Thursday, 29 November 2007

The balls are back in town

Since the passing of Kerry Packer on Boxing Day 2005, his pride and joy the Nine Network has been in a state of uncertainty as the network that he so confidently steered to top of the ratings for thirty years was suddenly out of control. His son James did not appear to possess the same passion for the medium as his late father had done and the chiefs running the network were seemingly grappling with the task of taking the 'old school' network into the 21st century.

It was clear that a new direction had to be taken post-KP and with that, in January 2006, the most visible component of the Nine Network - its logo of 35+ years - was shuffled off the air and replaced with a similarly shaped '9' but missing the trademark 'balls' that had identified the network so succinctly.

The changing of the logo also coincided with the changing of the guard as caretaker CEO Sam Chisholm had handed over the role to Eddie McGuire, the former journalist turned TV presenter and Collingwood Football Club president - and hence began a turbulent time in Nine's history, though not necessarily of McGuire's doing as some of Nine's problems were evident or mapped out prior to his arrival or were driven by other forces within the network, which has been well documented in the media and in books such as Who Killed Channel Nine? by former Sixty Minutes producer Gerald Stone.

The turmoil that dogged the network in 2006 continued this year with the realisation that Nine was going to lose the ratings crown to arch rival Seven for the first time in living memory. Changes had to be made, and following McGuire resigning from the CEO role came the announcement that one of his predecessors, David Gyngell, had been lured back to the network. Gyngell had resigned from the CEO position in 2005 citing interference from senior management at Nine's parent company PBL - but now the network was effectively under new ownership as James Packer had sold PBL's controlling interest in Nine to investment company CVC.

Upon his return, Gyngell has been seen as having a passion for television, and for Nine in particular. Hardly surprising, given that his father, the late Bruce Gyngell, was a senior figure at Nine for many years and his ties with the Packer family obviously impressed on his son.

Gyngell's return marked a well-needed boost to morale for Nine's troops after two years of upheaval. Gyngell immediately set out to turn the tide at Nine - and in doing so has reinstated the iconic balls to Nine's identity as part of its relaunch into 2008, although hints of the 9 balls being returned were evident in station promotions during 2007 and Nine also used the revisited logo in its press promotion of its Federal Election coverage last week.

Changing the logo does tend to send out a mixed message however - as it serves as a reminder of the "old" Nine at a time when it perhaps should be looking to a "future" Nine, but it also sends out the message that the "loser" Nine that the 2006-07 logo represented, is now no longer and that the network is looking to fight back to being "still the one" again.

TenHD takes off

Three months after it was announced - and with enticing promotion in the meantime - Network Ten's high-definition channel is ready to launch and has unveiled its first week's programming.

The new channel TenHD will offer a combination of time-shifted content from the main Ten channel as well as its own HD-only programming that won't be seen on either of Ten's analogue or standard definition channels. The channel has reportedly been in the planning for most of the year, and Ten's announcement of the new venture back in September has since seen a flurry of activity in the HD arena with rival Seven rushing its new channel 7HD to air in October, and Nine initially promising an HD channel launch in November but this has now been postponed to sometime in the new year.

TenHD's schedule for its first day - Sunday 16 December - is giving little away about what will be its first 'breakaway' program, the elusive 'To be advised'. This will be followed by a time-shifted Ten News at 5.30pm and Sports Tonight at 6.00pm. TenHD has Ten News scheduled at 5.30pm across the week, following a time-shifted The Bold And The Beautiful at 5.00pm, which at only a 30-minute "shift" from the main channel does not really offer a significant incentive for viewers to tune in. An increased time-shift delay may be more likely to entice an alternative audience to the channel, but this is only early days so presumably a lot of tweaking of the schedule will occur between now and the launch of the 2008 ratings season in February.

Sci-fi fans may be more enthusiastic about TenHD with the schedule including Battlestar Galactica, The 4400, Torchwood and Smallville - all programs that had modest but loyal followings which is usually at odds with mainstream commercial network programming. Programming initiatives such as this will be helpful in bringing people to the new 'breakaway' channels.

TenHD's 'breakaway' program guide for the week commencing Sunday 16 December:

Sunday 16:
5pm To be advised, 5.30 Ten News, 6pm Sports Tonight, 6.30 return to main channel simulcast, 8.30 Movie: Black Hawk Down, 11.30 Concert: to be advised, 1.30am return to main channel.

Monday 17:
Main channel simulcast to 3pm. 3pm Ocean Adventures, 4pm Amazing Planet, 5pm The Bold & The Beautiful, 5.30 TEN News, 6.30 return to main channel, 10.30 The Shield, 11.30 Movie: Snatch, 1.20am return to main channel.

