The Year That Was… #5: The dawn of HD

New Year’s Day 2007 marked a change to Australia’s digital television landscape. From that day on, commercial stations were permitted to open a dedicated high-definition (HD) channel with content separate to the analogue or standard-definition channels (or the core channels as ACMA identifies them)

Didn’t hear about it? You weren’t alone. We all thought the networks continued through the year as if it was still 2006 as not a word was uttered about this partial lifting of multi-channel restriction on commercial stations. (ABC and SBS have been allowed to offer multi-channelling since digital TV started in 2001)

Then, on 14 September, out of the blue comes an announcement from Network Ten that after months of planning, they are going to launch their ‘break-out’ high-definition channel TenHD in December.

The new channel would offer around 50 hours per week of exclusive content not available on the core channels. Programming would include time-shifted content such as delayed broadcasts of Ten News, and would also include movies, sci-fi, documentaries and extensions of existing Ten programs such as Australian Idol.

The announcement from Ten seemed to spark some interest among its rivals, as only a day after their announcement the Seven Network said they will also be launching a separate high-definition channel, also to launch in December. However while Ten was able to spell out its program strategy and station identification for TenHD, Seven was only able to offer a vague statement as to its HD offering. There was no channel identification and no indication of programming. It looked as if Seven had been caught on the hop by Ten, and perhaps tried to ‘spoil’ Ten’s announcement with a rushed press release to state its intentions.

Then the Nine Network got involved with parent company PBL Media boss Ian Law making a statement to the press that Nine will be beating both Seven and Ten with their own HD channel to launch in November. No suggestion of programming other than a vague statement that it will be a mix of high-definition and standard-definition (something which defies the rules set out by ACMA), and nothing else to give away – not even a name of the channel (though 9HD seems a safe bet).

Also an interesting announcement by Mr Law given that Nine is regarded as being disadvantaged in the HD arena by not having the infrastructure in place to support it, as opposed to the more modern facilities operated by Seven and Ten. While Nine’s previous owner, the late Kerry Packer was happy to spend millions on hiring celebrities and buying content for his network, he was not known to show the same generosity in some of his stations’ infrastructure. One Nine staffer was quoted as describing some of Nine’s equipment as being archaic and that it is a pure miracle that Nine gets some of its stories to air in time. How Nine was going to get a functional HD channel on the air by November would certainly have been interesting – but Law was quoted in the same press article that Nine had been planning their HD channel in ‘top secret’.

Can you see a trend happening here?

Once all that initial chest-beating was out of the way, there wasn’t much else made public about these much-flaunted HD channels although Ten had started airing some well-made station promos to get the message out about TenHD – another sign that Ten was certainly more progressed than Nine and Seven appeared to be.

But then a month later, viewers of Seven’s high-definition channel noticed a different program being broadcast as opposed to their core channels. What was this about? Is this their new channel? As it turned out, yes, it was 7HD – but don’t worry about any pre-launch announcement or promotion, just put out a press release the next day to make the statement that Seven was now the first to launch their HD channel. But once they cut through the spin, viewers realised not to get too excited as 7HD was only offering two hours of late-night programming a night for the time being and still no firm indication as to the channel’s intentions. A case of rushing to air just so they could claim to be ‘first’? Perhaps.

But it’s not always a matter of who is first to launch – but rather who is best to launch, and it still appeared that Ten was going to lead even though still only snippets of information was being released to the public, but Ten was not going to be stirred up by Seven’s catch-up attempts and big statements.

Then November came and went – and there was no sign of Nine’s ‘top secret’ HD channel until new CEO David Gyngell told the press that Nine’s new HD channel would now not launch until March 2008, and would not be treated as a separate channel – as Seven and Ten were promoting theirs – but rather just an enhancement of their mainstream channel, although all three networks had been doing that anyway in providing an HD simulcast of many standard-definition programs – so Nine’s intentions were still not totally clear but at least being upfront enough to they are not going to fall for the ego trip that Seven seems to have taken.

