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