New programs do the business for Seven and Ten. Mixed results for the commercial networks in last night’s first unofficial battle of the 2008 ratings war. For Seven, its new programs, The Zoo (1.386 million), Bush Doctors (1.233 million) and Samantha Who? (1.292 million) all did very, very well in the face of strong opposition from Ten’s The Biggest Loser and the debut of the local version of So You Think You Can Dance. For Ten, the good news is that Dance will be very successful — it averaged a huge 1.829 million and the first ep of the new season of The Biggest Loser had 1.284 million. For Nine, the good news is that despite the rain delays, the cricket was solid, although just how solid remains to be seen when Seven reveals a full Sunday night line-up next week, but it’s going to be a miserable year if it can’t find programs to counter the appeal of Seven and Ten on Sunday nights. When Rove, Grey’s Anatomy and Brothers and Sisters return to Sundays, they will carve up the highly desirable 16 to 39 and 18 to 49 groups, with a few 49 to 54s thrown in. Ten and Seven will own the most desirable group of TV viewers: young females aged up to 35, the group Nine boss David Gyngell says his network wants to get back from his rivals. With 60 Minutes and CSI, Nine will be fighting the ABC for the older audience. Nine’s problem is that if it’s uncompetitive on Sunday nights the rest of the week becomes a real battle. It will have a very strong Wednesday night where it plans to run Underbelly against House. The most interesting show this week will be Chopping Block on Nine on Wednesday night at 7.30pm, which will be the lead in for Underbelly. Nine has made it clear it is associated with The Block, the property renovation series that lasted two seasons before being killed off due to costs and falling ratings. My Restaurant Rules has already run its course for Seven, so it’s interesting to see Nine going with the idea and using The Block producers, Julian Cress and David Barbour, who are favourites of David Gyngell. — Glenn Dyer

End in sight for US writers’ strike? According to reports in the US the Hollywood writers’ strike could end soon. A tentative deal seems to have emerged from talks last week that could see the strike end in about a week to 10 days. It’s a big if but the reports suggest some major sticking points on “residuals” covering internet streaming of programs has been sorted out. The stoppage is now in its fourth month and has badly disrupted the 2007-08 US TV schedule, forcing scripted programs off air and upsetting planning for the 2008-09 season with over 40 pilots delayed. But it’s felt that if the strike ends by the middle of next week, production could start within days and the first eps of established programs would be seen within eight to 10 weeks, depending on how much work has been done on the quiet. That would also allow the Oscars to go ahead on February 24, which was becoming a major concern for the TV networks and film studios as cancellation would have handed a huge victory to the writers. For the Australian networks quick settlement would allow minimum disruption, apart from the expense to speed up production of programs like Good News Week on Ten and Gladiators on Seven. Seven has spent a lot of money shooting Gladiators quickly (there was production in Sydney at Acer Arena yesterday). But some US reports also say the Screen Actors Guild and another union covering TV actors are next to negotiate new contracts with the studios, and the writer’s settlement could tell us if those contracts will be sorted out quickly. The New York Times said in the story:

Even if the writers and producers hammer out a final agreement, there’s no guarantee that there will be an end to the labor strife in Hollywood. The companies’ current contract with actors expires on June 30, and leaders of the Screen Actors Guild — a staunch ally of writers throughout their strike — have said they did not expect to begin negotiations early.

But the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which shares many members with the screen actors guild and traditionally has negotiated jointly with it, appears likely to start bargaining soon with companies on its own.

