Tim Worner: “Fasttracking,” one year on.

By David Knox on September 2, 2008 / Filed Under News 35

In the US the fourth season of Prison Break kicked off today, Bones begins later in the week and Fringe premieres next week. The ‘Fall Season’ has begun, when the American networks launch their big series.

In Australia it was just on a year ago that our networks jointly embarked on the new trend of premiering US series simultaneously, or thereabouts. “Fasttracked,” “Direct from the US,” “Hot off the satellite” they all boasted. It was a bold, somewhat tenuous, turning point in Aussie programming –and then the Writer’s Strike hit. Suddenly, it left our networks rather rudderless, as they tried to navigate through the fog.

Now a year on, Seven’s Head of Programming, Tim Worner, spoke to TV Tonight about the experience of “Fasttracking” and what lessons have been learned.

Worner says ‘fasttracking’ is simply another weapon available to programmers, but acknowledges it is a strategy that that has now gained momentum.

“Obviously it doesn’t hurt getting the shows here and getting them on as quickly as possible before they can be accessed elsewhere,” he said. “But as to how much it is as an assistance to a show, I think the jury’s out on that.”

In the US network television runs around September – May, but when the Writer’s Strike interrupted the supply of episodes last year, Seven, Nine and TEN found they could not have embarked on ‘fasttracking’ at a worse time.

“We were caught between a rock and a hard place in some ways,” Worner acknowledges. “But I think that we’re going to see more fasttracking, which is actually the Seven term, before the end of November. I think part of that is because this is an anomalous year with shortened seasons because of the writer’s strike.

“Even when things return to normal supply you’ll probably still see it. You’re going to have networks who want to make some sort of instant statement and if they’ve got the show there to do it they’re going to have a crack at it.”

But not all shows lend themselves to the fasttracking experience.

“It’s serialised shows that obviously are going to be better suited to this sort of treatment,” he said, “because the audience is hanging on the resolution of each storyline from week to week. And also the shows that skew towards the audience that may try and access the shows elsewhere.”

By ‘elsewhere’, of course, Worner is referring to the illegal practice of downloading TV via peer to peer. Australia is the second highest consumer of downloaded television behind the UK, which was a key factor in networks moving to the fasttracking experience. Worner is blunt about the effect downloaders have had.

“Some people are like that, but what do you do about it? I think the effect of it has been widely overstated.”

Heroes is one such show popular with downloaders. After it premieres in the US on September 22 Worner promises it will be hitting our screens “fairly quickly.” But so far he hasn’t announced a date for Prison Break.

“I don’t know yet about that show, he said. “I think we’re still waiting on what the opposition’s doing on certain nights.”

Both Heroes and Prison Break were fasttracked by Seven last year but finished short of their run, affected by the end of the Australian ratings season and the writer’s strike. Other new 2008 shows were damaged by their short supply.

“A show like Lipstick Jungle is a classic example,” explains Worner. “It’s a fantastic series and gets very good from the last few scenes in episode three. To be honest the first two episodes were what I would describe as ‘highly challenged.’ They didn’t set up characters very well and the ratings showed that. But from the end of episode three onwards Lipstick Jungle is a fantastic show.

“And only having seven episodes it makes it very difficult to successfully launch that series. Such a shame because that show is classic soap. I personally loved it, I’m a sucker for that sort of stuff. The storylines are great, characters are great, the writing’s great, some of the performances are fantastic, it’s a very, very well-made show. But it was challenged and held back by not enough episodes to give it a proper take off, and two pretty ordinary-starting eps. Which you just can’t afford to have nowadays, the audience makes up its mind in an awful hurry.”

From a programmer’s point of view, there are also downsides to fasttracking. Worner says he can sometimes see shows ahead of their US airing via close contacts at NBC and ABC, but it isn’t a perfect science.

“You’re certainly curtailing the amount of time that you’ve got to promote something too. You’re making more of a challenge for your creative team because they don’t have as long to come up with a ‘sell’ as they normally would. And you’re not able to look at the pattern of ratings in the United States which sometimes can give you a guide, not all the time, but sometimes give you a guide as to the (likely) performance in Australia. That can give you a clue as to how you might be going to sell something.”

