Last week the Sydney Morning Herald named Nine’s Director of Development, Adrian Swift, in its annual Top 100 list of the city’s people who “inspire and innovate, wield power and provoke.”
In just 18 months in the role Swift has helped Nine surge back thanks to his slate of shows including The Voice, The Block and Big Brother. As he explains it, his portfolio covers everything except Drama (and yes that even includes Comedy).
On Friday he joins a number of other industry producers and execs at Open Channel’s ‘Generation Next Factual and Documentary Conference‘ in Melbourne. Speaking at a “Let’s Get Factual” session, he freely admits he sees the opportunity to talk to emerging producers (and possibly future Top 100 names) as a way of giving back.
“For me, and for Nine I think, it’s about talking to people who might not engage with us next Tuesday, but might engage with us in a couple of years time. We genuinely do want to brand ourselves as people to whom you can bring ideas,” he says.
“We’d like to be a venue for people with aspirations but also good ideas too.”
So what trends does he see in the genres that cover Reality and Factual?
Swift says the biggest shift on primary channels is moving towards content that compels the viewer to watch as it airs and works against factors that erode audiences.
“The kind of programming that needs to be Live or As Live and talked about in the moment, that you don’t particularly want to PVR or can’t be Bit Torrented from the US,” he notes. “Locally-produced, big shows that tend to be Reality and tend to be stripped, garner a big family audience that everyone talks about.
“A lot of the money is flowing towards that and it’s flowing out of the typical factual shows.
“It’s flowing out of the shows that started with Sylvania Waters and evolved into Border Security and RBT. While those kinds of shows are rating alright, the bottom line is they are becoming more and more ‘schedule fillers’ in our world. Things that we probably would have put on Channel Nine five or six years ago, we probably see as cable-fodder in 2012.”
This year television also saw a wave of ‘softly-scripted’ shows, local formats influenced by US successes, or as Swift brands them, “slightly drug-induced factuals.”
Nine even considered some of the shows that have emerged but decided against them.
“We all sort of thought ‘Can this work on mainstream telly?’ but I think resoundingly we can say at the end of that experiment, ‘No it doesn’t.’ I don’t think any of us will go near that kind of thing for a while now,” he admits.
“I think Australians value authenticity. We know it, we smell it, we like it when we see it.
“In order to make those shows you kind of have to step away from authenticity. The Americans can pull it off but I’m not sure we can.”
But he even found some generous words for The Shire, albeit with some heavy disclaimers.
“It was beautifully graded, beautifully shot, because they captured every angle. It had this almost-filmic look overlaying this incredibly banal conversation with incredibly-banal people. So the look almost worked against the content.”
One of Swift’s successes this year was the return of Big Brother, which required a reboot of audience perceptions. While the show performed well in demographics there was some criticism from long-term, passionate fans. Now the show is renewed, Swift has some good news for those looking for more dimensions to the social TV experiment.
“I think we will broaden out the demo of the contestants. We really needed to redefine the show and keep it safe, fun and young. We were very disciplined about how we made it, what we said and who we cast. But I think next time we can afford to cast a little bit more widely.”
Does that also include more multicultural representation?
“We got a bit of criticism for that but George was Greek-Lebanese, which was interesting culturally. Ava was part Sri-Lankan from memory. But at no point did we ever say ‘Let’s cast whiter.’ We looked at all sorts of people and I can genuinely assure you of this: the people we ended up with were cast because they were the best housemates. We actually wanted to cast a bit wider but in the end we said ‘Right what we need to get in this first reiteration of the show are the best possible housemates,'” he insists.
“But I think next year we will go broader.”
Equally, he tips a stronger line-up for the second season of The Voice, 2012’s success story. Since industry singers have observed the first season, more professionals are stepping up to the audition plate.
“There are a lot of pros, semi-pros and people in the industry who have come out. So it’s a better singing line-up than this year, across the board. I’m not saying we have better singers than Rachel, Darren, Sarah or Karise, but broadly as a group they are of a higher standard than they were in the first series,” he says.
Given it’s runaway success, is Nine looking to increase the output next year?
“We’re debating that,” Swift concedes.
“We kept it very tight the first time around. There was a lot more that happened than what we put to air.
“We’re modifying the format ever so slightly for next year but you won’t see hour after eleventh hour to try and milk it. I think we’re very clear that this is a very special show and we want to keep it special.”
Producers, emerging or otherwise, would be wise to pitch shows to Swift that have one core element. And it’s a word he will be using with delegates at the Open Channel conference on Friday.
“There’s one common thing across all the shows we make. We do try and keep the reality in Reality. We do try and keep it authentic and I bang on a lot about ‘authenticity.’ With all our shows what you see is what you get.
“So these are not confected Reality and you’ll see that with Bake-Off. If a cake collapses, then a cake collapses. You’ll absolutely see it in The Voice. One of the reasons we picked Ricky Martin was that he is probably one of the most authentic music stars I’ve ever met. He talks with such passion about the music industry and how young people move through it. He was an absolute no-brainer for the role because he is such an authentic guy.
“Big Brother is as authentic as a show gets. You point cameras at people and they do what they do.
“I think that applies to all that we do but I’m not sure that’s as much the case with what some of the others do.”
Tickets for Open Channel’s Generation Next Factual & Documentary Conference December 6-7 at Cinema Nova range from $15-$100 plus GST.