My Kitchen Rules, Revenge, Packed to the Rafters and Downton Abbey -with so many impressive titles running concurrently Seven is signalling to the market that it is playing hard and it is playing confidently.
Head of Programming Angus Ross tells TV Tonight he is comfortable that “depth of content” continues to be Seven’s strong point and he baulks at suggestions of ‘front-loading’ the schedule.
“It’s all part of a plan to offer consistency across the year. We’re going with Rafters and Revenge at the same time as we did last year and we’re adding Downton Abbey into the mix. Even though it performed well for us last year I think it was probably too long a wait for people after Easter so we’re going with it at the top of the year,” he says.
“It’s a superb series this year and you can see that with the record ratings and amazing reviews that have come with it.
“I can say seriously it is a substantial improvement on series two. Even though it was still great to watch, series two versus series one perhaps lost its way a little bit but this one is a return to form and the ratings in the UK bear that out. We’re going to have everything this season: a wedding, a death… it’s absolutely riveting.
“We think people will be rather keen to see both Downton Abbey and Revenge at the start of the year and of course Rafters.
“The reason we can do that is because we’ve got so much fantastic new stuff to roll out across the year.”
Already My Kitchen Rules is trouncing key rival MasterChef: The Professionals.
“I’ve seen about 20 MKRs and I’m enjoying it more than last year. Every year we look to refresh our formats and offer something new. There are a few surprises within the format this year,” he says.
“We’ve still got our heroes and villains and it’s a bit like a sporting contest, you’ll choose your side. There are going to be a couple of groups of people that will have Australia talking.
“We’re about real food, real people and people fulfilling their dream. So it’s all about home cooks and that’s the differentiation for us as opposed to experienced chefs and experienced people who have had the chance to make over houses before.”
Packed to the Rafters has already returned with a full season of episodes in store.
“We have a very long run of Rafters this year and the first couple of episodes are highly emotional, which you can see in the promos that are going to air. It’s all about the family getting back together this year. It’s still the number #1 Australian drama on television.”
He also promises fans will not be interrupted this year.
“You will see them all roll out at once.”
Hit US melodrama Revenge returns on February 4th.
“They certainly amp it up this season. I think they’ve just decided to go for it. The ratings in the US have held up remarkably well. It’s pretty much similar numbers to last year. We’re very confident with it and I think it will hook people right back in. And if you can believe it I think the pace of the show has increased this year. There are shocks week in, week out. It knows what it is: a soap on a grand scale,” Ross explains.
Also joining the schedule early are new Bones, How I Met Your Mother, The Mindy Project, Happy Endings, Sunday Night, Border Security, The Force and Better Homes and Gardens.
“Better Homes and Gardens will run Friday nights all year. When AFL starts it will be a mix of main channel and 7TWO dependent on AFL start times in AFL markets.”
New content includes A Place to Call Home from writer Bevan Lee (Packed to the Rafters, Winners and Losers), due post-Easter.
“A Place to Call Home is an epic production about a woman with a mysterious past who returns to Australia to work for a wealthy pastoral family in the 1950s. The big question is what is she hiding and what are her secrets?,” he asks.
“Marta Dusseldorp leads the cast along with Brett Climo, Noni Hazlehurst and Frankie J. Holden along with a lot of fresh faces.
“If you look back to the new faces that appeared on Rafters outside of Michael Caton, Eric and Rebecca were all largely unknown and you see what’s happened to them since, I think you need to look at this show in the same way. It’s a fantastic young cast.
“We look at all good ideas and this came with great scripts that came through internally. Bevan Lee has written a magnificent script and that’s why we’ve gone with it. But any good idea no matter where it comes from is what we’re after.”
Shine Australia makes its first scripted drama in Never Tear Us Apart: The INXS Story. Despite its rock and roll themes, Ross is comfortable it won’t be out of step with the network that screens more gentle dramas like Winners and Losers.
“INXS will obviously be an 8:30 programme but not much else symbolises Australian rock and roll than INXS,” he says.
“They were front and centre of Australian music in the 80s and 90s. You can’t get much more Australian than that.”
Seven also enters the renovation genre this year with House Rules described as a big-scale production with another state vs state contest.
“House Rules is a big stripped show from the team that brought you MKR. They’ve now moved into the home makeover space,” Ross explains.
“The questions with this is ‘Would you hand over your keys to a bunch of strangers to complete transform your home and win a life-changing prize?’
“There’s a hell of a lot at stake and you need to watch the first three minutes of the show, I would suggest. It’s a life-changing prize.”
Also returning are Winners and Losers, Dancing with the Stars, The X Factor, Mrs. Brown’s Boys, Highway Patrol, more Dynamo Magician, more Cosentino, more Anh Do specials and even more Kath and Kim specials.
“They are shooting a lot of new stuff for their specials,” Ross assures me.
Seven has also commissioned Coastwatch Australia.
Returning format The Mole will be hosted by Shura Taft, but Seven has dropped its “Culture Clash” subtitle.
“The Mole has a diverse group of Australians who will have to work together to discover who is, as we like to say, the ‘dirty rotten mole.’ It’s on a larger scale than before and it will be very family-oriented,” he says.