When it comes to fasttracking over Summer, Worner was keeping his options open. Networks have traditionally used the off-season to launch new shows.

“There are a number of shows that we’ve seen pilots of and you think to yourself, ‘well the best chance for that show is summer and to try and launch it in a bit of clear air.’

“It’s an option that’s available to us but I don’t think you’re going to see a stage when we’re launching all our shows within five or six weeks of the ratings season. It makes sense to launch some shows, and other shows it actually doesn’t make sense at all.

“Some shows you sit on for two years until you’ve got the right number of episodes and then you go ‘bang, now’s the time we can give this a proper launch.’”

And so with only 3 months remaining in the 2008 ratings season, Worner has his eye set on the newly-launched Australian series, several key fasttracked dramas and a handful of US dramas he has up his sleeve.

“We’ve still got quite a few American series that we haven’t played yet. Reaper, Eli Stone is another, so yeah we’ve still got weapons in the arsenal that we haven’t deployed yet. We still have arrows in the quiver that we haven’t fired and that is obviously a nice position to be in.”

35 Comments »

  1. Joshua September 8, 2008 at 8:11 am -

    David, in the SMH guide today they have indicated channel seven will ‘fast-track’ heroes AND prison break. Have you heard and can confirm this? Do we have an idea when this will be?

  2. Benno September 5, 2008 at 1:36 pm -

    It’s just like the format war with hd dvd and blu-ray, one wins, the rest adopt. People were mocking ten’s ‘direct from the us’ which was about 10 days out, while seven’s fast-track implies more loosely that we get the episodes faster. If they don’t want to lose more viewers, it better be within the week. Although some episodes of prison break last season were a day after the us, they were also 15 minutes late due to criminal minds, which certainly deserted more viewers. That all was before i downloaded practically every tv show i watch though.

  3. Bindi September 5, 2008 at 11:17 am -

    ha, i just saw a new ad for 90210 and channel 7 will be happy- ten have adopted their term of “fast-tracking” and have abandoned calling it streamed direct as everyone else just refers to it as fast-tracking anyway. they called it seriously fast-tracked so they are atleast trying to put their own branding on it by including the word seriously. not that anyone ever knows what they mean by this, is it sarcastic or what? people always use it against them to, makes you wonder why they persist with it.

  4. RichoTB September 4, 2008 at 10:00 pm -

    Its fantastic. Its like Boston Legal on crack.

    You’re right Benno, Jericho really picked up in pace and quality in season 2, but it finished on a high note and I was happy to see it leave in such stellar form, instead of slowly dragging out and losing quality like some of my other favourite series.

  5. Jack! September 4, 2008 at 6:11 pm -

    Eli Stone: And who knew that George Michael could act … well he did a pretty decent job of it … it is just a special show and a very strong concept … love the weekly musical numbers!

  6. Jen September 4, 2008 at 7:13 am -

    There’s a lot of buzz around Eli Stone with the amazing cast they have in place and the concept itself. Don’t worry if you don’t have it where you are – you can watch the episodes online & also catch up on Season 1 before 2 starts wtih the ABC Starter Kits: http://abc.go.com/player/?channel=125571

  7. Benno September 3, 2008 at 9:50 pm -

    Yeah i agree richotb, maybe the fox executives love the show too much to let it go, irrespective of the ratings. As much as i love the show, i think it should finish at the end of this season. Yeah the back half and the second season of jericho was really good. There are still people trying to get support for a movie/another tv station to pick it up, and although the series was really good, i think it is probably time to let it go.

  8. RichoTB September 3, 2008 at 9:15 pm -

    You hit the nail right on the head Jack. Eli Stone kicks ass and deserves to be aired, but something tells me we won’t see it until summer.

    That’s some good points there, Jason, I remember actually watching The OC on Ten, that seems like years ago now. I highly recommend the back half of Jericho’s 1st season (episode 12 and onwards). Once it got to season 2 it was more or less a non-stop rollercoaster of action, thrills, twists and awesomeness.