When Ten announced that TenHD would launch on Sunday 16 December, you’d never guess what happened next – Seven decided to beat them to it by launching their full-scale 7HD channel a week earlier, prompting another proud press release. Seven was first yet again, but take a glance at 7HD’s ‘full’ line-up and a lot of its content appeared to be re-runs of programs from their archives, and not all of it was even produced in HD, another sign that the channel was rushed together just to beat any launch date that Ten had offered in advance.

TenHD did finally launch, as announced, on 16 December with some interesting programming initiatives such as a dedicated sci-fi night, and some time-shifted content as promised although this is so far limited to only a 30-minute ‘shift’ for the 5.00pm news, and the US daytime soap The Bold And The Beautiful. More sport is expected in the new year and when ratings return in February one hopes that there will be more of their promised 50 hours a week of exclusive content, and more time-shifted content.

Despite 7HD’s initial schedule perhaps being underwhelming, there is some potential for innovation with Seven planning some original content for 7HD such as new talk shows from Deal Or No Deal host Andrew O’Keefe, and from the producer of Sunrise, Adam Boland. The promise of original content specifically for HD shows that perhaps underneath all the bravado, there is a genuine opportunity for HD to experiment a little with formats that would perhaps never see the light of day on mainstream television which in turn may see some innovation filter through to the mainstream channels – and it is one aspect that Ten has possibly ignored with TenHD.

Thanks for MoeVideos, identsdotTV and galoresoftware for the YouTube clips.

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The Year That Was… #4: Lots of laughs in ’07

Australians love their comedy on TV, but in the last couple of years, apart from a few stand out successes like Spicks & Specks and Thank God You’re Here, there wasn’t a great deal to laugh about.

Then 2007 came along and the tide was turning. ABC‘s The Chaser’s War On Everything was plucked from last year’s late-night timeslot to take The Glass House‘s spot on Wednesday nights, and virtually doubled its audience as a result of the change. Various stunts of the Chaser team (pictured) inspired many headlines and a lot of outrage – whether it be the team infiltrating the iron-clad security of the APEC Summit in Sydney, making crude remarks about deceased personalities or gate-crashing the offices of Today Tonight, a program that was the subject of much derision by the team.

Also on ABC this year was another comedy hit – Summer Heights High. This long-awaited follow-up from Chris Lilley, who gave us the mockumentary styled series We Can Be Heroes in 2005, received plenty of mixed reaction and also its fair share of headlines. Parents and teachers were outraged when school children were now mocking the crude phrases of troubled student Jonah. Similar outrage was also felt when one of the show’s central storylines, the death of a student from a drug overdose, was seen to mirror that of a similar real-life case where the victim happened to have the same first name as the fictional character depicted. In that case it was found to be an unfortunate coincidence as the series had been written and produced before the real-life incident occurred.

At the same time, Summer Heights High also received its share of accolades as Lilley, who wrote the series and performed the three very different key roles – private schoolgirl Ja’mie King (pictured), self-obsessed drama teacher Mr G, and student Jonah – very aptly covered various issues found in today’s schools such as drugs, bullying, racism, violence, disability and homophobia.

Following on from Summer Heights High was The Librarians – a title that doesn’t inspire much excitement but instead showed that inside a library is a pit of sexual tension, jealousy, bitchiness and bigotry in the lead up to the biggest event in the suburban library calendar, Book Week.

But possibly the biggest comedy event to hit Australian TV this year was the comeback of those foxy ladies, Kath & Kim. It was thought to be an April Fool’s Day gag when on 1 April, the Seven Network announced it had shelled out $3 million to drag the popular pair across from ABC where they’d presented three top-rating series and a telemovie. It was also ironic in that Seven is where the characters were formed in the first place, as characters in the sketch comedies Big Girl’s Blouse (1994) and Something Stupid (1998).

Success in the transition from ABC to commercial TV isn’t always a given, it has been tried before by others with mixed results, but Seven’s debut of series four of Kath & Kim on 19 August attracted over 2.5 million viewers in the capital cities and the series had a series average of 2.128 million – the highest of any TV series all year.

Network Ten presented a third series of Thank God You’re Here, providing more unpredictable performances from actors thrown into scenarios without the safety of a script. A creation of Working Dog Productions, Thank God You’re Here was the second most watched series of 2007 with 1.86 million viewers. The success of the format in Australia has seen it franchised around the world although it did stumble in the US after its initial six-week run when it was shown on NBC, currently the fourth-ranked commercial network.