Tuesday 18:
Main channel simulcast to 3pm. 3pm Ocean Adventures, 4pm Amazing Planet, 5pm The Bold & The Beautiful, 5.30 TEN News, 6.30 return to main channel, 10.30 Veronica Mars,
11.30 Movie: The Patriot, 2.30am return to main channel

Wednesday 19:
Main channel simulcast to 3pm. 3pm Ocean Adventures, 4pm Amazing Planet, 5pm The Bold & The Beautiful, 5.30 TEN News, 6.30 return to main channel, 10.30 Over There, 11.30 Movie: Love and a Bullet, 1.10am return to main channel.

Thursday 20:
Main channel simulcast to 3pm. 3pm Ocean Adventures, 4pm Wolfman, 5pm The Bold & The Beautiful, 5.30 TEN News, 6.30 return to main channel, 7.30 Smallville, 8.30 Battlestar Galactica, 9.30 Torchwood, 10.30 The 4400, 11.30 Movie: Bugs, 1.10am return to main channel

Friday 21:
Main channel simulcast to 3pm. 3pm Edge of Existence, 4pm Monster Crocs, 5pm The Bold & The Beautiful, 5.30 TEN News, 6.30 return to main channel, 10.30 Movie: Bloody Sunday, 12.30am return to main channel

Saturday 22
: Main channel simulcast to 5pm. 5pm To be advised, 5.30 TEN News, 6pm Sports Tonight, 6.30 return to main channel.

Source: Network Ten, TV Tonight

Meanwhile, 7HD is now into its second month but still offering only late-night and Saturday afternoon programming as separate to the main Seven schedule. A full-scale launch of 7HD is promised 'soon'.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Happy 50th TV Week!

TV Week this week celebrates 50 years of publication with a special commemorative edition - showing some of the highlights, celebrities and events that the magazine has covered in the last half-century.

A history of Australia's sole surviving national television magazine is at TelevisionAU

Thursday, 22 November 2007

For Sale! Another TV icon

Following the recent announcement of the sale of Nine's studios in Sydney and Melbourne, and even BBC selling off its iconic Television Centre in London - another historic TV property is now on the market - the Global Television Studios in the Melbourne suburb of Nunawading.

When transport tycoon Reg Ansett secured the licence to operate ATV0, Melbourne's third commercial television station in 1963, he purchased a 17.5 acre block of paddocks in Nunawading which was then in the eastern fringe of the Melbourne suburbia. Ansett had a vision - 'Austarama Village' - a state-of-the-art television facility with adjoining hotel, restaurant, swimming pool and a heliport to welcome guests arriving from Melbourne's Essendon Airport or the city. The proposed complex would set the millionaire magnate back a mere £1,400,000.

The building for the new channel was the first purpose-built television studio in Melbourne - as rival channel HSV7 was housed in a converted newspaper warehouse in South Melbourne, and the GTV9 building in Richmond had previously been a piano factory and later a soup factory before becoming 'Television City' in 1956. It was probably no coincidence that at roughly the same time as ATV0's studios were being constructed that GTV9 expanded its own premises to include a new super-sized 'Studio 9', custom-built specifically for Graham Kennedy's In Melbourne Tonight.

While it seems Reg Ansett's initial plans for a multi-function oasis might have been a bit ambitious, the building that eventuated was completed well before ATV0's planned launch date of 1 August 1964, and went on to win the title of Building of the Year from the Architects' Institute of Victoria.

The studios of ATV0 (which became ATV10 in 1980) went on to host many fondly remembered programs including Go!, Uptight, The Magic Circle Club, Fredd Bear's Breakfast A Go-Go, Matlock Police, Young Talent Time, The Box, Good Morning Melbourne, Perfect Match, Eyewitness News, The Comedy Company, The Early Bird Show and Let The Blood Run Free.
The building was also where unknowns such as Jana Wendt, Jennifer Keyte and Eddie McGuire got their first break in television, and where teenagers Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue became soap opera icons.

The studios hosted about a dozen annual telethons for the Deafness Foundation of Victoria, as well as variety programs including Jimmy (Jimmy Hannan), Pot Of Gold, The Peter Couchman Show, the long-running talent quest series Showcase, and It's Magic starring Johnny Farnham and Colleen Hewett.

In 1979, the building became a TV star in its own right as it provided the exterior setting for the fictional Wentworth Detention Centre in the popular series Prisoner. Even the fake prison bars attached to one wall of the building are still there, twenty years after the show's demise.

While the Nunawading premises can claim some of TV's favourite hits, it also has hosted a few turkeys along the way - such as Holiday Island, Hotel Story (axed before its first screening) and Together Tonight (an early TV venture for Greg Evans) - and while Daryl Somers and Ossie Ostrich are remembered for many successful years on Hey Hey It's Saturday, it is easy to forget that the pair took a brief detour to Nunawading in 1978 for a game show, The Daryl & Ossie Show, that had a very short life and saw the pair return to Nine the following year.

In 1986, Network Ten had taken on the soap Neighbours from the Seven Network, with Nunawading providing the show's home base, conveniently only a short drive away from Pin Oak Court which serves as the exterior for 'Ramsay Street'.

