Are they worth it?

They score riches in sport, then win lu­cra­tive TV deals. But do the net­works get bang for their buck? Mar­cus Casey and Dar­ren Devlyn re­port

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Guide -

AT A time when view­ers were en­thralled by bat­tles be­ing waged in the pool and on the track at the Bei­jing Olympics, Games rights-holder Chan­nel 7 and ri­val Nine were en­gaged in an equally fierce off-screen tus­sle.

Seven and Nine were out to snare ath­letes on deals that would tie them ex­clu­sively to their net­work — a fight that reached its most spite­ful point when Seven chair­man Kerry Stokes learned Nine was try­ing to trump him by se­cur­ing ath­letes for a 60 Min­utes Olympics spe­cial.

Stokes solved Seven’s prob­lem by wav­ing a cheque­book. He was so keen to have cham­pion swim­mer Stephanie Rice on his books that Seven’s of­fer al­legedly jumped in a hurry from $200,000 for one year to $700,000 for two.

Big brass, even in the ex­ces­sive do­main of TV, but it’s fair to ask: is it money well spent and what value can Seven hope to gain from Rice when her swim­ming ca­reer must take pri­or­ity over other in­ter­ests?

Swim­ming leg­end Ian Thorpe spent seven years on Seven’s books for a mod­est re­turn — ap­pear­ing on shows such as The Great Out­doors, Sportsworld and best-for­got­ten re­al­ity se­ries Un­der­cover Angels.

Kieren Perkins and Cathy Free­man are oth­ers who have been tipped for me­dia ca­reer star­dom that never even­tu­ated. There are no guar­an­tees sport­ing suc­cess will give Rice an easy ride as a TV per­former.

Jo­hanna Griggs, who along with fel­low for­mer swim­mer Nicole Liv­ing­stone has carved a suc­cess­ful me­dia ca­reer, has rightly sug­gested Seven must be care­ful about how it han­dles new sign­ing Rice.

Griggs’ life was rocked in 1996 when Seven man­age­ment re­vealed by fax it was sack­ing her.

She re­fined her tal­ents at Fox­tel and was re-em­ployed by Seven in the lead-up to the 2000 Syd­ney Olympics.

Griggs, who says ‘‘I don’t think I’m stretch­ing it to say I was abysmal when I started (in TV)’’, hopes too much is not ex­pected of Rice too soon.

Af­ter the Olympics, Seven was quick to put Rice to work by hav­ing her film a spot for the Jen­nifer Hawkins re­al­ity show, Make Me a Su­per­model.

It ap­pears Seven is now pro­ceed­ing with cau­tion, train­ing Rice in work­ing to cam­era and avoid­ing mak­ing de­mands of her that take her out of her com­fort zone.

Rice con­fesses she was sur­prised at Seven’s speed in sign­ing her without hav­ing a clearly de­fined plan for how she would be used.

‘‘This whole ex­pe­ri­ence for me has been new and ex­cit­ing and some­thing I never pre­pared for be­fore the Games,’’ Rice says.

‘‘Head­ing into Bei­jing I was not think­ing about end re­sults, I was re­ally try­ing to think about the process and to en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence.

‘‘Com­ing away with three golds was some­thing I never ex­pected from my­self. I guess it wasn’t re­ally un­til the end of the meet that I re­alised a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties would be open­ing up for me.

‘‘I didn’t want to think about it be­fore be­cause you don’t want to lose fo­cus. So it’s only been a few weeks for this to sink in and it hasn’t yet — it’s still all a bit of shock.’’

APART from the Make Me A Su­per­model episode, Rice in the short term is likely to be seen on shows Seven pro­duces for the Queens­land mar­ket.

‘‘Sign­ing ex­clu­sively with Seven is re­ally ex­cit­ing,’’ she says.

‘‘I didn’t think of en­dors­ing a chan­nel straight away, but ob­vi­ously Seven want me to do things I’m in­ter­ested in, that I would watch and pay at­ten­tion to and be around my age bracket.

‘‘Do­ing some­thing like Su­per­model re­ally fit­ted in around my per­son­al­ity and in­ter­ests. I’m re­ally in­ter­ested in fash­ion and me­dia, but never con­sid­ered where I would be right now. I’m loving it.’’

Tim Worner, Seven’s head of pro­gram­ming and pro­duc­tion, has a keen eye for tal­ent. Af­ter an hour­long meet­ing with her in Bei­jing, Worner was cer­tain he wanted Rice on his team.

‘‘Each per­son is dif­fer­ent,’’ he says. ‘‘At times you can have a sportsper­son who isn’t that well per­formed in their sport, but they are ex­cep­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tors and they be­come a tar­get you want to speak to, to find out if they want to de­velop a ca­reer on TV.

‘‘Then you have peo­ple who are ab­so­lute su­per­stars, who it’s very ob­vi­ous the plan­ets are go­ing to line up for, and they are worth pur­su­ing. Stephanie Rice is in the lat­ter cat­e­gory. It’s dif­fi­cult for us to say what long-term ca­reer she may have in the me­dia in­dus­try at this stage, be­cause she’s just a kid.

‘‘She re­minds me a lot of Jen Hawkins— there is a lot of po­ten­tial there, but you don’t know where that is head­ing. But with Stephanie it’s clear she is some­one who is go­ing to dom­i­nate head­lines and airspace for a while, and for us it was worth forg­ing a re­la­tion­ship with her.’’

One who didn’t take to tele­vi­sion un­til af­ter her swim­ming ca­reer ended was Gi­aan Rooney.

Rooney, who quit swim­ming in 2006, was in­ter­ested in learn­ing about tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion and script writ­ing, and with her man­ager shopped her­self around the net­works. Nine snapped her up, adding to its sta­ble of for­mer sport stars in­clud­ing Sam New­man, Garry Lyon, Richie Be­naud, Mark Tay­lor and Ian Chap­pell.

Nine had de­cided Rooney had a nat­u­ral charm and po­ten­tial as a pre­sen­ter. In two years she has gone from re­porter for hire to host­ing her own show, Bat­tle­fronts.

As for her me­dia tal­ent, Rooney says: ‘‘It’s lovely peo­ple say that, but the big­gest thing for me is that I have no act­ing abil­ity, so what you see is what you get.

‘‘I’d much rather be able to say what you’re see­ing is me and to be as nat­u­ral as pos­si­ble. I think the pub­lic is smart enough and per­cep­tive enough to pick up when some­one is not be­ing gen­uine.’’

IT’S a ca­reer con­tinue. ‘‘It has been com­pletely sat­is­fy­ing and ex­ceeded my ex­pec­ta­tions,’’ she says. ‘‘I’d al­ways heard TV isn’t as glam­orous as it seems, that there are long days and long hours. But for me I feel so lucky be­cause I love my job ev­ery day.

‘‘Peo­ple ask me what is my dream job and I have to say I’m liv­ing it ex­actly as it is. It’s tricky putting your own per­son­al­ity out into the uni­verse and hop­ing peo­ple like it — that can be quite daunt­ing. But no one has rung me up yet to say, ‘‘Look, this just isn’t work­ing’.’’

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