Despite the format’s continued success in Australia, there is still uncertainty as to whether it will be back in 2008 although it looks like the rival Nine Network could be stringing together a similar concept in a bid to regain its ratings dominance. Nine will hope that the new show gives it something to laugh about because 2007 was a year they’d probably like to forget.

Nine’s ratings failings this year were not helped by Mick Molloy‘s The Nation which aimed to put a humorous spin on the week’s events – a concept not entirely new to viewers familiar with similar programs such as The Panel. The gamble on Molloy (pictured) was puzzling, given that his last venture at the Nine Network was the ill-fated Mick Molloy Show which set new benchmarks for questionable taste, and it would appear that viewers hadn’t quite forgiven him enough to give The Nation a go.

Nine’s other new comic venture this year was nothing really new at all – Surprise Surprise Gotcha was a thinly-veiled attempt to repackage a series that it had made almost a decade ago, complete with segments simply cut-and-pasted from the original version. Nine also followed on from Surprise Surprise Gotcha with another cheap format, Commercial Breakdown, with former AFL footballer Dermot Brereton presenting packages of funny or quirky commercials. Again, a format that had been done plenty of times before.

Although ABC had good results this year from Spicks & Specks and The Chaser’s War On Everything, they had less success with The Sideshow, a show loosely modelled on the broadcaster’s former hit The Big Gig. Launching in ratings graveyard of Saturday nights, The Sideshow was always going to struggle to find an audience and the 7.30 timeslot was at odds with presenting the more risque humour better suited to a later timeslot. Then ABC did shift the program to 9.30 but perhaps by then the damage was done, and it was cancelled shortly after.

Finally, over to SBS who delivered their own humorous take on the news with Newstopia, a creation of comedian and radio host Shaun Micallef (pictured), though was said to be a local take on the US series The Daily Show. SBS also aired a sixth series of urban comedy Pizza.

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TV Week’s Strictly Christmas (1992)

The hit Australian movie of 1992 was Strictly Ballroom – so TV Week‘s celebrity Christmas issue that year was titled Strictly Christmas.

Gathered for the annual celebrity Christmas photo shoot was Steven Jacobs (All Together Now, and these days on Today), Bruce Roberts (Home And Away), Gia Carides from Strictly Ballroom and also in the ABC series Police Rescue, Simon Denny (E Street) before his transformation to US star Simon Baker – and of course, that ‘little fat kid’ from Hey Dad!Matthew Krok.

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An unlikely New Year’s tradition

Television often gives us quirky traditions that become a part of popular culture – and SBS is guilty of probably the two quirkiest on Australian TV – the Eurovision Song Contest in May, and every New Year’s Eve it presents Dinner For One.

Dinner For One was a comedy sketch regularly performed in British music halls since the 1920s and in the early 1960s a German TV producer caught a performance in the UK and decided to adapt the performance for a one-off TV special back home. The special, produced in black-and-white, was made in 1963 starring actors Freddie Frinton and May Warden – and is spoken entirely in English.

The sketch is based around an elderly woman Miss Sophie (Warden) hosting a dinner for her 90th birthday. Unfortunately Miss Sophie has outlived all of her male admirers, so it is up to her butler (Frinton) to impersonate each one at the dinner table – and on the insistence of Miss Sophie, the butler drinks a toast at every course and progressively becoming more drunk each time.

The program was not initially of much significance but when a local network NDR decided to slot it in for a New Year’s Eve screening in the early ’70s it became something of a favourite with Germans and consequently would appear on German TV every New Year’s Eve, receiving massive audience figures every year. Catchphrases from the program have become a regular part of the language in Germany.

Despite the program being made in English and being known across much of Europe (for instance, in Norway it is a long-running pre-Christmas tradition, shown on 23 December), it is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world – except for Australia where the multicultural SBS added the sketch to its own New Year’s Eve schedule in the late 1980s and has appeared every year since then.

Dinner For One. New Year’s Eve, Monday 31 December, 8.00pm, SBS.
Source: Dinner For One

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The Year That Was… #3: Telling it how it really is…

For over thirty years, Mal Walden has been a journalist and news presenter on Melbourne television – so he is perhaps justified to speak his mind when something just isn’t right:

… referring to an earlier story in the news bulletin about former air hostess Lisa Robertson doing a sexy photo shoot for mens magazine Zoo, after being accused of having sex with actor Ralph Fiennes on a flight from Australia to India.

Mal’s on-air swipe appeared on 10 April.

Thanks to bigdan for posting the clip to YouTube

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Merry Christmas from QTQ9! (1967)

Brisbane QTQ9‘s Christmas wishes to TV Week readers in 1967. The angel at the top of the tree is QTQ9 presenter Annette Allison. Children’s presenter ‘Captain Jim’ (Jim Iliffe) is left on the middle row, and newsreaders Don Seccombe (centre) and Brian Cahill (right) on the bottom row.

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The Year That Was… #2: SBS makes its own news

If there can be only one constant in television land, it is change – and nobody is immune from it. In years gone by we’ve seen changes both behind and in front of the cameras at all networks with varying levels of success.

This year it was SBS‘ turn to ring in some major changes – and in doing so made plenty of headlines.

Managing director Shaun Brown came from TVNZ across the Tasman in 2003 to head Australia’s multicultural broadcaster. With Brown came news director Paul Cutler, a former colleague who had also worked for global media giant CNN.

Brown initiated a number of moves at SBS including re-working the schedule, launching some less traditional SBS fare including a dating show Desperately Seeking Shiela and a game show RockWiz. Some initiatives were more welcome than others, and in the revamp a number of long-term staffers had moved on – some voluntarily, others not necessarily so. The most notable departures from SBS were presenters David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz who had left The Movie Show which they pioneered for SBS in 1986, to start up a similar program, At The Movies, at ABC.

However Brown’s most visible change came late in 2006 with the decision to restructure commercial breaks on SBS to appear within programs, as opposed to the previous custom of only in between programs or in ‘natural program breaks’ such as half-time in football matches. The change in this structure was based on the belief that viewers switch off SBS in between programs, hence advertisers’ messages were being ignored. Running commercial breaks inside programs would therefore make them less likely to be skipped by viewers – and hence would be worth charging a higher premium to advertisers.

The change was understandably met with opposition. It is true that SBS has quite happily run commercials since 1991 without the sky falling in, though it was only allowed around five minutes per hour as opposed to the commercial networks playing anything up to fifteen minutes of ads each hour. But changing the structure of the commercial breaks it was feared would open the floodgates to more advertising per hour, and more frighteningly for SBS supporters, the broadcaster’s increasing dependence on the advertising dollar having an influence on its program content and news coverage.

It is also feared that this increase in advertising time on SBS could also set a precedent that could one day see the same change happen to ‘aunty’ ABC which takes pride in being commercial-free on its radio and TV outlets – except for high-rotation promotions for ABC merchandise.

However if the move to its commercial breaks wasn’t enough cause for concern amongst SBS loyalists, Brown had sights set on re-working another SBS landmark – World News Australia.

Since its inception in 1980, World News has been widely acclaimed for providing a global perspective on news coverage by not focussing predominantly on local stories or tabloid headlines. And no cute animal stories to end the bulletins either – World News was unashamedly serious particularly with so much conflict happening away from our shores. In the overall scheme of things World News was never going to win any ratings surveys but it maintained a loyal audience and set SBS apart from the other TV news media – particularly commercial TV.

Former Sydney radio announcer George Donikian was the first newsreader back in 1980 but in 1988 heard the call of commercial television and joined the Nine Network – even though he moved to a relatively minor role at Nine, it was perhaps a belated sign that commercial TV had finally accepted that its news presenters did not have to all be mono-cultural.

Replacing Donikian at the World News desk was a name already familiar to those at SBS – Mary Kostakidis.

Unlike the more routine TV custom of hiring news readers from the ranks of journalists, Kostakidis came from within management. Kostakidis was part of the founding management team when SBS was forming its new television channel back in 1980 – and was involved in setting up the station’s subtitling unit, as well as program purchasing, classification and policy. In 1986, Kostakidis also added acting to her resume, playing Rebekah Elmaloglou‘s mother in the mini-series Five Times Dizzy.

For almost twenty years, Kostakidis was the main face of World News – acclaimed for her delivery of the day’s news stories with class, sophistication and integrity, and for giving the the news the gravitas that it needed without sensationalism.

The situation stayed largely unchanged until 2007 – when Brown and his news chief Cutler decided to overhaul the half-hour news bulletin. The first change was to dismantle the long-running sports program World Sports which supplemented the half-hour news bulletin. World News Australia (the ‘Australia’ was added to the title in 2004) would then be expanded to a one-hour format to fill the half-hour gap left by World Sports.

The next change was for Cutler to to bring a second newsreader to the World News desk, one of his former CNN talents Stan Grant.

In hiring Grant at SBS, what Cutler possibly had not realised was that while Grant had won a number of awards for journalism both here and overseas, he did not carry that sort of credibility with the Australian viewing public.

Grant was a former ABC reporter who made the move across to commercial TV in 1992 to host Seven‘s new current affairs program Real Life. It was quite a leap for a reporter with a relatively low profile to suddenly be hosting a national current affairs program. The program often struggled up against Nine’s evening flagship A Current Affair, with Grant seen as lightweight up against his Nine rival, the very popular Jana Wendt, and his predecessor Derryn Hinch who had since moved to Ten. Then the current affairs satire Frontline appeared on ABC, fronted by fictional host Mike Moore (played by Rob Sitch) who it was rumoured to have been loosely based on Grant.

Grant’s credibility in Australia wasn’t helped either by his personal life, when in 2000 he left his wife for a romance with a colleague, Tracey Holmes. After being shamed by the tabloid press, the pair were sacked from Seven and went overseas where Grant ultimately ended up at CNN in China, working for Cutler.

The arrival of Grant to World News Australia, announced at the end of 2006, was reportedly not met kindly by Kostakidis, who had read the news solo for almost twenty years and was now being sidelined to sharing the role with her new colleague.

Adding salt to Kostakidis’ wounds was the re-formatting of World News Australia to incorporate the new commercial break structure, something which she had openly protested in the past, and also a perceived ‘dumbing down’ of the news service as a means of grabbing more ratings and hence more revenue, working against the traditional principles of SBS – which she was personally involved in setting up. For Kostakidis, it must have surely been a bitter pill to swallow the night that World News Australia had as its lead story the latest on celebrity socialite and jailbird Paris Hilton.

In another instance Kostakidis made a blunt on-air assessment of one celebrity news story:

The off-screen relationship between Kostakidis and Grant was reportedly less than amiable, and as a result attempts to have some sort of casual interaction on screen between news stories also fell flat.

The tension came to a head in August when Kostakidis signed off from the news bulletin as normal on the evening of Friday 10 August. She left the office and drove home, and never returned to the news room. Officially she was on sick leave, but it was apparent that there was more to it than that – and soon after came news that Kostakidis had hired a prominent Melbourne lawyer to represent her in legal action against the network – citing a breach of contract due to the significant change to her newsreading duties, and bullying by management. The case was able to be settled out of court, with details of the settlement to be kept confidential.

Kostakidis’ only statement after the settlement was “I would like SBS viewers to know that I leave with absolute goodwill towards the organisation and wish it all the best.”

And despite all the upheaval, headlines and legal negotiations – it appears to have been for nought. Ratings for World News Australia have fallen by tens of thousands since the revamped format was introduced back in January, the broadcaster has lost its long-standing newsreader, and there are now reports that Stan Grant, whose appointment appeared to be the catalyst for a lot of the uneasiness, is now considering leaving SBS to return overseas, possibly to al-Jazeera English or back to CNN.

And a year after SBS restructed itself to run commercial breaks during programs – the end result at the close of the 2007 ratings year has seen the broadcaster increase its prime-time audience share by a mere 0.1 per cent when compared to 2006. The question perhaps should be asked, has it been worth all the bother?

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The Year That Was… #1: Nine’s The Catch-Up

Some strange programming choices came out of the Nine Network this year. One – actually, two – that was a little puzzling this year was their afternoon line-up.

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.

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Merry Christmas, ’76 style

Christmas 1976 – and Melbourne’s Sunday Observer TV magazine had it covered with Season’s Greetings from all the A-list stars of the year in TV.

On the cover (above) was GTV9 reporter Mickie de Stoop offering her best wishes for the festive season: “Christmas is for kids, and I hope yours is wonderful no matter how old a kid you are. It is my favourite time of the year because everyone smiles and is happy.”

For the sake of equality, the Sunday Observer sought out Christmas wishes from two personalities from each TV channel:

Bert Newton (Nine) “For nearly 2000 years the message of Christmas has been the same – peace on earth to men of goodwill. Lots of laughter and happiness, but remember that Christmas is still the celebration of a birth that is the hope of mankind.”

Jeanne Little (Seven) “Darlings.. I just want to wish you all a simply su-per Christmas, and an utterly fantastic new year. I’m hoping Santa brings me some new eyelashes.”

Christine Broadway (ATV0 weather presenter) “Joyeux Noel – Happy Christmas to everybody! I also wish that we get nice weather on Christmas Day.”

Peter Regan (Quest, ABC) “I wish everyone a happy and enjoyable holiday season – especially the talented young people I’ve enjoyed meeting during our Quest television series.”

Geoff Raymond (ABC newsreader) “With the passage of time it becomes increasingly difficult to express a fresh wish to my television friends, so I’ll have to fall back on one which I’ve used with a certain amount of success for the past 20 years. And that’s Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”

Brian Naylor (Seven newsreader) “Christmas is traditionally a family time. I’ll be spending my Christmas with my family, and I trust your celebrations will be as full of warmth and happiness as I’m sure mine will be.”

Ken James (The Box, ATV0) “Christmas is a time for happiness and joy around the world. Remember to be careful on the roads – don’t drink and drive. But above all, have a bloody good time.”

Source: Sunday Observer, 19 December 1976



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Seven wins ’07

The Seven Network has won the ratings year 2007. No real surprise in that as Seven has had an outstanding ratings year, taking out 38 out of the 40 survey weeks. Nine won the other two.

The survey year ended with Seven on 29.1%, Nine 26.9%, Ten 21.9%, ABC 16.7% and SBS 5.5%.

It was a year where Seven could do little wrong, and where Nine continued to stumble but with new CEO David Gyngell at the helm, Nine is set to aggressively challenge Seven’s lead in 2008.

Seven enjoyed continued success this year with its stand-out hit Dancing With The Stars as well as It Takes Two and the new shows Australia’s Got Talent and The Rich List earlier in the year. Another hit for Seven was Kath & Kim which came across from ABC. The foxy morons delivered the highest average of any series this year, regularly passing the 2 million mark, a rare feat in this era of declining free-to-air audiences. Even repeats of the first ABC series, dating back to 2002, gave Seven great results.

Reality shows also did well for Seven with Border Security and The Force, but Nine also had good results in the genre with RPA Where Are They Now and Missing Persons Unit.

In drama, Home And Away continued to deliver strong figures going into its 20th anniversary but the 7.00pm timeslot was a tight contest with Temptation and ABC News also getting their share of strong results. Seven’s other drama stalwart All Saints also had a great year on the back of the Dancing With The Stars/It Takes Two lead-in.

The new Melbourne drama City Homicide also paid good dividends for Seven with consistently high audience figures. Nine launched Sea Patrol during the year that started with strong results but suffered a drop as the series progressed, but will be back next year. Nine’s other major drama McLeod’s Daughters also suffered a decline, and will now finish up next year.

News and current affairs, traditionally Nine’s domain, was Seven’s strength this year with Sunrise continuing to trounce Today, Weekend Sunrise ahead of Sunday, Seven News ahead of National Nine News, and Today Tonight ahead of A Current Affair. Although in Melbourne, it was a much closer battle between the two networks as Today dominated in the southern capital, and both Seven News and National Nine News fought it out with not much between them. Nationally, Nine’s 60 Minutes also held up well in the competitive Sunday 7.30pm timeslot.

