Rumours continue to abound regarding Eddie McGuire’s future as CEO of Nine, with reports circulating that McGuire has tendered his resignation three times without success. However, McGuire is probably being too hard on himself. His biggest mistake hasn’t been Torville and Dean’s Skating on Thin Ice, but rather, taking the job in the first place.

Before Eddie took over Nine was already in big trouble. It had lost the AFL. Today was being thumped by Sunrise. It was losing news and current affairs to Seven nationally. Its US imports (led by CSI and the many imitation shows) were rating well but past their peak and Seven had the better production deals with US studios. Throw in the fact that free-to-air TV is a declining medium and Eddie would probably have been better off taking over the Titanic after it hit the iceberg.

However, if Eddie can look anywhere for inspiration, perhaps he should consider former NBC boss, the late Brandon Tartikoff. Tartikoff took over programming at NBC when it was the clear last (out of three) of the US commercial networks. What made Tartikoff a great executive was that he was prepared to give programs a chance to find their audience (rather than axe them after four shows like Australian executives tend to do).

Under Tartikoff’s guidance, NBC rose from last to first, on the back of hits such as Cheers, The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Golden Girls, The A-Team and Seinfeld. NBC under Tartikoff was also gutsy. Before Tartikoff, African-Americans would rarely appear on commercial TV. The Cosby Show would never have existed, let alone become the most successful show of the decade.

A little more than ten years after Tartikoff’s untimely death from Hodgkin’s disease, NBC slipped back to last place.

While Australian networks don’t have the financial firepower or potential audiences of their US equivalents, the principles hold firm. Nine needs to develop local content which can be leveraged, like NBC did with The Cosby Show. Instead of buying cheap, low quality and low rating New Zealand content like Outrageous Fortune, Nine should be trying to develop the next Blue Heelers or Comedy Company. Further, relying on US content like CSI is not only risky but also doomed. Thanks to high speed internet, viewers can download entire US series before they air in Australia.

Nine’s business plan at the moment (and it appears to be coming from above Eddie’s head) is to follow Ten’s modus operandi, cut costs and forget about ratings. While Ten has been remarkably successful (primarily by appealing to a young demographic to maximise profitability), Nine just seems to be cutting costs for the sake of it, forgetting that there’s no point cutting costs by $100 million if your revenue drops by $150 million.

Nine can be fixed, just like NBC was, but it won’t be due to buying junk from New Zealand.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey