Today TV Tonight continues its feature interviews with Network Programmers, as TEN’s Chief Programming Officer David Mott discusses some of the highlights of 2011.
This week TEN is rolling out a pile of new and returning shows as part of its annual bid to get a jump start on the year. Last night it offered a full night of first-run episodes beginning with its new state-based News bulletins plus The Biggest Loser, Modern Family, Hawaii Five-0 and NCIS: Los Angeles. And we’re not even in Ratings yet.
In the past few years TEN distributor deals have delivered solid shows including Glee, The Good Wife, Modern Family while new local shows such as Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation, Offspring and Junior MasterChef have put the runs on the boards.
Chief Programming Officer David Mott agrees that while TEN was once reliant on juggernaut shows it now has more diverse content, which results in more programming options.
“I think at the moment it’s not just about tentpoles. The fact that our US suppliers are giving us better content going forward means that we’re less reliant on the tentpoles,” he says.
“It’s probably fair to say it wasn’t that long ago that TEN was known as the Big Brother channel but I think those days have well and truly changed.
“The 7PM Project created the ability to drop some shows down to 7:30, ie. Biggest Loser and Masterchef, and then coupled with Modern Family, Glee and shows like that.”
This year’s Biggest Loser has cast four families who are each trained by four instructors including newest recruit Tiffiny Hall. It weighs in with a slimmer output of four, instead of six, nights per week.
“The Biggest Loser: Families is looking absolutely outstanding. Certainly we had some pressures with last year’s series, given some certain contestants we had on the show. There were also some creative issues around the show, to be honest,” he says.
“But in the hands of Shine, Mark and Carl (Fennessy) and Paul Franklin have absolutely focussed on the show for many months now and I think what you’re going to see is a really riveting series. We’re thrilled so far with what we’re seeing.
“Biggest Loser will not be stripped six nights a week because we have a lot more content there that has worked for us. So that gives us the ability to reapproach Loser and go ‘Ok, we want to make it a compelling show but we have to reduce the amount of hours down.’ And I think it’s for the benefit of the franchise.”
In US acquisitions Hawaii Five-0 with Australian Alex O’Loughlin has become the most successful new drama of the US fall season.
“I’ve seen every episode now in the US and it just gets better and better. They’ve done a great job and we’re launching that at the top of the year,” says Mott.
It is joined on Wednesday by US police drama Blue Bloods.
“It’s the return of Tom Selleck. I think there’s a retro feel about Tom Selleck, it’s his first series return, although he did a bit of a stint on Friends. Now he’s back in a full series that’s just done a great job for CBS.
“I think there’s no argument that we got the pick of the crop with the two biggest shows of the US in terms of one-hours. Defenders has done a good job as well, so with Hawaii Five-0 and Blue Bloods we’ll roll it out at the top of the year and rightfully so. They are very polished, well-produced, well-scripted shows,” he says.
“Then we run into Glee, Modern Family, NCIS, Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation.”
Generation will again be split into 2 blocks for 2011.
Later this year TEN will premiere new panel show Can of Worms from Zapruder’s Other Films, hosted by Ian ‘Dicko’ Dickson.
“We’re thrilled that Andrew Denton knocked on our door with Dicko. It was an absolute standout pitch session and we just said yes on the spot. It was a no-brainer and we were delighted that he came to us first with the idea. We’ll obviously be capitalising on Can of Worms around the time of MasterChef and leading into The Renovators as well,” says Mott.
A local version of Swedish observational format Class Of … will seek to improve the lot of under-achieving school students. TEN was very taken by what it saw at international sales festival MIP TV.
“It made us lean forward,” he admits. “For me, television is all about ‘lean forward.’ The sizzle was just outstanding. And when you’re listening to a whole lot of people talk about promos, and suddenly there’s this sizzle for a thing called Class Of… we went ‘Wow!’
“Within an hour we had the distributor for a cup of coffee and had a deal done.
“Then we thought ‘Who is the most appropriate production company?’ given that it was a format we’ve secured, and for no other reason it was Mark and Carl (Fennessy) and Paul Franklin because of the work they did for me on Jamie’s Kitchen Australia –that’s kind of the tone of the show.”
It begins filming at the top of the school year.
“There are a lot of shows that have a ‘Me Too’ format, and we’ve been accused of that but I think there seems to be a lot more on other networks, but this stood out as being quite special,” says Mott.
“I am hearing anecdotally that the others are now searching for formats that are similar.”
With Neighbours shifting to ELEVEN, TEN now has two drama series: 13 episodes for the returning Offspring and AFI-winning drama Rush, trimmed to 13 episodes.
“Given the plethora of cop shows out there, Rush has stood the test of time and I believe has been the pick of the crop of the Aussie crime dramas,” says Mott.
“Offspring I think will see a better season. I think a lot of people are still yet to find it, and tonally it has hit the spot for us. (TEN Drama Executive) Rick Maier and the drama team have come up with a great slate and there is a lot more drama that we’ll be announcing over the coming weeks.”
In development is the Prisoner-inspired series Inside Out.
“Inside Out at this point in time has been an ongoing discussion with Freehand. Certainly if it’s going to be this year it will be the back end of this year,” he says.
While the addition of new channels is a win for viewers there is little doubt it ramps up the pressure for Programmers to deliver.
“There are a lot of benefits that we’re seeing in multichanneling with some sensational numbers coming through in all sorts of market research and ratings data, but it also means that ‘Least Objectionable’ programming has no room in a multichannel environment,” he insists.
“Shows that were ‘Oh that’ll do, I’ll watch that,’ ain’t gonna cut it anymore. So we are going to have to be bolder, we are going to have to be brave –and that’s all Free to Airs– in terms of how we present content going forward. The ‘stickiness’ is going to mean a lot more as we go forward.
“But that’s kind of in our DNA anyway from the days of Big Brother and those kinds of shows that create a social movement.
“We’ve now got an entire year’s schedule and for the first time there’s a lot less gaps where we might have been struggling for content. We’re now producing 2 or 3 new hours to our schedule, plus US content and renewals, and we haven’t lost anything with the exception of Medium, so we have gained a lot more.”
2011 is likely to be a watershed year for the network. With TEN’s new, high-profile shareholders, a new channel and a bold revamp of its 6 – 7pm slot, media observers and buyers will be scrutinising the network even more. But Mott takes comfort in the slate of content -and TEN still retains television’s biggest show.
“Looking back at last year and where the others sit, I think we have diversity with where our schedule sits with US and Australian content. We’ll be serving a lot of domestic content over the year. We will maximise MasterChef to launch a couple of key properties around that time,” says Mott.
“We have 24 x Hawaii Five-0s, 24 x Blue Bloods, NCIS: LA is a full series… and then as we leverage off the MasterChef brand we will have Can of Worms and Renovators. And then you’ve got Junior MasterChef.
“So we’re very comfortable where things sit.”
TOMORROW: Seven Network.