    PB should be alright for this year at least – they’ve already ordered 22 episodes for this season, and I think they’re smart enough not to piss off their fans by cutting it short while not wrapping up the storylines. I’m pretty sure this season will be the last though. There’s not much else Michael and Co can do after they bring down the company, unless they catch Oceanic Flight 815 and find themselves trying to outwit Smokey.

  9. Jack! September 3, 2008 at 4:31 pm -

    Yeah! Yeah! Blah! Blah!

    ELI STONE is a BRILLIANT show and was an excellent first season … a total crime that it has not been shown here yet … and it deserves FAR better than to be shoved straight to HD!
    Jack!

  10. leeds September 3, 2008 at 4:18 pm -

    Prison Break didnt rate to well in the US on Monday with only 6.41 million viewers watching it. I hope it doesnt die.

  11. Jason September 3, 2008 at 4:10 pm -

    Ellis has set down some really good rules there for the nets to follow, but although it is outside those rules I think Ten is doing the right thing by fast-tracking 90210. The hype for this show is just massive it has to be a torrent target.

    It’s telling that out of all the fast tracked shows to air since Ten started the ball rolling with Jericho all those years ago, the only one’s that I can recall being kept reasonably in line with their US airings have been House (07/08), Lost (08) and The OC (06/07). Of these The OC was the best because Ten didn’t care what happened they were just burning it off. House had kept reasonably close to the American airdate and Lost was well handled save for a botches easter break.

    It’s true though – last year was not a good year to kick this off due to the strike and it has resulted in an uneven season esp for 7 and 10 (Nine with it’s greater concentration of procedurals has been steadier methinks)

    My wish list is no more ridiculous waiting for shows once they’re fast tracked. If you fast track the show in October/Nov, fine take a break for summer and then put it back on in Feb when ratings fire up, if that show is axed or curtailed in the meantime (like what happened to Heroes) then playout the remaining eps in summer. How much revenue did seven lose by playing the last two eps of Heroes Season 2, 8 months after the rest of the series? Insane.

    The only worse treatment was Ten hooking viewers onto Jericho and then not bringing it back for the back-half of it’s first season – that was near criminal and still to date I have not seen the remaining episodes.

  12. David September 3, 2008 at 3:45 pm -

    Maybe it’s time for Australia to do away with non-ratings so that it’s not an issue when talking about fastracking shows.

  13. Benno September 3, 2008 at 10:21 am -

    True sasha, but the USA usually plays episodes in january, only a few though. I think a better model would be fasttracking every episode of the season (yes, even during non-ratings periods), and launching the majority of aussie dramas/other shows during their summer (our winter). That would give them plenty of space for everything.

  14. Benno September 3, 2008 at 9:56 am -

    Exactly neon kitten, he is very contradictory. I get that they are in it for the money, but the money comes from being loyal to the viewers, and they very distant from being loyal to viewers. Also, what difference does it make what the opposition puts on? In the US, NCIS has its show opposite american idol (the highest rating show there), and it is growing every year. Go figure.

  15. evil September 3, 2008 at 8:45 am -

    No mention of the fact that 7 didn’t even air all of the already-shortened season 2? You can’t wax lyrical about the benefits of fast tracking, complain about the writers strike, then neglect to mention you held on to the last episode for airing later…what was the point of fast tracking in the first place?

  16. Sasha September 3, 2008 at 8:19 am -

    i really think they need to change the way the release shows and get in line with the USA. Release shows in Sep and play them till end of Nov which is 8-10 episodes and then rest them over summer and start them again in feb. it does mean a big gap which is not the best but it would stop a lot of people downloading. i download all my usa shows and the only tv i watch is the news and this is all due to the way the networks treat viewers. i mean ER is treated so bad (put it on with the CURRENT season in the middle of the day is fine since its ratings are not too hot), 30 rock was never given a chance and if this channel 7 guy knew Lipstick Jungle was giood but needed more episodes why not hold it till sep and then run season 1 and 2 together? i watch LJ and really enjoy it and come Sep will be downloading it again. same for Greys, Boston Legal etc.

  17. Neon Kitten September 3, 2008 at 4:06 am -

    Tim Worner, this week: “I don’t know yet about that show. I think we’re still waiting on what the opposition’s doing on certain nights.”

