In years gone by, Nine was the unbeatable leader in daytime TV – their rock-solid lineup of The Mike Walsh Show (later The Midday Show) followed by US soaps Days Of Our Lives and The Young And The Restless, set them up for the afternoon for two decades and no matter what Seven and Ten threw at it, it seemed invincible.
Perhaps the rot started to set in when The Midday Show was packed up finally in 1998. Nine had tried to cancel, or “rest” (as is the current terminology), the show back in 1994 after Derryn Hinch‘s year as host. The show came back in mid-1995 with hosts Tracy Grimshaw (now the crusader of everything moral and decent at A Current Affair) and David Reyne (now of 9am With David & Kim fame on Ten) who put a talk focus onto what was traditionally variety TV. Tracy and David’s efforts were short-lived, and then came Kerri-Anne Kennerley who put the glam back into the show, and created a defining moment when she did the macarena with (now former) federal treasurer Peter Costello.
Fast forward almost a decade, and Nine had struggled to fill the gap left by Midday but had finally settled on US talk show Dr Phil – not as schmaltzy as Oprah but far less trashy than Jerry Springer, who were both on Ten. Then at the close of 2006, Nine decided not to increase its bid to renew its long-standing agreement with US network CBS, letting the deal go to Ten, hence losing shows including Dr Phil in the process.
At around the same time Nine quietly decided not to renew its contract with Sony Pictures for The Young And The Restless – a series that had been a permanent fixture on Nine’s schedule since 1974 – hoping perhaps that nobody would notice.
To lose one part of its afternoon schedule would have been bad enough, but to let go a 30-year veteran – which still enjoyed a strong following – is unthinkable. And if Nine should have known one thing, it is not to offend your loyal housewife audience – something which Nine had done once before when it chopped out four years of episodes of both Days Of Our Lives and The Young And The Restless to bring Australia in line with current-day storylines in the US. Despite this, as many as 200,000 were still avidly following The Young And The Restless, and as many again were watching re-runs of Dr Phil. These are not big figures by prime-time standards, but for daytime they are figures to be treasured.
Knowing that they were going to lose a two-hour chunk of their afternoon schedule, Nine must have had something gold to take its place – especially to placate the soap opera fans who had endured the indignity of losing four years of their long-time favourites, and now also having to subscribe to a premium Foxtel package to keep up with The Young And The Restless.
Enter The Catch-Up.
The Catch-Up, a product of Nine’s newly-hired “creative services director” Mia Freedman, was loosely based on the popular US talk show The View (already shown on Foxtel here) which featured a panel of females discussing issues of the day – a concept that could have had potential here, but Nine stumbled.
Whereas The View was headlined by veteran journalist Barbara Walters and more recently by comedian-actress-talkshow host Rosie O’Donnell, The Catch-Up featured three unknowns and one Libbi Gorr whose TV career hit a peak about a decade ago. The three other presenters were FM radio chick Zoe Sheridan, politician’s wife Lisa Oldfield, and Mary Moody, described by Nine as ‘adventurer, author, documentary producer, director, gardener, photographer, publisher and editor’ and a presenter on ABC‘s Gardening Australia – but yet, who is she?
Nine had a lot riding on this show – and opening episodes returned figures of over 240,000 which gave it promise but it was downhill from there. The situation was not helped by an apparent lack of any chemistry between the four presenters. As a result, viewers already disenchanted by the loss of two popular shows, even though they sampled The Catch-Up, didn’t stick with it.
Not even a slip-up by guest star, underworld figure Judy Moran, who named suspects in a pending court case on-air in the show’s opening days, raised any significant interest in the show.
As the show continued and ratings continued to slide, media reports alleged various backstage tension between the four presenters – though whether this was for real or just a case of ratings-seeking behaviour by the network – obviously keen to get some return on their expensive venture – was not known.
The program also unwittingly became a pawn in negotiations over contract renewals between Nine and regional affiliate WIN. WIN chief Bruce Gordon starting pulling Nine Network programs off his WIN schedule in protest to Nine’s intent to increase affiliation fees which Gordon deemed unjustified. The Catch Up and other off-peak programs from Nine were removed from WIN’s schedule across the country as they were seen to generate income to Nine through various product placement deals and other in-program advertorials, though this income did not filter through to WIN.
With declining audiences and largely negative feedback about the show both in content and the presenters (and also a curious self-assessment by panellist Oldfield that she was to blame for the show’s poor performance), the situation got desperate enough that reinforcements had to be called in. Enter veteran journalist, magazine editor, publisher and businesswoman Ita Buttrose to appear as a panellist on the show. The addition of a well-known, respected and credible identity like Ita, who has had ties to the Nine Network in the past and its sister company ACP as a long-standing magazine editor, to the program really highlighted that she was the sort of identity that should have been headlining the show from the very start. Though her addition to the lineup may have been too late to save it.
By mid-June, Nine had lost CEO Eddie McGuire and producer Freedman had also offered her resignation – so without its biggest supporter and its producer on board, the inevitable happened and The Catch Up was wound up – replaced by midday movies.
The Nine Network has gone to great lengths and expense to boost its fortunes in 2008 but little mention has been made as to whether this extends to their floundering afternoon schedule – being held up only by Days Of Our Lives and the kids program Hi-5.