The fifth and final interview with network programmers is Michael Healy, Director of Television for the Nine Network.
Tieing into Nine’s “Welcome Home” theme, this year Nine is rolling out promos that brand the network as “The Home of Laughter / Drama / Entertainment” and more. In production it is stepping up new local offerings to complement its international titles.
“We’ve made a strategic effort this year to stand for comedy and entertainment and build on a very successful slate that we have,” he says.
“We’re launching a couple of new comedies with William Shatner and $#*! My Dad Says and from Chuck Lorre the new Mike and Molly which is a breakout hit in the US.
“Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory are the two most successful comedies in the country at the moment, so we’re using them as companion pieces to establish the new ones.
“Further into the year we have Matt LeBlanc with Episodes, Matthew Perry with Mr. Sunshine and Come Fly with Me from the Little Britain boys Matt Lucas and David Walliams.”
Post Easter we will see TV’s look at TV itself in The Joy of Sets with Tony Martin and Ed Kavalee.
“So we’re delighted to have all of them and to be able to create that stable of comedy / entertainment is fantastic for us.”
Next week Ben Elton (pictured) premieres his highly-anticipated new show Live from Planet Earth. To be produced from Dockland Studios it will see Elton and his cast of comedians ambitiously performing live sketches. But will the Nine audience connect with his rapid-fire, sometimes cynical style?
“He’s had an incredibly successful year creating and developing characters. From what we’ve seen there are some wonderfully creative and warm characters. We’re excited about the slot on the back of Top Gear. It represents a great opportunity to build a new brand,” Healy explains.
“It will be sophisticated and we believe a very fun show.”
As Nine pursues a contemporary edge there are still unresolved questions about the future of Hey Hey it’s Saturday.
“We’re still talking to Daryl. He’s been an incredible part of Nine’s history and we’d really like to do something again with him in the future,” he insists.
“Whether it’s Hey Hey or something new that’s not yet determined.”
While some onlookers questioned the ratings for Hey Hey‘s second block, Daryl Somers has noted several events caused the show to be moved around the schedule. Healy is mindful that figures for all broadcasters have been adjusting to the introduction of digital channels.
“The landscape’s changing really rapidly, and I think everyone would agree and understand that. So we’re getting a handle on how it’s evolving and changing like everybody else.
“I think it creates opportunity for programming but for some programming it also creates challenges.”
While clarity on Hey Hey still eludes Facebook fans, there is still room for optimism.
“I’m a very big fan of Daryl Somers and I have incredible respect for him,” says Healy.
“He has been very successful and he’s done a lot for the industry so he deserves all of our respect and certainly mine personally.”
Meanwhile there is speculation Hamish and Andy may sign with Nine. Such a coup would certainly add to their entertainment stable.
“Hamish and Andy are extraordinary talents so wherever they end up this year I’m sure they promise a lot,” he says coyly.
“There are a number of other entertainment shows we’re working on as well that will probably be announced in the next couple of weeks that we’re pretty excited about.”
On Monday night, the first Underbelly telemovie, Tell Them Lucifer Was Here begins with Brett Climo, Todd Lasance, Jeremy Kewley, Jane Allsop, Ditch Davey, Paul O’Brien, Annie Jones and Don Hany. It tells the 1998 story of Victoria Police officers Gary Silk and Rod Miller who were gunned down in the line of duty. Infiltration and The Man Who Got Away follow across the next two weeks.
“They’re all unique stories and very true to the Underbelly style of drama,” says Healy.
“Stylistically there is a look and tone to the Underbelly franchise. I think when the viewers come to each of these stories they will feel they are back in the world of the Underbelly franchise.
“Then we’ve got a series coming post-Easter, a period piece that I think will reinvent and evolve the perception of Underbelly. We’re very excited about Razor.”
Never far from controversy, Lucifer is unable to air in its entirety in New South Wales due to a pending legal case. Healy declined to comment on the legal hurdles or specifics about the ‘specially-prepared’ episode that will air in NSW.
“The telemovie that we’re putting to air in New South Wales is fantastic. I’ve read reports about substantial modifications to the show but that’s not true.”
In Drama there is also Rescue (now dropping the Special Ops as part of its title), the final Sea Patrol series, and two more telemovies Panic at Rock Island and Blood Brothers. Lacking a rival to Rafters, Nine is also developing projects that will be lighter in tone.
“There are a couple of concepts in development that we’re very excited about and the Drama department has done a great job and I think have offered up diversity and they’re looking further to that,” he says.
Next week also sees the sixth season for The Farmer Wants a Wife, which now boasts weddings, engagements and even a baby as part of its legacy. Healy is full of praise for the next instalment.
“It seriously is a fantastic series. Tonally it’s a great watch, full of joy and lots of drama. I genuinely think it’s a fantastic series,” he says.
