Local content is back on the menu as the networks gear up to offer the brightest and best in an attempt to lure the elusive advertising dollar in harsh economic times, writes Colin Vickery
JUST when you thought television couldn’t get any more competitive, along comes the world economic crisis to suck potentially hundreds of millions of dollars out of Australia’s $2.5 billion advertising pie.
That means the commercial networks will stop at nothing to grab every last ratings point and dollar of advertisers’ money.
All are planning a range of new shows to do just that because this is a year where if you stand still, you’ll get left behind.
The emphasis is again on Australian content. The networks were burnt in 2008 by the US writers’ strike, which slashed the number of episodes of shows such as CSI, House and Grey’s Anatomy.
They won’t make that mistake again, and most US shows are shedding viewers anyway.
CHANNEL 10 made the bold move of announcing its 2009 line-up in early November. It had to because it needed to reassure advertisers it had some exciting new programs coming up after a big ratings drop in 2008.
Ten also had to show it had the programs to fill the gaping 120-hour hole left after it axed Big Brother. Since then, it has also lost Thank God You’re Here to Channel 7.
Ten CEO Grant Blackley says the network is still aiming to grab more viewers in the 18-49 age bracket as well as maintain its lead in 16-39s. But does it have the programs to do it?
A lot will be riding on the success of MasterChef Australia, which is Ten’s Big Brother replacement. The recent ratings for The Chopping Block and Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares suggest Aussie viewers may have had enough of cooking shows.
Ten is confident its new show, which concentrates on novice cooks rather than celebrity chefs, will be a winner.
Event shows So You Think You Can Dance, The Biggest Loser (which will feature couples in the new series) and Australian Idol are back and Rush, with new cast member Jolene Anderson, will be moved into the earlier 8.30pm slot in a bid to capture more viewers.
Ten is also investing heavily in smaller-scale reality shows: Recruits, which centres on the New South Wales Police College in Goulburn; Guerilla Gardeners, where six young warriors convert big city eyesores into garden oases; and Bondi Vet, which tracks Dr Chris Brown on his rounds.
Undercover Boss puts bosses into menial jobs in their own companies, Australia’s Hidden Genius aims to unearth rare talent, and Talkin’ ’bout my Generation is a pop-culture quiz show that pits baby boomers against Generation X and Generation Y.
International offerings appear to be a mixed bag. There’s Merlin, which aims to trade off the popularity of Harry Potter.
Tim Roth is in Lie to Me from the O’Mara ( mi) and Harvey Keitel. There are also the sit-com Worst Week, and one-hour drama Harper’s Island.
Ten has also scored the rights to Matt Lucas and David Walliams’s six-episode Little Britain USA.
A rejuvenated Neighbours returns along with more NCIS, House, Simpsons, Law & Order: SVU, Good News Week and Criminal Intent.
Ten will also launch its new allsport digital channel, One. team behind 24 and Arrested Development, and there’s a US remake of Life on Mars, which features Jason
Grey’s Anatomy, CSI: Mia-
CHANNEL 7 CEO David Leckie is so confident of success that he announced Seven would win the 2009 ratings way back in October.
And why wouldn’t he be confident? Seven may have lost audience share last year, but it has a strong line-up of successful local programs.
For a start there is a second series of Packed to the Rafters, last year’s biggest drama. Add a third series of City Homicide, new episodes of reality ratings winners Find My Family, The Zoo, Border Security and RSPCA, more It Takes Two, Australia’s Got Talent, Battle of the Choirs and Dancing with the Stars and you have a strong base.
Plus there’s the AFL coverage, including the Brownlow Medal.
Leckie has acknowledged that ‘‘Sunday night has been our problem slot’’ so the network is taking its biggest gamble there with Sunday Night, a new big-budget currentaffairs program to take on Nine powerhouse 60 Minutes.
Then there is the coup of stealing Thank God You’re Here from Chan- nel 10. It is expensive (reportedly more than $1 million an episode), but it is a sure ratings winner.
Sonia Kruger finally gets her own show with makeover program 10 Years Younger in 10 Days.
Seven will also have series Triple Zero Heroes, which reconstructs real-life emergency calls, and Beyond the Darklands, which delves into the minds of serial killers.
Seven is also hoping to snare a new series of Kath & Kim and, tapping into Underbelly’s ratings triumph, will premiere new docudrama series Gangs of Oz.