    Tim Worner, two weeks ago: “We are not programming to win nights or weeks but to create hit shows. If we do that, the other stuff (ratings) looks after itself.”

    I called bullsh*t on that earlier statement back at the time, and now Worner’s shown that he can’t even lie consistently :)

    He also seems to be moving away from his 2006 position that downloading was “a lovely problem to have”. Which is a shame, because you really SHOULD love the problems that you create yourself.

  18. agentsarah6 September 3, 2008 at 1:07 am -

    To me Fasttracking has been steadily on the Slow Train to Hell. They simply do not care enough to make it work. Their treatment of Heroes is a case in point.

  19. Benno September 2, 2008 at 11:32 pm -

    * make that Season 3

  20. Benno September 2, 2008 at 11:30 pm -

    I just watched the heroes clip on the heroes page on yahoo7, and they did have the bit where masi (hiro) asked about season 4 being fast-tracked. Even kochie acknowledged how easy it is to download shows off the net. Methinks David Leckie had a long talk with kochie afterwards…

  21. RichoTB September 2, 2008 at 10:14 pm -

    Good point Benno, I can understand airing spinoffs of a show concurrently as some of them, for example CSI: Miami, has a vastly different feel compared to say…CSI: NY. Even the L&Os are different to one another as they deal with seperate units e.g. Criminal Intent compared to rape victims in SVU. Completely different crimes which is at least somewhat refreshing to the audience. But CM, which IMO is the epitome of a generic, mediocre, by-the-numbers police procedural, is shown 3 times a week. I don’t see why they’re doing that. The show already has a fanbase, but the oversaturation isn’t likely to improve figures. If they absolutely must repeat a police procedural, I don’t see why they don’t do it with one of their other, superior ones like City Homicide or Bones, which last time I checked are only getting aired once a week, not 3 times.

    On PB’s premiere, I watched it in the afternoon. Most fans of the series will enjoy it, unless they already stopped watching halfway through season 3, although I couldn’t help but groan once I saw the direction the show seemed to be taking at the end of the 2nd episode. As far as “bring down the big bad Government” shows I go, I reckon Jericho’s second season earlier this year pulled it off with a lot more excitement and creativity. PB is still one of my favourite shows, although I hope Heroes kicks off with more of a bang when it starts up in 3 weeks’ time.

  22. Craig September 2, 2008 at 10:08 pm -

    So a double PB ep and it felt rushed, I’ll have to wait and see tomorrow some time.

    Just started watching Eli Stone after a friend sent it to me and love it so far.

    Also loved the first season of Reaper, but I do agree it probably won’t last long here. Better off if ch10 had got it, but seeing what they have done with Burn Notice I’m not sure if it would last any longer on there.

    BTW – go to the main ch Seven www and they have that Heroes clip but I can’t get it to play so I don’t know if they cut the fast tracking part at the end.

  23. Benno September 2, 2008 at 9:08 pm -

    Ah your lucky richotb, mine is still downloading, too many peers. Only at 12% for first episode. Tomorrow night i hope to watch it (which incidentally is when channel 7 could have screened it). I don’t watch criminal minds, as 3 law and orders is enough cop shows for me. Three of exactly the same show, not 1 and 2 spinoffs mind you, is definately overkill, and a textbook example of how to get an audience sick of a show.

  24. RichoTB September 2, 2008 at 8:59 pm -

    I stopped watching serialised shows on FTA around a year ago now. I can’t be bothered watching LOST, Prison Break and Heroes only to have the tension and story interruped by ads and sometimes shown at absurd time slots like 10:30pm. As for other shows, some of them like 24 simply work better when watched in a stream rather than week by week. Seven did a good job of this show when they aired the entire 6th season in 3 weeks.

    As for fast-tracking new shows, do it I say. Its certainly better than airing 3 episodes of Criminal Minds a week. I’ll also say start airing Eli Stone already, thats one of the few shows which I’ve been waiting for Seven to screen. Reaper will bomb, they may as well just throw that one in the trash. Its one of the worst rating shows on the CW, and thats saying something

    On the topic of PB, I watched the 4th season premiere and it was average. A lot better than the mess that was season 3 but I thought it was a bit rushed how they got rid of certain characters and the whole thing came off as something of an Oceans 11 spinoff. On the whole though, it was good, and I’m glad to see the start of the new US season.

