The
Nine Network has a tough decision to make. And it will be one which shows whether
the network is confident to take a punt on programming for 2006, or whether it’s
going to continue down the cash-saving route of doing very
little.

It
could in fact also decide who really rules the roost at Nine in the programming area after Sandra Levy arrives in
about three weeks.

The
decision to be made is whether to attempt to turn the successful telemovie, Little Oberon, into a series next year, just as
Nine finally, after a number of hiccups, created The Alice series out of last
year’s very successful telemovie.

Little
Oberon
‘s average audience of 1.559 million fell more than 300,000 short of the
1.83 million for The Alice telemovie, which puts it in
the difficult area of a hit, but not a raging success.

A look
at the quarter hour breakdowns shows a solid turn-on from the last quarter hour
of 60 Minutes on Sunday night. Nine’s average audience jumped from 1.637
million, to 1.853 million, which was heartening for Nine.

It then
settled back to 1.69 million in the next quarter hour, then 1.604 million from 9
pm to 9.15 pm, then a small rise to 1.63 million, and then a slow decline to
around 1.4 million at 10.30 pm.

Not bad. And it does show that a solid core of viewers watched all the way
through, especially female viewers, the show’s target audience.

If
there is any criticism of Little Oberon it’s that it was a little too female-orientated:
Nine already has McLeod’s Daughters with a solid female cast and The Alice also
has solid female characters, almost matched by some males like Erik
Thomson.

That
reflects the obsession Nine’s head of drama, Posie Graeme Evans has with her approach to the subject:
strong females. The
Alice
‘s nickname
in some parts of TV land is ‘McLeod’s with red Dust” and Little Oberon could
also be described as “McLeod’s with mists and ghosts.”

Sigrid
Thornton’s character from Little Oberon will have to be maintained in any
series: she’s a marquee actor but if she was to become a ghost type character
(she was terminally ill in the movie), that would throw up comparisons with the
ghost character from The Alice in Simon Burke.

Finally,
the decision will be made by Sandra Levy and programmer, Michael Healy and CEO
Sam Chisholm. After its average performance this year it’s doubtful The Alice will
return in 2006, leaving Nine a drama series short. McLeod‘s will be back (it’s being financed by a new
investment syndicate) but Nine will have to decide: Little Oberon or
something new and unknown – or maybe even a punt on another trip to central
Australia.

A tough
call: all will cost money and that’s the one thing in short supply at Nine at the moment.

Peter Fray

A lot can happen in 3 months.

3 months is a long time in 2020. Join us to make sense of it all.

Get you first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12. Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

12 weeks for $12