Explaining commercial TV’s annus horribilis. An attempt in today’s Australian‘s Media Section to explain the recent run of failed programs from the three commercial networks sort of misses the main points. The programs that died an early death this year were all turkeys – poorly conceived, poorly made and poorly thought out for the purpose they were being made: to entertain viewers and to build and hold an audience. It can be done – just look at the way the Ten Network successfully launched The Biggest Loser in a half hour strip at 7pm on weekdays and then Thank God You’re Here in an hour format on Wednesday nights. Both were enormous gambles but they were made by TV executives, programmers and producers who showed that they knew what they were doing. Contrast that to the failure of Yasmin’s Getting Married, which was an overseas format reworked for Australia. It is too simplistic to suggest that viewers are at fault because they are no longer loyal, no longer have long attention spans or enough time – if they don’t have enough time, why did 1.8 million people watch Thank God‘s season finale last night? The simple answer is that they do not like programs which insult them. That’s why the audiences for Today Tonight and A Current Affair have been falling. Content is king these days, so long as it entertains, informs and doesn’t insult people who want to watch. Too many people in TV make snap decisions about what they think people want to watch. Seven’s failures this year can be explain in that context: every failure came as a result of wanting to do derivative programs: You May be Right (Spicks and Specks), The Master (Millionaire) and Good as Gold (20 to 1). At Nine the failures resulted from poor decisionmaking by poor executives. Nine has lost all its hard-nosed experienced program makers capable of making decisions and strong enough to leave a program in a timeslot to develop. Michael Healy is the head programmer but he is either too slow to make decisions or too quick: he was good when he worked for John Stephens, who is now at Seven. Only 20 to 1 has struck success for Nine’s management over the past three years: Getaway, McLeod’s Daughters, 60 Minutes and RPA are all programs from the old regime before John Alexander’s arrival on the scene at Nine. He now rules PBL Media, so don’t expect anything to change. But don’t blame the viewer: it’s too easy and to simplistic. After all, viewers are customers and aren’t they supposed to be king? – Glenn Dyer

Last night’s TV ratings

The Winners: Wednesday night and the last Thank God You’re Here for the year and it rated as the most watched program in the country but that was all Ten could boast about. Seven won the night. But 1.853 million people watched the last 90 minute ep of Thank God for 2006 and it again proved why it is so popular. it’s entertaining. Simple as! Seven’s Border Security rose to 1.547 million in a 45 minute episode: it will become the most watched program next week on Wednesday night even though ten brings repeats of House back. This was Border Security‘s best audience in this short season on Wednesday night. Home and Away was third with 1.442 million, Seven News, 1.433 million and Today Tonight, 1.373 million were next and sixth was Nine’s CSI Miami with 1.331 million. Seven’s program, Police Files (which follows Border Security), averaged 1.330 million for a 45 minute episode, while Nine News was eighth with 1.233 million. McLeod’s Daughters picked up a bit to average 1.209 million but Temptation was down at 1.189 million. A Current Affair was weak with 1.174 million and Criminal Minds, Seven at 9 pm, averaged 1.160 million viewers. It was the 12th and final program of the night to score a million or more viewers. Ten’s new drama, Tripping Over, averaged 965,000 at 9 pm. That will send a tiny tremor through Ten (but last night was the best ep so far). To lose nearly half the audience from Thank God when Tripping Over is supposed to be pitched at the mid 20-something demo, would be a slight concern. It was meaty content though. Spicks and Specks averaged 933,000, the first time it’s been under a million viewers for months. It suffered from the odd-timed programs on Ten and Seven. Ab Fab returned with a funny episode but why is the ABC repeating a repeat and killing off The Glass House?

The Losers: Ten’s repeat of NCIS averaged 737,000 at 10pm , Nine’s ER at 9.30pm, 808,000. Seven’s The Unit on 668,000 at 10pm. Low.

News & CA: No races to help but another strong night for Seven News and Today Tonight which won all five markets for the first time in some time. Nine’s ACA was very weak at 1.174 million, especially in Melbourne. TT was strong, especially in Melbourne. TT won by 199,000 nationally and 87,000 in Perth. Seven News won everywhere bar Brisbane. Seven won Perth by 121,000 and nationally by 200,000. The 7pm ABC News averaged 982,000, The 7.30 Report, 710,000. Sunrise beat Today in the morning.

The Stats: Seven won with a share of 28.6% (26.9% a week earlier) from Nine with 26.5% (29.0%), Ten with 26.2% (24.4%), the ABC with 15.0% (16.0%) and SBS unchanged on 3.6%. Seven’s win saw it draw level with Nine in the week at 28.0% each. In regional areas Nine won through its affiliates WIN/NBN with a 30.8% share from Prime/7Qld with 27.2%, Southern Cross (Ten) with 23.9%, the ABC with 14.1% and SBS with 4.0%.

Glenn Dyer’s comments: Even though Thank God went out with a bang, there was no two million audience, which it did last series. Seven’s Border Security did very well (as did Seven all night). The 45 minute eps of Border Security and Police Files saved Seven half of Criminal Minds which might have got swamped at 8.30 pm. Ten deserves all the applause it can get for Thank God. Nine and Seven would love to have it in their lineups but it is all about risk taking and Ten at the moment has a different take on risk than Seven or Nine, or the ABC for that matter which is the most risk averse of the networks. The week’s battle is now even, so it’s down to tonight, tomorrow night and Saturday. Tonight it’s Seven with Bones at 8.30pm and The Amazing Race at 9.30pm, with My Name Is Earl at 8pm. Ten has Jamie’s Kitchen and Jericho plus the fading David Tench. Nine has Getaway, Big Questions (snore) and RPA. The ABC has Family Footsteps and Pamela Stephenson trying to find out about her great-great-grandfather.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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