At first it looked like an April Fools’ Day joke of the highest class. Kath & Kim heading for the Seven Network. In fact it would seem the joke is on the ABC, not for losing Kath & Kim to Seven but for the still unexplained way a 100% owned in-house production ended up in someone else’s hands for no apparent gain to the national broadcaster, or reasonable explanation.

It is a multi-million dollar question which needs answering. It was reported that Seven won Kath & Kim for $3 million. Other TV network executives say this figure was way too low and that the figures being discussed were ‘considerably’ more than that

The ABC was the loser, with website promos like this now just a fond memory for the national broadcaster. It has emerged that Seven had indeed scored the girls for at least eight episodes of series four.

Seven chose the News Ltd Sunday papers to drop the story and there was much talk in its media release about the “girls coming home”:

Channel Seven today proudly announced Kath & Kim are coming home. The much-loved characters were first born on Seven in 1994. Since then Australia’s favourite foxy ladies have taken the world by storm. And now the pair will return to the network where it all began.

The fourth series of the hugely successful comedy series will screen on Seven soon. It’s a welcome return home for the show’s creators, Jane Turner and Gina Riley, who began their commercial television careers on Seven on the ground-breaking Fast Forward.

Filming is currently underway in Melbourne for series four — some of the high-profile guest stars will include Little Britain’s Matt Lucas and cricket great Shane Warne.

There are some people at the ABC who believe there should be an accounting for the broadcaster’s handling of Kath & Kim and all the associated merchandising revenues. The Kath & Kim series started in-house at the ABC but was then allowed to be produced by Turner and Riley and their associates.

There are claims the ABC owned the copyright 100% and kept all income from sales less residuals. How did the copyright move from the ABC to the Turner/Riley camp and for how much? Was there any agreement on revenue splits? What sort of agreements were they: a share of gross revenue, of profits, internet, DVD, books?

Even if the program was brought to the ABC by Turner/Riley, the first series was produced in-house. So how did the ABC protect its legal position on copyright, or didn’t it? And finally what did the board agree to and what did ABC management put to the board?

It’s material which deserves examination at the next Senate Estimates Hearing in May and should be raised as a matter of urgency with all the agreements etc tabled.

Competition was intense for Kath & Kim and I think that Seven would not have stood a chance if it hadn’t been for the pick up in its audience last year and probably the storming start to the front part of the 2007 ratings year.

Nine and Ten had both been trying but the competition in the end was between the ABC and Seven with Nine trying very hard and probably offering more money in the end.

Nine tried hard to snap them up two years ago. It was in there beavering away trying to get its hands on series three by hiring Rick McKenna, the executive producer, along with wife Gina Riley and the other star, Jane Turner. McKenna lasted at GTV 9 in Melbourne for less than a year where he was head of production. He was previously at Foxtel where he was head of AFL Operations for a while.

Seven isn’t saying where Kath & Kim will go in its rich schedule or when. But I think the best bet will be Sunday evenings at either 7.30pm or 8.30pm over the last seven or eight weeks of 2007 ratings, putting it up against Australian Idol on Ten. Kath & Kim not only would appeal to the 18 to 49 group that Idol is now aimed at, it would have appeal in younger and older demographics and prove a potent way for Seven to end the year.

It topped the two million mark on the ABC at the end of series and certainly rated as well for the ABC as it will for Seven. Seven’s audiences will be bigger because more people are “rusted” on to the network than to the ABC and more people have moved there from other networks over the past two years.