The news year also ended well for Seven with its Sunrise-slanted federal election coverage Your Call 07, “without the boring bits”, seeing Nine’s coverage headed by Ray Martin beaten by the movie re-run The Empire Strikes Back on Ten. However, ABC’s election night coverage with Kerry O’Brien beat them all.

Deal Or No Deal continued to dominate the 5.30pm timeslot, seen as crucial by Seven and Nine as the lead-in timeslot to the news, at the expense of Nine’s Bert’s Family Feud which was cancelled during the year. Nine replaced Bert with a cheap UK import Antiques Roadshow which has surprisingly given strong competition to Deal Or No Deal. However despite Seven and Nine fighting it out in the timeslot, Ten wins the hour with Ten News.

The popularity of Sunrise in the breakfast timeslot saw Seven expand the formula with The Morning Show. The new show became an immediate hit at the expense of Nine’s Mornings With Kerri Anne and Ten’s 9am With David And Kim.

But the year didn’t always go Seven’s way. A few ratings mishaps were felt with some of its choices of prime-time movies, and also some of their US imports suffered ratings drops. Ugly Betty started on a high but soon fell to average results. Las Vegas and Bionic Woman also failed to get a significant result here. The late-year launch of National Bingo Night started off with strong figures, but quickly fell after a repeated smear campaign by Nine’s A Current Affair. And in the interesting battle of Jamie Durie (on Seven) versus Jamie Durie (on Nine), there were mixed results with Seven’s new series Australia’s Best Backyards having a neck-and-neck battle with two-year-old episodes of Nine’s Backyard Blitz. Nine also got good results with Don Burke‘s return to television with a one-off special, and top ratings for its telecast of the TV Week Logie Awards, movies Shrek and Shrek 2, and cricket and rugby telecasts. The NRL Grand Final recording 2.4 million viewers nationally.

Nine launched 1 vs 100 in January with Eddie McGuire but despite a promising launch, it suffered a ratings fall and was cancelled mid-year. Outgoing CEO McGuire did return to host a relaunched Who Wants To Be A Millionaire – going live-to-air on Monday nights – but struggled to reach the popularity of previous years. Not even the return of McGuire to the screen was enough to save Nine’s new US series Viva Laughlin featuring Hugh Jackman, debuting on the same night. The show’s fate seemed to be sealed when a US critic labelled it “the worst show in the history of TV” and suffered dismal ratings on its premiere. The US network CBS canned it after two episodes, and Nine consequently cancelled it after just the one.

But the ratings battle isn’t just between Seven and Nine. Network Ten had another successful series of Thank God You’re Here and also US import House. Rove McManus returned to TV in April after a prolonged break, with Rove making the risky move to Sunday nights and increasing on last year’s figures. McManus also hosted Ten’s new game show Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? which delivered strong figures.

Ten had little else to rave about apart from good ratings performances from AFL including the Grand Final which got the highest figure of any program this year – 2.563 million in the five capital cities.

Ten’s big name formats Big Brother and Australian Idol suffered falling ratings this year compared to last year. The former suffering from playing it safe this year in the wake of last year’s “turkey slap” incident, and the latter being hit by Kath & Kim, though still maintained a decent following. The second series of the Australian The Biggest Loser performed well, managing over 2 million viewers for its series final. The US series So You Think You Can Dance gave Ten great ratings on Thursday nights, boding well for the Australian version to launch next year.

Soapie veteran Neighbours declined in ratings this year, prompting Ten to wheel out a two-month teaser campaign to promote a relaunch in July – promising fresh storylines, new characters and better production values. Figures spiked when the relaunch happened, but soon fell back to their usual level.

The national broadcaster ABC had success this year with their midweek comedies The Chaser’s War On Everything, Summer Heights High and The Librarians. The game show Spicks And Specks also continued to achieve fantastic figures. ABC also recorded high figures for British dramas Midsomer Murders and New Tricks.

SBS had a controversial year – headlined by their decision to structure commercial breaks inside programs rather than between them. Twelve months on, the change appears to have had negligible effect as the network recorded a 0.1 per cent increase on its prime time rating compared to 2006.

The network recorded its better figures on Monday nights due to the popular Mythbusters and Top Gear and comedies including South Park, Pizza and Wilfred. Saturday night regular RockWiz was also a strong performer for the network.

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