Ian “Dicko” Dickson, the Australian Idol judge, may be bolting for Seven (and not
Nine) after desperate Dave Leckie shovelled a tonne of cash in front of him to
leave Ten, but the biggest story in TV land is the continuing knee-jerk
reaction of Nine, the ratings leader, to programming ideas from Seven, and
especially from Ten.

Earlier in the year when Ten dropped its Sunday night
movies and went with new Law and Order: Criminal Intent and NCIS, and
immediately struck ratings gold, the other networks pooh pooed the move saying
viewers wanted the tradition of Sunday night movies to continue.

Rubbish, Nine and Seven never asked them. They were
just too afraid to join Ten and leave one of them behind to continue running
movies and attracting viewers.

Last Sunday night’s slaughter of the not so innocents
by Ten’s combination of Australian Idol and the cobbled together mini-series,
The 4400 saw an average of two million people or more watching Ten from 7 pm to
10.55 pm or thereabouts. A huge, huge audience, of a size only seen during the
Olympic or Commonwealth Games.

Ten rated more than 40 across the Network and a 42%
share in Sydney, stunning Nine in particular into a knee-jerk

Out goes the programmed movie next Sunday called
Training Day and in comes first-run episodes of the ratings blockbusters from
Tuesday night, CSI and Cold Case. That Nine would blow off first-run episodes of its
two best performing programs shows how desperate they are to stop the rot.

And why did Nine do this? They are scared and trying to stop the momentum Ten is building on Sunday nights.

Ten is showing the ARIA Awards this Sunday night
after Australian Idol. Given the lack of representation in the ARIA’s of Idol
contestants, it will be a bit of a toss-up how many people stay and watch. But
if they are clever they will program Delta Goodrem from 8.30 to 9pm,
thereby holding viewers.

Apart from the Oscars for Nine, most awards nights
die quickly and the ARIA’s could very well have a brief, but not long lasting
impact for Ten and nothing like the impact The 4400 had last Sunday.

But Ten has forced Nine’s hand.

another knee-jerk reaction to moves by Seven and
Ten this year, such as Seven’s move to Martin Place, which forced Nine
to revamp the Today show and the 6pm News set. Both Nine and Seven
have battled
each with cheque books at close quarters for stories of the moment for
Current Affair
and Today Tonight.

Nine won the battle of the crocodile fighters for a reputed
$300,000 over Seven and Today Tonight.

Will we have something on ACA, 60 Minutes and croc
recipes in Woman’s Day and Gourmet Traveller over at ACP Magazines?

And now Nine has had the biggest knee-jerk of

The importance of the move cannot be underestimated. Nine
strongly believes that viewers like things NOT to change. So to up
and make such a dramatic change in its schedule at such
short notice (the promos from tonight on Nine will be deafening) without
softening viewers up, shows the level of desperation at Willoughby (read more below).

What driving it is a strong belief that Ten has to be
stopped. This week it’s too late and Ten could quite easily win the week,
even with four days to go this week. But next week is a different story and Nine
must make a stand. That’s what Dave Gyngell, Michael Healy would have told each
other when discussing the changes and signing off on them yesterday morning at Nine.

Australian Idol is proving to be a ratings powerhouse (one
that Nine missed, like Big Brother and X factor).

Seven will be staying with movies this year but will
switch the mix next year to movies, mini series new tele-movies and the

Nine did well with the local tele-movie The Alice which gathered more than 1.8 million viewers and was
the highest rating Australian tele-movie of the year so far.

Ten has the Lindy Chamberlain dingo epic, Through My
which will run on Sunday nights in November, in the last four weeks of
the official ratings period.

That’s sure to do well and further disrupt Nine
and Seven, especially with the lead in of Australian Idol.

Nine has another tele-movie, Big Reef, which is due
to go to air Sunday night week and will then decide whether to drop movies or
continue going with specials or blow off first run episodes of CSI
and Cold Case over the rest of the ratings year .

One option for Nine next year would be to run
CSI New York on Sunday nights with a repeat of an old CSI at 9.30 pm to match the usual Law and Order: Criminal
duo of Ten.

But as I remarked on Monday in the second sealed
section, Ten and its programmers are making all the running in Teleland at the
moment because they respond quickly and cost effectively to what viewers seem
to be wanting. Big one-off specials and programming ideas that entertain and do
not require much engagement.

Meanwhile Ian Dickson’s poaching from Ten by Seven
and David Leckie means that Kerry Packer’s lunching of Dicko at Nine a couple
of months ago, has come to naught. Or maybe Kezza and Nine forgot to put a extra
naught on the end of the figure they offered. Leckie obviously had the sense to.