  25. Johnson September 2, 2008 at 8:01 pm -

    The problem with Prison Break (and House for that matter) is that it is shown on the Fox network in the US, and during October it telecasts the Major League Baseball League Championships and the World Series finals. If the baseball is scheduled on the day PB and/or House is normally on, then they will be pushed back by a week. It is this reason that the first few episodes of new season of PB and House will not be shown in Australia on the same week as the US as there will be too many interruptions.

  26. Benno September 2, 2008 at 7:34 pm -

    That would have been awesome to see craig. I hope someone uploads that video.

  27. Craig September 2, 2008 at 6:24 pm -

    Did anyone see Sunrise this morning?

    Well Milo and Masi were on just before 8:00, well at the end Masi asked about Fast Tracking and Koch was caught off guard LOL

    Prison Break with no word from Seven I’ve got ep 1&2 of the 4th season on the way now, the had their chance to air it instead of a re-run of Criminal Minds tomorrow night.

    ITA if they are serious about fast tracking they need the shows to air within one week of the US, they need to be consistent, even if that means showing a few out side of the ratings periods and the need to keep viewers informed as to what they will fast track!

  28. Tim September 2, 2008 at 6:01 pm -

    Hopefully Worner is reading these comments, especially Ellis’ , he hit the nail on the head.

  29. Bindi September 2, 2008 at 5:50 pm -

    i’ve noticed that the yahoo7 tv guide has a blank spot next wednesday 9:30pm for 1 hour that says to be advised. my fingers are crossed for prison break coz i usually do wait for these stupid networks to get around to it, i guess i’m just glutton for punishment.

  30. Benno September 2, 2008 at 5:02 pm -

    This is the first link I clicked on for your newly refreshed site – like it already. Yeah, the boat has definitely sailed for seven and prison break this season. The first episode already has over 34,000 peers so that should be some indication to them. I guess you make a good point ellis not to fast-track a first season, but definitely the rest of the seasons. The UK hasn’t given up on prison break, it airs tonight there. Now that is a fast-track.

  31. Luke W September 2, 2008 at 4:43 pm -

    “I don’t know yet about that show, he said. “I think we’re still waiting on what the opposition’s doing on certain nights.”

    I think it is abit late now to say something like that since P.B. will get low ratings until it is less than a week behind the U.S. Looks like I will be downloading the double episode tonight (off-peak internet usage) to watch tomorrow morning. Sorry Seven, I’m not waiting at all this time around.

  32. Ellis September 2, 2008 at 3:50 pm -

    The networks should follow a few simple rules:
    1) Never fasttrack a show’s first season, if it fails in America, there’s no point. Give it a couple of months and see how it’s going.
    2) If a show is successful here in Australia during its first season, then fasttrack the second season. No ifs, buts or maybes.
    3) Ensure the fasttrack is within a week of it airing in the States.

  33. BatGnat September 2, 2008 at 3:07 pm -

    If i know a show is fast tracked, I will wait and watch it in HD. What is bugging me at the moment is when they do silly stuff like only putting Dexter in HD only every second week, because of Moto GP. It is not fast tracked, I know, and showtime Aus has not announced S3. Or when they put X-files on the HD channel. Stupid.

    The movie studios started getting it right years ago, do a worldwide release or everyone will download it. Commercial networks still have a ways to go.

  34. Tim September 2, 2008 at 2:28 pm -

    Once again they have shown that they just don’t get it.

    If they cant give a date for prison break before its aired in the states that’s their problem, please excuse me while i go “try and access the show elsewhere”.

    There, now that’s taken care of, i can get back to my comment.

    If i can watch it within hours of it airing in the states, why would i wait around possibly for months, just to find out if and when they will get around to it.

    It seems the Prison Break boat has sailed for the year, but they still have a chance with heroes and lost, but the odds are ill have to obtain them myself as well.

  35. Andrew September 2, 2008 at 1:53 pm -

    Pity they can’t fast-track The Amazing Race, i think the last series shown on Seven was about 9 months behind the US!

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