FINGERS ON THE BUZZER
Early evening quiz shows will hog the prime time spotlight in Australia in 2015, meaning rival television networks will go head to head as they strive for the perfect vehicle to drive up their ratings
IT is buzzers at 20 paces as Channels Seven, Nine and Ten gear up for war with Million Dollar Minute, Millionaire Hot and Family Feud. Forget the upcoming 7.30pm reality stoush between My Kitchen Rules, The Block Triple Threat and I’m a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!
Instead, the most hardfought TV battle of 2015 will be between rival quiz shows.
These early evening programs play a crucial role in determining each network’s ratings fortunes.
The Project has been on a ratings rise since Ten took a chance on reviving Family Feud with Grant Denyer at 6pm last July. Ten would love that trend to continueafter signing Waleed Aly to host The Project alongside Carrie Bickmore and Peter Helliar.
And, after a slow start, Seven has gained traction at 5.30pm with Million Dollar Minute, hosted by Simon Reeve. It’s now locked in a fierce battle for supremacy with Hot Seat.
Nine started the ascendancy of its 6pm news thanks to the strong performance of Hot Seat, hosted by Eddie McGuire, which has screened at 5.30pm since 2005.
Back when Antiques Roadshow aired in the 5.30pm timeslot, Nine’s news was on the ropes.
“The lead-in to the news is obviously very important,” McGuire says. “The success of Hot Seat has been huge in helping Nine’s news, there’s no doubt about that.”
The thinking is: Get your early evening quiz show right and you help your news and current affairs ratings. Get your news and current affairs right and the rest of the evening’s programming has the best chance of success. Viewers will hopefully flow from one program to the next.
That is why it was such a big gamble for Seven to launch Million Dollar Minute in September 2013.
The show, which replaced the once-successful Deal or No Deal, was a Seven original. That made it an unknown quantity for audiences.
Million Dollar Minute stumbled early when original host Denyer left the show after just two months citing vague “family reasons”.
Replacement host Reeve, who had fronted kids’ quiz show It’s Academic, was thrown in at the deep end.
“The big thing about these (early evening quiz) shows is that they are like putting on a comfy old jacket (for the audience),” Reeve says.
“They have to feel right. That process takes a long time.
“What you are asking of the audience is (for the television show) to be part of what is happening around the home at that time of night.
“That is a big divide to cross (but) I think we’ve crossed that divide. People accept the format now and accept me as host and now it becomes an arm wrestle (with Hot Seat).”
The beauty of quiz shows is that you can tweak them. The half-hour Hot Seat evolved out of the longer-format Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? which debuted on Nine in 1999. Seven has also tinkered with Million Dollar Minute, adding $75,000 and $300,000 safety nets to encourage winning contestants to keep on playing.
“If you call the show Million Dollar Minute then viewers want to see people playing for a million bucks or near enough,” Reeve says.
“We’ve had three $500,000 winners now – Dougal Richardson, Jonathan Maher and Pierre Sutcliffe. The audience love to invest in that journey.”
Family Feud doesn’t pay big prize money; it is a format that is nearly 40 years old in Australia. Hosts of past incarnations include Tony Barber, Daryl Somers, Bert Newton and Rob Brough.
That hasn’t fazed Aussie viewers, who have embraced the reboot on Ten.
But it did give Denyer a few sleepless nights.
“The fact that it ( Family Feud) was an ‘old favourite’ was scaring me because that cannot always be successful,” Denyer admits.
Dougal Richardson savours his record-breaking $535,000 winning moment on
Million Dollar Minute.