Thank God You’re Here changed chan­nels for a rea­son, write Colin Vick­ery and Dar­ren Devlyn

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Front Page -

CHAN­NEL 7 was ec­static — its ri­val, Chan­nel 10, dev­as­tated. Pro­duc­tion com­pany Work­ing Dog, at the cen­tre of a net­work tug-of-war, was sud­denly a whole lot wealth­ier.

That was the out­come af­ter Seven poached Aussie com­edy Thank God You’re Here from Ten late last year.

De­pend­ing on whose fig­ures you be­lieve, Seven paid some­thing be­tween $1 mil­lion and a whop­ping $1.3 mil­lion per episode for the 10-episode se­ries that is the brain­child of Work­ing Dog’s Tom Gleis­ner, Rob Sitch, Jane Kennedy, Santo Ci­lauro and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Michael Hirsh.

What started out as the lit­tle-show-that­could has turned into a multi-mil­lion-dol­lar mon­ster that needs to pull a huge au­di­ence to jus­tify Seven’s in­vest­ment. Seven will be bank­ing on it be­ing as suc­cess­ful as it was on Ten, where it had 1.8 mil­lion view­ers.

Thank God You’re Here is im­por­tant for an­other rea­son. It’s a ma­jor part of Seven’s push to grab a younger au­di­ence. Seven’s au­di­ence is the old­est of all the com­mer­cial net­works, but ad­ver­tis­ers want younger view­ers. Seven needs to de­liver more of those youngsters and TGYH will do that.

‘‘It adds the right de­mo­graph­ics to Seven,’’ Fu­sion Strat­egy me­dia an­a­lyst Steve Allen says. ‘‘It helps make their au­di­ence younger. Even in re­peats, Thank God You’re Here has been in the top 20 pro­grams and when it’s first run it’s of­ten been in the top five.’’

Some say Work­ing Dog’s de­ci­sion to switch net­works is noth­ing more than a grab for cash.

There’s no doubt Ten felt Work­ing Dog had been dis­loyal af­ter col­lab­o­rat­ing with the heavy­weight pro­ducer on shows in­clud­ing The Panel, Rus­sell Coight’s All Aussie Ad­ven­tures and Thank God.

Ten chief pro­gram­mer David Mott said in De­cem­ber: ‘‘Ten . . . took a leap of faith with Work­ing Dog to de­velop what was then just an idea into Thank God You’re Here. It’s fair to say I’m very dis­ap­pointed af­ter all the work we’ve done to­gether.’’

Gleis­ner says there is more to the move than a big pay cheque.

‘‘It’s quite un­der­stand­able for peo­ple to as­sume that the only rea­son any­one switches net­works is for money,’’ Gleis­ner, pic­tured (right) with TGYH host Shane Bourne, says.

‘‘But in our case the de­ci­sion was based upon a de­sire to in­tro­duce the show to a new and po­ten­tially big­ger au­di­ence. If money was our ma­jor mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tor we would never have taken a year off mak­ing the show.’’

But can Gleis­ner and Seven se­ri­ously ex­pect Thank God to at­tract more view­ers than it did on Ten? Yes, Allen says. ‘‘Seven has a his­tory of pick­ing up pro­grams (in­clud­ing Kath & Kim) and wring­ing more au­di­ence out of them,’’ he says.

‘‘No doubt they pointed this out to the pro­duc­ers.

‘‘When you come to Seven they re­ally nur­ture and back things.’’

The sheer scale of Thank God has changed with the move to Seven. The show is be­ing filmed at the Mel­bourne Show­grounds, which means more stu­dio space and a big­ger au­di­ence.

‘‘We haven’t changed the for­mat — four guests still walk through a blue door into a world they know noth­ing about,’’ Gleis­ner says.

‘‘But hav­ing moved to a new and big­ger stu­dio, we look for­ward to be­ing able to do things in this se­ries that have pre­vi­ously been im­pos­si­ble. Us­ing live an­i­mals, real cars, elab­o­rate stunts.

‘‘We have also made a com­mit­ment to try to in­tro­duce at least one new face a week — some­one who has never done the show be­fore.’’

Seven CEO David Leckie de­scribed the poach­ing of Thank God as be­ing ‘‘the first of many shows in a long-term re­la­tion­ship with Work­ing Dog’’, but it’s clear Gleis­ner and Co en­joy their free­dom and won’t be tied to a sin­gle net­work. Leckie shouldn’t count his chick­ens— even if Thank God is film­ing in the Show­grounds’ poul­try pavil­ion.

‘‘We are al­ways com­ing up with new ideas. If we like one enough to pur­sue it we then look for the most ap­pro­pri­ate broad­caster,’’ Gleis­ner says. ‘‘Some­thing like last year’s The Hol­low­men, a po­lit­i­cal satire, ob­vi­ously be­longed at the ABC, so that’s where we took it. And if we come up with some­thing that suits Seven, we’ll cer­tainly be happy to sit down with them and dis­cuss it.’’

MER­RICK Watts, Cal Wil­son, Colin Lane and Rhys Darby are the first guest stars to go through the blue door tonight.

Bourne says he’s found his re­turn to Thank God cathar­tic.

‘‘I love do­ing City Homi­cide, but this show al­lows me to get away from blood and gore,’’ Bourne says. ‘‘Be­cause we’ve had an 18-month hia­tus, I’ve just been re­minded what a great ride it is. There’s a new venue and a new net­work, so the show has a feel­ing of re­newal about it.’’

The show is per­formed in front of an au­di­ence of 500 and 6000 names are on the wait­ing list for tick­ets. Each episode re­quires five new sets — a huge pro­duc­tion task. Bourne says the show­grounds lo­ca­tion gives Thank God a rock­con­cert at­mos­phere.

‘‘To see th­ese sets wheeled in . . . they are huge and give a greater sense of depth,’’ he says.

‘‘You can see the money go­ing into the show. Ev­ery­thing has been ramped up. The stakes have been lifted.’’

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