If the actors strike, no one will have any product late this year. — Glenn Dyer

WIN TV creates new role for high-profile TV operator. Bruce Gordon has surprised the TV industry by luring a high-profile operator from Star in Hong Kong to run his Australian TV business. David Butorac is understood to have started as Managing Director of WIN Corporation today. TV industry people say the appointment is a surprise as the role seems to be a newly created one. It seems Butorac will have the job of putting together the hybrid regional/metro network assembled last year by Gordon with the purchase of the Nine stations in Adelaide and Perth. At Star, News Corp’s Asian satellite TV business, he was responsible for developing opportunities in platform businesses across Asia to enhance the delivery of Star’s content to the consumer. Before that Butorac was Group Chief Operating Officer at Astro All Asia Networks in Malaysia after working for 14 years at BSkyB. — Glenn Dyer

Tennis final more popular than Twenty20 cricket. The second last week of summer ratings saw another big win to Seven, as the men’s Australian Open final proved more popular with Australian sports fan than the one-off Twenty20 game in Melbourne on Friday night. Just over 2.03 million people watched the cricket in the five major metro markets, compared to 2.346 million who watched the tennis last Sunday night. Another 941,000 watched the men’s final in regional areas, while 804,400 people watched the cricket. Either the off field dramas damaged the audience’s interest in the Australian and Indian teams or this new form of the game isn’t quite as popular as Nine and Cricket Australia would have us believe. The Nine Network has been a late believer in Twenty20 cricket. When it gave up the rights to domestic cricket it not only allowed Fox Sports to claim the One Day Matches (and the unwanted four day Pura Cup games) it also handed over the domestic Twenty20 competition which has proven to be the fastest growth audience for Fox Sports this summer. In its desperation to cut costs, Nine management simply walked away from what could have been a vibrant and highly promotable domestic competition for the network. Not very clever. — Glenn Dyer

Last night’s TV ratings
The Winners:
 Eleven programs with a million or more viewers and a couple of interesting figures. Ten’s Australian version of So You Think You Can Dance topped the list with 1.829 million people, followed by Seven News with 1.540 million and Nine News with 1.519 million. Seven’s new feel good program, The Zoo averaged 1.386 million, just in front of new US comedy Samantha Who? with 1.292 million. The first ep of the new series of The Biggest Loser at 6.30pm averaged 1.284 million and Seven’s other new program Bush Doctors averaged 1.233 million at 7pm. The One Day Cricket averaged 1.201 million for Nine which wasn’t bad given the rain delays in the evening. Miss Marple returned to comfort the ABC audience with 1.182 million at 8.30pm. Seven’s Kath & Kim repeat at 7.30pm averaged 1.167 million and its movie Bruce Almighty averaged 1.128 million.

The Losers: The ABC’s Robin Hood at 7.30pm. Crunched between the cricket, Dance and Samantha Who?, it faded badly: 697,000 viewers. Given the night’s viewing it was the only real flop.

News & CA: Seven News again won nationally thanks to a 155,000 margin in Perth and 113,000 in Brisbane. Nine won Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, thanks to the cricket. Ten News averaged 776,000; the 7pm ABC News, 877,000; SBS News, 172,000 at 6.30am. Weekend Sunrise averaged 450,000 from 8am to 10am. Next week it’s joined by Sunday.

The Stats: Ten won with 27.6% from Seven with 26.3% and Nine with 25.2%, from the ABC with 16.1% and SBS with 4.8%. Nine won Sydney, Ten won Melbourne and Adelaide, Seven won Brisbane and Perth (where Nine averaged 16.6% and finished 4th behind the ABC because the cricket finished early). In regional areas, the Dance and Loser shows on Ten didn’t grab viewers, just like Australian Idol and Big Brother. NBN/WIN won for Nine with 26.3% from Prime/7Qld with 25.8%, Southern Cross (Ten) with 23.2%, the ABC with 17.7% and SBS with 6.9%.

Glenn Dyer’s comments: The last week of summer ratings and the new programs last night made it a good night of viewing. Ten’s Billy Elliott repeat (715,000) after So You can You Can Dance Australia was understandable programming give its storyline, but viewers preferred something else. A bit of Miss Marple, Bruce Almighty and the stuttering cricket. Seven will be edging into the battle in a much more low key fashion than in 2006 or 2007. I think they expect Nine to make a big splash from next week with Underbelly on Wednesday nights and two games of One Day cricket involving Australia for the next four weeks. Tonight there’s A Year With The Royal Family on Nine at 7.30pm, Top Gear on SBS and the second audition show for Dance.

Source: OzTAM, TV Network reports