Does dropping the “Culture Clash” element affect casting?
“The cast will represent the Australia of today.”
At Seven’s Upfronts there were big reactions to the Dutch format, Celebrity Splash but Seven has a long history of success with celebrities in light entertainment formats. It will feature different celebrities “of all shapes and sizes” each week trained by a diving expert.
“Celebrity Splash had a big debut in the UK recently. This is guilty pleasure TV at its best. People said we were crazy when we started a show about celebrities ballroom dancing, but we’re getting our doors knocked down for this one from celebrities. We think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” he insists.
“If you’re standing at the top of a 10 metre diving platform it’s pretty scary.”
An aquatic centre in Sydney or Melbourne is yet to be finalised for the second quarter and yes, it will be heated.
Formal Wars from Matchbox Pictures is designed to appeal to those who have enjoyed Four Weddings and Please Marry My Boy (the latter is returning).
“Teenagers are spending over $3b a year trying to out-glam each other at their high school formals. It’s a more lucrative industry than the bridal industry. This is a fly on the wall Reality series and every young woman’s worst nightmare is going to come true when their formal is hijacked by their parents. So what we’re looking at here is a radical experiment in generational trust,” Ross says.
But while Seven is announcing so many new formats, where does this leave favourite shows that have not been renewed?
“There are a number of announcements to come for the back half of the year including Beauty & The Geek, Amazing Race and so forth. A lot of things are in the mix, and things will become clearer in the coming months.”
In the international titles Seven has partnered with ITV for Mrs Biggs due to its high Australian component.
“Mrs Biggs is a five ep series and a co-pro with ITV. It’s the story of Charmaine Biggs, the wife of train robber Ronnie Biggs. It’s a pretty fascinating story of their life on the run, much of which took place within Australia. It has a very strong female character as the lead which we think will resonate well with our audience,” says Ross.
There is plenty more from the UK and the US.
“Mr Selfridge had a big UK debut the other week and has had three eps averaging over 6m in the UK. It stars Jeremy Piven as the iconic Harry Selfridge, the creator of retail stores as we know it and it also stars Frances O’Connor. It’s a lavish ITV Sunday night production.
“Hannibal stars Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen and Laurence Fishburne, exploring the relationship between Hannibal Lecter and a young FBI profiler, before he became the world’s most famous serial killer. Obviously we’re the home of Criminal Minds and we think this could be a great partner for that show.
“Red Widow stars Australia’s Radha Mitchell as a woman who has to take over her husband’s crime syndicate after her husband is murdered. This is going out on ABC in the US. We feel that it pushes all the buttons that made Revenge such a hit last year, so we have a lot of faith in it.
“Last Resort is an action-packed thriller which centres on a US submarine and they question an order from the Pentagon and become branded as fugitives. They take refuge on a remote Pacific Island and declare themselves the world’s newest nuclear-armed nation. It stars Scott Speedman and Andre Braughman and a couple of Australians.”
But the series has already been cancelled in the US?
“It is having one season but if you look at where it was scheduled in the US and how it was marketed I still think it’s a good show,” he insists.
“But we think it has a lot of potential in this market. It will be wrapped up after 13 episodes so in terms of commitment perhaps that’s not a bad thing.
“It’s kind of like a miniseries and it will all be wrapped-up in the finale episode.”
Also returning are 30 Rock and Once Upon a Time.
Underpinning Seven’s daytime schedule is ratings leader Sunrise and The Morning Show, yet to lose a week since it premiered in 2007 while sports brands include AFL, The Melbourne Cup and the V8 Supercars.
Ross is also keen to address the areas Seven under-performed last year after Nine took a grip with The Voice and barely looked back.
“We recognise that in Quarter Two last year with Australia’s Got Talent we under-performed in our demographics. We were still extremely competitive on an All-People level and still won a number of weeks. But we have a number of things coming like The Mole, House Rules and Celebrity Splash that will bring a very competitive Quarter Two with a lot of new offerings that will resonate with a lot viewers,” he says.
“I don’t know how The Block: All Stars will go but it’s still a bloody strong brand. In terms of (Nine’s) 8:30 offerings I’m not sure how much they have in the league of Revenge, Rafters, Downton. They can offer up things like Parade’s End but we all know that was a disaster in the UK and is so anti-9 audience. I think they will rush The Following in given its numbers from the other week but it is a very, very dark show.
“It’s all very well and good to have a noisy Reality show at 7:30 but you’ve got to have the depth and consistency at 8:30 and 9:30 and that’s what I believe we have.”
Lastly I ask about Seven’s views on fast-tracking. Does playing Downton Abbey in February mean Seven has the option of another season later in the year?
“It does. The whole fast-tracking thing is something we look at on an on-going basis. Downton when we showed it in April was still doing 1.5m viewers,” he explains.
“But it’s something you have to look at on a show by show basis.
“In Australia the scoreboard for fast-tracking a show in its first season is an absolute zero at the moment. None of them have ever worked.
“But looking at subsequent seasons it’s a show by show consideration and a year by year proposition.
“With running Downton in February could we run it again in September? Of course. It’s something we will look at and it will depend on how the current season rolls out.”