By the early '90s, Network Ten had hit financial troubles after the excesses of the '80s. The network had been sold and ultimately ended up in the hands of receivers. By the time Canadian company CanWest took control of the network in 1992, Ten had sold off the Nunawading site to Global Television, and moved to smaller inner-city studios in trendy South Yarra. Global would continue to provide production facilities to Ten from Nunawading for programs such as Rove Live (up until 2006), Thank God You're Here and Neighbours.

Global has since invested in other properties such as HSV7's former South Melbourne premises and it is said that the sale of Nunawading could be worth as much as $25 million as the land is ideal for residential development.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Nine now recruits The Young Doctors

Two weeks ago, the word around town was that Network Ten was ready to revive the '70s soap opera drama The Young Doctors - with Australian Idol judge, and cast member of the original Young Doctors series Mark Holden ready to sign up to the revived series.

However, the story has changed somewhat since then. Reports this weekend have said that it will be the Nine Network that takes up The Young Doctors and instead of the stripped weeknight format that Ten was reportedly considering, it appears that Nine will give it a mid-evening timeslot.

Mark Fennessey, CEO of Fremantle Media which will make the series for Nine, says that the series remake will not rely on the stereotypical soap-opera tales of the original but will lie somewhere between prime time dramas Grey's Anatomy and The Secret Life Of Us, which puts it in the same league as other prime-time dramas that aren't strictly soap but most notably will lead to comparisons to Seven's long-running hospital drama All Saints which could be said has a very similar theme to what Nine is proposing now.

It will be interesting to see how this new series unfolds but in any case with this and other upcoming titles like Underbelly and Canal Road, it looks like Nine is hoping for a drama-led recovery in 2008 to regain the #1 ranking it has lost to Seven this year.


Saturday, 3 November 2007

Ten's not-so-Young Doctors

One of Australia's first long-running soaps The Young Doctors, could be making a comeback twenty-five years after the last patient checked out of the mythical Alfred Memorial Hospital.

Network Ten is believed to be in negotiation with FremantleMedia, whose predecessor Reg Grundy Productions was responsible for the original The Young Doctors, about putting together a remake. If it goes ahead, the new series could go to air Monday to Friday nights at 6.00 - as lead-in to the recently revamped Neighbours - ending The Simpsons' long-running grip on the timeslot.

And one Network Ten identity is ready to queue up to be involved - Australian Idol judge Mark Holden.

Seventies pop star Holden (pictured, above) appeared in the original The Young Doctors as a 21-year-old, playing Dr Greg Mason, and is said to be keen to get back into character.

The Young Doctors originally launched in November 1976 on the Nine Network. The series was axed after only a few weeks on-air but outrage over the cancellation saw the show reinstated and became a long-running ratings success for Nine. However while the show had support of viewers both locally and overseas, it wasn't known for its great production values, being produced on a shoestring budget (clearly not afforded the lavishness of the network's other drama The Sullivans) and despite its long run it carries the dubious honour of failing to receive even a single award for either popularity or industry acclaim.

And in a far cry from current-day medical dramas such as All Saints, the medicos at Alfred Memorial seemed to spend very little time attending to patients but rather were more concerned about romancing co-workers and doing the hustle at Bunny's disco.

But The Young Doctors did however create some soap icons - Gwen Plumb as gossiping kiosk operator Ada Simmons who survived the entire series, and Cornelia Frances who became famous as the nasty Sister Grace Scott and became a soapie stalwart with later long-running roles in Sons And Daughters and Home And Away - and more recently being the
officious host of the Australian version of the game show The Weakest Link.

In June 1982, The Young Doctors became Australia's longest running soap opera drama when it beat Number 96's previous record of 1218 episodes - though that record has now been dwarfed by current day soaps Neighbours and Home And Away.

The Young Doctors continued until March 1983, clocking up 1396 episodes. It was left to Ada Simmons to switch off the lights at the close of the final episode.


Friday, 2 November 2007

Charmaine Dragun

Network Ten newsreader Charmaine Dragun has been found dead today in Sydney. Ms Dragun's body was reportedly found in Sydney's The Gap around 4.00pm this afternoon.

Originally from Western Australia, Ms Dragun was a radio and television journalist in Perth before moving to the east to co-present Ten's Perth news bulletin, which is based in Sydney. The 29-year-old also presented the Friday late night national news.

Police are investigating the incident but are treating the death as non-suspicious.

In a statement released earlier this evening, Ten chief Grant Blackley offered condolences on behalf of the network:

"We are all in a state of shock and sadness at this terrible news. Charmaine was a highly intelligent, vibrant and caring person, universally liked and admired by her colleagues.

"Our deepest sympathies go to her partner, Simon, and her family. We are doing what we can to support them and urge everyone to respect their privacy at this time."