“There’s a real sincerity to Farmer and we’re all fans of Natalie Gruzlewski.”
Top Gear Australia will also be back with new episodes.
“We’re looking forward to a new series very soon. Shane Jacobson has just been an outstanding fit with the network so we look forward to doing a lot more with him as well.”
Eddie McGuire hosts a revamped This is Your Life and new game show Million Dollar Drop.
Later this year Nine has a State vs State dance competition, Dance Nation.
“It’s not an elimination series, it’s a one-off event. It’s been very successful in South America and it’s been picked up across the world,” he explains.
“It’s epic in scale and played out across the country.”
Current episodes of the long-running Getaway are just 30 minutes. Is this a permanent move? Healy says no.
“It’s partnered now with RBT which is one of our big success stories from last year so we think it’ a great hour of television we’re offering up. I would be surprised if Getaway doesn’t flip back to an hour.
“Getaway is successful for us for many reasons. Our sales department love the show as well. It’s important we nurture it. It’s been on the schedule for a long time and it’s been very successful for us.”
Two projects originall promised for 2010 will finally air, weight-loss series Big and the Denton-produced factual, AFP: Australian Federal Police.
“It’s a big show,” he says of the latter. “A marquee show for us and a very Channel Nine show. You’ll certainly see that very soon.
“What’s surprising about the AFP is the breadth and diversity about what they’re involved in. Every week the viewer’s going to be potentially taken into a different part of the world and a different story. It’s intriguing and eye-opening and it stands above a lot of the Factual content that’s currently on air.”
After reviving The Block for 2010, Scott Cam will return with a new series in 2011, likely to be followed by Top Design with Jamie Durie.
“The Block did a great job and we have high expectations for it this year. There’s a little bit of a twist coming in the new series that I think will excite the viewers and shake it up a little bit.
“With Top Design it’s obviously great to see Jamie Durie back on Nine. He loves the show and he’s very excited to be involved.”
In International series there is David E. Kelley’s new legal drama Harry’s Law.
“Harry’s Law with Kathy Bates has done a fantastic job on NBC in a challenging spot. It’s very much a Channel Nine show and we’re looking forward to launching it sometime soon.”
From the BBC there will be 3 more Sherlock adventures plus David Attenborough’s Frozen Planet, both in the second half of the year.
And what of Survivor: Redemption, airing in the US from mid-February?
“It’s on the record that I am a fan of Survivor. There are a couple of slots we’ve got earmarked and we will watch and see how they play out. I’d like to get it on the schedule as soon as possible,” he says.
“It’s been part of our Nine brand for a very long time.”
Integral to the Nine brand is a long history in News and current affairs. Recently there has been speculation about a new 6:30 Sunday project for Karl Stefanovic, but Healy talks down the rumour mill.
“We talk about slots and ideas all time, and some of those ideas go on to become something more concrete and some are works in progress,” he explains.
“Karl is doing a fantastic job on the Today show and my understanding is he’s filing some reports for 60 Minutes.
“He did a fantastic job with the floods. He’s a great presenter and he’s a good bloke.”
Nine’s coverage of the flood crisis helped remind viewers of Nine’s commitment to the disaster, beginning with the Flood Appeal before it escalated to Toowoomba and Brisbane.
“Part of the strong perception of Nine has been bundled in our dominance in News and A Current Affair. I think historically when something like this happens, as tragic as it is, Nine stumps up and delivers and reinforces that perception of who we are and what we stand for.”
Perception is indeed crucial for a television network. And while it is not alone in last-minute programming changes there is also a perception that Nine is quick to respond to a show that is under-performing, frequently upon an audience that is sometimes still discovering a show.
A pragmatic Healy acknowledges sometimes the best of intentions are subjected to television’s punishing numbers game and changing landscape.
“Television is a hungry beast. It’s has an incredible appetite and it’s organic, so it shifts and changes. As much as I think any of the networks, both here and internationally, can sit and say ‘This is what we’re offering up’ –and I’m talking about from a content point of view– everything shifts and changes. It requires all of us to be nimble and be reactive and pro-active to what’s going on,” he says.
“So as much as we have a view today about what we’re doing, things can shift and change, and I think that’s why we’ve been successful.
“If you look at any broadcaster around the world, we all spend a lot of time on analysis and development and when something doesn’t proceed it’s disappointing for all of us.”
GO! has been a leader in the multichannel environments, although it now has more serious competition. Amongst its highlights this year is Spartacus: Gods of the Arena.
GEM has also been quietly gathering pace over summer. The channels will continue to offer titles that fit with what each brand represents. Both target audiences that complement the main driver, Channel Nine.
“GO! and GEM are both doing a great job and playing compatibly to Nine so our strategy is working really well. We’re certainly happy with the brand position of all three channels.”