If you take risks in TV, of course there will be failures

I always thought that being a footballer must be one of the worst jobs in the world. Having thousands of people watching you up close and howling at your every error.

If I tried to cope with that in my day job, my spelling would be even worse than it is already.

But being a TV programmer must be worse.

There aren’t many gigs where millions of people judge your work every single day.

Every morning at 8.30am, the ratings come through – and we all find out if they are dunces or geniuses.

Right now, it’s the turn of Ten’s David Mott in the firing line. This year, he took a chance on several new pieces of Australian-made programming and so far most of them have not fired.

Which leaves the network struggling for audience share and facing dreadful headlines.

I’m part of that problem, by the way. I wait for the ratings to come in, looking for a winner or loser to write about.

Sometimes it’s easy to call. I must confess that after I watched the now axed Everybody Dance Now make its debut last Sunday night, I wrote the next day’s rating story that night and left gaps for the actual numbers – it was that obvious as a viewer that the show was going to flop. Not just because of the content (Sarah Murdoch is just too nice a middle class woman to say “That’s off the hook” with anything approaching authenticity), but also because it was up against the final night of the Olympics.

The same happened the next night. The story was again written before the Everybody Dance Now ratings were in. This time, the flawed show and the competition from the first night of Big Brother combined.

I had a couple of meetings with TV people last week and the same question was: “What were they thinking?”

Not being idiots, I suspect there was a point between when Ten commissioned it from Fremantle Media and when it got made that it went astray. They must have realised before it went to air that they were up against it. Like Andrew Denton once said, nobody sets out to make bad television.

Speaking of Denton, he’s one of the brains behind Can Of Worms which returned for a second series on Ten on Monday night with a disappointing 590,000. He’s also the front man of Randling which hasn’t done great numbers for the ABC. Which makes him sound like an idiot – until you add into the mix his co-creation of The Gruen Transfer and of course Enough Rope.

He’s a classic example that if you want original programming, you have to take risks. And that means that not everything will rate. Personally, I thought the Gruen format sounded a bit silly before it launched. I was delighted but surprised when it worked.

And let’s remember that sometimes these risks work. Last week, Ten also aired the Southern Star-made Puberty Blues, which was excellent, and rated respectably, particular in younger demographics.

Southern Star, incidentally, was also behind Howzat: Kerry Packer’s Cricket War on Nine this week, which was by far the best piece of locally made television I’ve seen this year.

And you can’t always call it. Masterchef was a risk for Ten. And for the first few episodes the first series didn’t even rate and they were all idiots. But then it took off and they were all geniuses. Then they tried to repeat it with The Renovators and they were all idiots again.

Right now, this week Ten’s bosses are back to being labelled idiots.

Yet they deserve so much credit for investing in making local shows – of all genres.

Even The Shire. Yes it was dumb. But it was well crafted dumb. Particularly the first couple of episodes.

Ten’s chief sales officer Barry O’Brien made an obvious point a few days ago when he repeated David Leckie’s mantra: you only need one hit. Don’t forget that Seven’s entire fortunes turned eight years ago because two US hits came from nowhere – Desperate Housewives and Lost.

An the alternative to Ten’s risk-taking approach is Nine’s. Remember the previous three years or so when the network relied almost entirely on Two And A Half Men and Big Bang Theory?

Wouldn’t you rather a few local flops than double episodes of Modern Family every night? The thing about risk is that if it is a genuine risk, then it might fail without anyone actually being at fault.

The worst possible outcome of the last couple of weeks will be if the networks become less willing to risk investing in local content.

As it happens, I suspect that Ten will turn it around. There’s a lot of goodwill in the market – the newly arrived Barry O’Brien is very popular, and the media agencies know they need Ten to be viable to keep Seven and Nine honest.

And they just need one hit. Just one hit.

Tim Burrowes










  1. Anonymous
    22 Aug 12
    8:52 am

  2. “Sometimes it’s easy to call. I must confess that after I watched the now axed Got To Dance make its debut last Sunday night, I wrote the next day’s rating story that night and left gaps for the actual numbers – it was that obvious as a viewer that the show was going to flop.”

    think you mean Everybody Dance Now, not Got To Dance

  3. mumbrella
    22 Aug 12
    9:09 am

  4. Hi did indeed mean Everybody Dance Now. I can;t stop myself referring to it as Got To Dance. And I keep calling I Will Survive Don;t Stop Believing….


    Tim – Mumbrella

  5. Anonymous
    22 Aug 12
    9:20 am

  6. they’re probably both as forgettable as each other anyway

  7. EmF85
    22 Aug 12
    9:44 am

  8. “Wouldn’t you rather a few local flops than double episodes of Modern Family every night?” – Yes! Nice piece TIm. Poor old Ten are getting a bad rap in the press and certainly not every format will work but at least they aren’t rehashing more American crime shows and repeating sitcoms where I find myself saying at least twice a week – ‘Oh, I’ve seen this one before’! How can one every know if they don’t try!

  9. Harry
    22 Aug 12
    12:07 pm

  10. The problem local programmers face is that they relied on overseas formats for entertainment and reality shows and studio output deals inclduing drama series. They paid a motza and usually they delivered. But nolonger. Nine were terribly lucky to pick up The Voice. Television has always been parochial and has become more so. So it now requires executives with more demanding skill sets and an eye for originality, for Aussie shows which can work. This is a very difficult task but if you go to the UK or the USA where original formats and dramas are an absolute necessity then there are people who can achieve it. Ten is not alone in being able to find original ideas. The ABC’s performance with a range of under performing new formats, unfunny comedies and poorly written dramas is just as bad. Perhaps what we need is some new television executives with some fresh ideas and instinct for what free to air requires.

  11. Ex Ten
    22 Aug 12
    12:31 pm

  12. Spot on Tim. I was there when Ten was doing a 16 share in a 3 station market. Then came BiG BROTHER. We had been braodcastng Law and Order and Hill street blues for years before that but they didnt rate, all of a sudden the audience was exposed to the promo’s every night through the success of BB’s mass appeal.The whole schedule took off. As kevin Costner said , if you build it they will come.

  13. Jim
    22 Aug 12
    12:40 pm

  14. “Right now, it’s the turn of Ten’s David Mott in the firing line. This year, he took a chance on several new pieces of Australian-made programming and so far most of them have not fired.”

    I’m sorry you seem to think David Mott is taking chances…where..with what original programming? I fail to see any on offer. David Mott and the entire executive board have an obvious problem. CYNICISM. Cynicism kills creativity and murders anything that might be original. Channel Ten only have themselves to blame. They think their audience is stupid and weirdly they are prepared to spend a lot of money proving this ill conceived perspective. Audiences are changing, media consumption is changing and there sit the networks scratching their stupid heads wondering how they got it all wrong. I threw out my TV months ago. Why? It was just filled with mindless crap. I’ve never regretted it.

    Here’s a tip Channel Ten..stop talking with Freemantle Media and having an interest in the mindless dross they produce and start looking for people with fresh ideas and perspectives. Take out the broom and get rid of the dead wood and start talking to people with real original ideas that catch an audience. And for fucks sake have some faith in your audience, raise the bar, don’t lower it and kill the conversation with anybody telling you they have a proven format. If its proven its more often than not boring. You run out of chances when you stop taking them…so take real chances not predictable yawn inducing ones. Who Dares Wins.

  15. Carl
    22 Aug 12
    1:27 pm

  16. Perhaps local independent producers need a fair return on their work and ideas. The returns are reducing as piracy removes audience that the broadcaster can monetise through ad revenue. So why would they bother working for peanuts. It’s the price you pay in the digital race to the bottom.

  17. Rob
    23 Aug 12
    11:36 am

  18. Jim, to be fair most of what Ten has done is not very “daring” but I think I Will Survive and Puberty Blues are.
    However, the run of outs Ten is having since the new management came in is beyond just needing one hit. Seven’s base when “Lost” and “Desperate” launched was much higher than Ten’s now and they had a loyal audience. Ten’s problem is no one has any loyalty to their brand anymore, even their promos which were once the “ties that bound” and gave them the cheeky edge are now bland and unoriginal.
    TEN is miles from needing one hit, they need a big franchise hit (like Masterchef S1 & S2) plus a couple of big US shows and a couple of Aus dramas just to draw breath. At the moment they have 1 Aus drama (PB). Ex Ten there is no “Law and Order and Hill street blues” in the line up now..
    Ten programming has tried but their judgement has been appalling, they appear to have no “gut instinct”. It’s not just what has failed but what has been axed or passed on BB, Idol, So you Think, X Factor the list goes on. I’m lead to believe that every part of Ten’s management has been turned upside down in the past 2 years except one. Guess which?

  19. will
    23 Aug 12
    12:38 pm

  20. there’s no ‘like’ button here, but quite simply @jim and @rob have pretty much nailed it. ten’s continuing string of f**k ups are because they perceive the average Aussie viewer as dumb. if they modified their thinking, and started making tv for intelligent people (as most of us are), their ratings might take a skyward turn.

  21. will
    23 Aug 12
    12:50 pm

  22. hey ch 10 execs: here’s a free tip for you – have a look at natalie tran, ray william johnson and the ‘what the buck’ guy off YouTube.

    talk to them, maybe even hire them as concept consultants etc, get some fresh ideas from a trio of people who get millions of viewers (simply by word of mouth).

    these are young creative people, with great output and great viewership. they could give you some pointers on how you could bring a fresh approach to your programming and turn the tide.

    disclaimer : I do not personally know any of the YouTube people mentioned above – nor do I have any financial involvement with them or their channels.

  23. Rob
    24 Aug 12
    10:28 am

  24. Ok, I withdraw my last 2 sentences now…

  25. Ben Alcott
    25 Aug 12
    1:32 pm

  26. You’re absolutely right Tim – the worst outcome would be for networks to commission less local content. Although the shows themselves are questionable, at least Ten is taking a chance, which is what the local industry desperately needs. Now we just need to convince the networks to commission projects from a range of producers, not just the usual 3 or 4!!

  27. David Dyer
    30 Aug 12
    1:11 am

  28. And while we’re at it…

    1. How are we gonna explain to the remaining dance teams from the failed ‘Everybody Dance Now’ that some of the dance teams will not be winning the big money, etc.? And while we’re at it, we should tell the remaining contestants in advance that ‘NO ONE IS GOING TO BROADWAY TO BE A TRIPLE THREAT!’. In game shows you only get paid for your winnings if your episode screens, but what about reality show competitions, does it work differently?
    2. I think Four Corners should do a series of stories featuring people whose promising ‘claim to fame’ have been ruined by cancelled Network Ten shows. They should interview those dancers from EDN as well.
    3. David Mott should put his nuts in a vice for making Ten Network fail.
    4. We need to train programming directors for Ten as well.

  29. Pennylee
    11 Sep 12
    3:23 pm

  30. Unless “Can of Worms”can rise above its present chosen subjects for discussion,
    even its most loyal fans are going to tire of gossip that was perhaps once a little
    bit daring and stimulating to those with extremely restricted and uneventful lives.

    Maybe a programme like this could in time drive its viewers towards a trial of other
    formats that are not too pretentious but encourage fresh thinking and
    nurture intelligence.