Terry Television wonders yet again, what’s up at Seven

I know Seven is shifting home at headquarters in Sydney, and I know its just come off the Olympics coverage, that may or may not have done well, depending on who you work for, where you live and if you like sport.

But there are a couple of things going on at the moment which make outsiders wonder if the Network isn’t possessed of some inner drive to invoke Sod’s Law: when sh– happens, it will happen(thanks Richie Benaud). Take these straws. After pushing hard for covering the debate between Prime Minister Howard and Opposition Leader Mark Latham (The Rodent v Iron Mark) and ‘worming’ with the cutely-named Polly Graph, Seven rolls over, plays dead and drops the idea when Nine wins a point or two and raises enough uncertainty as to make the moderately performed US military-legal series, JAG, seem a better option.

And trying to ring Seven is a bit problematic at the moment. The Network has shifted offices in Sydney from Epping and North Sydney to Jones Bay, near Ultimo, and to Martin Place.

But the phone system has been centralised in Melbourne. (Why?) Leading to a funny but slightly tragic mention in the Sydney Daily Telegraph TV column today.

A Seven executive rang Seven from the outside to ask for programmer, Tim Worner, and was met with the question.’ Which state is he in’? “A state of panic” was the quip reported in the Tele.

Tim Worner is Seven’s head of programming, a bit of a hot seat at the moment given the underperformance of so many new programs this year, with the post Olympic oomph so far absent.

The Tele reported that the columnist asked for Peter Meakin, Seven’s head of News and Current Affairs, and ended up speaking to the Network’s Sunshine Coast station in Queensland (Meakin is in Sydney).

At the moment Nine is the only Channel with the Debate, which will be shown as a 60 Minutes Special. Ten, the ABC and SBS all preferring regular programming. I wonder would Nine?

But the way Seven pushed the idea of taking Nine’s feed and then ‘worming’ it to show audience reaction was an interesting ploy. It seemed promising. But suddenly the determination wasn’t there.

Nine naturally chortled and said Seven ‘bottled’ it when Garry Morgan agreed after a legal stoush with Nine that he can’t and won’t use anything that says or looks like a ‘worm’.

Nine says that the fact Seven dropped the idea could have been a sign that Seven and its News and Current Affairs chief, Peter Meakin, just saw no runs in pushing the Polly Graph.

Also the insistence of the Prime Minister and Liberals that no worming be done of the debate or the audience reaction also deterred Seven because it would have meant the network sighing on and agreeing not to ‘worm”.

Nine reserved special scorn for the involvement of Meakin in this situation and in the original agreement for the 1996 debates between Paul Keating and John Howard.

Nine sources say Meakin was involved in that and has been ‘hoist’ and ‘forced to eat humble pie’ over a deal which has restricted all networks from polly graphing or worming the debate or debates.

Nine says Seven rolled over even before the judge entered the court, and gave the undertakings sought re non-use of the “worm” or anything “deceptively similar ” Seven didn’t go to court, Nine took them and Morgan to the Federal Court and within 24 hours, Seven rolled over again by withdrawing from covering the debate, says Nine.

Seven for its part says “Nine would provide a feed but as yet no guarantees on the security of that feed should we introduce audience tracking. Coupled with that: Nine’s issues (they signed an agreement with both parties ruling out “worming” and as such have nowhere to go).

“Given terms of engagement between coalition, government and host broadcaster say “no worm” we’re in no mind to end up just simulcasting Ray Martin. Sad day for democracy. Also “tracking” Howard, Latham and possibly Ray would’ve made for some great TV. Offer remains open to both the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader to engage in a debate with real-time audience tracking on the Seven Network”.

Since the Olympics, Seven has seen the Deal or No Deal specials do well, Forensic Investigators has also rated but the revamped version of The Practice hasn’t set the world on fire and will face pressure when Nine’s Who Wants to be a Millionaire goes back to an hour and the ABC’s Enough Rope (with Andrew Denton) improves its viewer numbers.

Seven also has to rebuilt the momentum they had in the 6 pm to 7 pm slot with the News and Today Tonight which was taking ground from Nine nationally and had regularly beaten the Nine offerings in Sydney.

The games has stopped that, especially Today Tonight which was off air. Even the Seven News, which got an enormous boost from the Games, is struggling, especially in Sydney where the move to Martin Place is still hoped to provide a bounce.

But Sunrise has been the big success story so far. It did very well during the Games and continues to monster the Today show on Nine to the point where Nine is about to trial reporter Karl Stepanovic to see if he has what it takes to replace Steve Liebmann.

When taken in tandem with the indifferent earnings for 2004 financial year and the less than industry average growth in revenue, Seven is still in the ‘gun’ so far as the markets and investors are concerned. But the network insists it’s on the up! But don’t ring me to tell me!