to be aired, but so far only under consideration for Q1.
“People forget that Seven News almost every single day of the year is the biggest show on television”
Central to Seven’s programming spine are Sunrise, The Morning Show, The Chase, Better Homes and Gardens and Seven News -currently enjoying a wide gap over Nine News.
“People forget that Seven News almost every single day of the year is the biggest show on television. (News boss) Craig McPherson and his team of news directors, you have to give them a huge amount of credit,” Hall acknowledges.
“Seven is now sweeping all five metro cities and regional, every night.
“Maybe people will say I’m too young, but I can’t remember a time we were winning all six regularly -and the margin is big.”
Tomorrow: Nine: Hamish Turner.