Seven is being coy about the whole deal, for legal
reasons, it cannot say it has had any dealings with Dickson before his contract
is up at the end of Idol.

TV executives are very scared of being seen to induce
someone to break a contract while that contract is in force. The monetary
penalties could be substantial. Dickson was to be part of X Factor, given his
close relationship with its ‘originator’ Simon Cowell, the acerbic judge on
American and UK Idol.

But what’s the vehicle for Dicko on Seven? That’s the puzzle.

Packer panic attacks at Willoughby?

Picture the scene on Monday morning.Tthe Nine Network bunker at
Willoughby, the top car park, about 8 am, luxury cars, BMW and Lexus Landcruisers,
Porsches and BMW four wheel drives all arriving, pulling through security and the
occupants getting, heading in through reception to lift for the their second
and third floor offices.

Striding over the old green marble floors of
Alan Bond and the matching carpet laid down over the marble by a
panic-stricken management in the early 90’s and replaced extensively three
years ago (there were knee marks in the old carpet and a bit too many

The chaps settle down. There’s not to many women
these days in management positions at Nine. They are all waiting for Nine am and the Oztam figures which have been dumped into
the Nine. computers several hours ago and are being processed by the stats

>They already know that Nine took a beating on
election night from Seven’s decision to run with movies and election update. They also know that Nine’s share of the election
night audience was down.

Just after 9am the story starts to emerge. What they
are about to find out is the worst possible news.

Nine was bashed into second place on Sunday night by
the Ten programs of Australian Idol and Sci-Fi series, The 4400. That was

Ten had its biggest night of the year and Nine
possibly its worst in regular ratings (without the Olympics and Rugby League
finals and State of Origin matches to boost numbers).

Twenty four hours later, a similar story for Nine.
The beating wasn’t as big on Monday night as Sunday, but Nine is facing the
very real prospect of losing a week to Ten, the network whose profitability
drives Kerry Packer nuts.

So how long was it before the hotline rang from where
ever the deputy chairman of PBL was lurking at the moment? Park Street, Bellvue Hill, or elsewhere in the metropolis?

Kerry Packer’s rages are legendary at Nine and the
conversations Monday and yesterday involving the Big Fella were said to have
been direct, very direct.

Packer, it is said, is not happy with what is
happening at Nine. PBL CEO, John Alexander can’t do anything because he failed
at Willoughby. Will we see new PBL director, Sam Chisholm
installed as an effective executive adviser to help David Gyngell?

Complicating the defence for the chaps at Nine was
where they had been late the previous week. Paris.

A bit of relaxation after the rigors of the
MIPCOM international television trade show (where deals are wheeled and
executives sealed), down the coast, so to speak. in Cannes. Very nice.

So who was in Cannes and Paris for Nine? Michael Healy, Stuart Clarke, Andrew Backwell,
Barry Cowling, Andrea Keir (from the Los Angeles office), Geraldine Easter from
London and Martin Herzov, who was in Cannes but avoided Paris.

Healy is the head programmer, while Clarke, Backwell,
Cowling and Herzov are all deeply involved in programming and product
development. Clarke for example oversaw this year’s underwhelming effort with
The Block

Herzov is Nine’s Director of Commercial Development
and PBL’s Director of Strategic Marketing. Barry Cowling is the Program Manager
of Prime NZ, the Nine operation in Kiwi Land. Andrew Backwell is Nine’s Director of production
and Development and Stuart Clarke is Nine’s Director of Lifestyle and reality

All senior executives intimately involved in the
creation and filling of the Nine schedule.

>Kerry Packer must have put the fear of god into them
and David Gyngell to bring about the wholesale changes. A Packer panic attack perhaps?

Anyway the joys of Paris and the attractions of Cannes were a long way from the gut churning of 9am
Mondays in Sydney.

So what happened after the Panic had spread? The
Sunday switcheroo with CSI and Cold Case first run episodes replacing the
scheduled movie.

The Friday night movie pulled and replaced with
Superman, a smart move given the death this week of Christopher Reeves. Yet
another outing for Lethal Weapon on Saturday night, replacing the programmed
movie, Analyse This with Billy Crystal (a funny movie).

A repeat of CSI was dropped into the Nine schedule at
10.30 pm Monday night to try and extend the audience.

Friends and Sex and the City have been held back for
a last assault on the ratings (remember Nine’s 90 Nights promotion straight
after the games to try and neuter Seven’s re-launch?) The irony is that Ten has
snuck up on the outside and badly wounded Nine and Kerry Packer’s ego.

And Seven’s dancing show has also hurt, as has the
strength of Blue Heelers on Wednesday evenings and Ten’s continued strength on
Thursday night.