From next week normal transmission will be resumed on Australian TV, but only three programs matter to how the network’s finish the year.

Old favourites and new are returning like summering birds to the TV schedules. Seven will dominate this Sunday night with the simulated closing ceremony from the same people who bought you the opening of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Ten starts Australian Idol, which is a gamble.

Even the ABC will slip the underperforming The Hollowmen back into Wednesday nights at 9pm; frightened as they were that we might ignore this underwhelming effort during the Games. But the success of Seven, Ten and Nine over the remainder of 2008 will settle on how the success, or otherwise, of Seven’s moving Dancing With The Stars out of Tuesday nights and into Sundays at 7.30pm to take on 60 Minutes and a revamped Australian Idol on Ten.

In its place Tuesdays Seven will drop two half hour observational programs from 7.30pm to 8.30pm with RSPCA Animal Rescue at 7.30pm and the second Find My Family with Jack Thompson (a sort of rip off of an SBS program and part of Can We Help, an ABC program on Friday nights).

At 8.30pm Seven will screen Packed To the Rafters, a sort of homely, updated version of Always Greener, the program Seven killed in late 2003 just as it was in the process of recovering after being monstered by 60 Minutes at 7.30pm on Sundays. Seven shifted it to Monday nights (from memory) and its audience was picking up when it was axed, to the dismay of many at Seven and especially in its drama department.

Seven had in fact decided to renew it for 2004, then changed its mind, or someone senior did, which caused much angst. Since then there’s always been a suggestion that Seven hankered to remake the program to prove to itself (and certain senior managers) that it would work.

Seven will run it at 8.30pm and push All Saints back to 9.30pm where it again proved this year that it could stand on its own without the lead-in from Dancing With The Stars.

But Seven is giving up a guaranteed 1.3 million to 1.7 million audience for Dancing With The Stars on Tuesday nights for a smaller figure Sunday evenings. Its problem is that even though the program is being reworked, the host is not a big name, there are few, if any well known personalities in the non-dancers and the have axed judge Paul Mercurio, who had the most credibility of the four. His axing was a retrograde step.

Seven wants to blunt 60 Minutes and Australian Idol, hence the younger cast and glitzier look to dancing to get it away from its strong skew towards people over 50. Packed to the Rafters has to average at least 1.4 to 1.6 million to make sure Seven’s Tuesday night share isn’t weakened.

Australian Idol is being revamped by producers Freemantle International and the Ten Network and they hope it’s the first of a two year change. If it returns next year the judging panel will have been replaced and other significant changes made to the format.

But for this year there is one major change with Riki Lee Coulter, a young female singer, being added as a host of a stand alone program. The make up and duration of some eps will alter as Ten and Freemantle struggle to give the program a better profile and more cred with the 16 to 49 demographics.

They know the program has lost a lot of its standing with its target audiences and there are fears it could follow Big Brother into increasing irrelevance, and eventual death. If Ten and Fremantle are successful, then Seven’s moving Dancing With The Stars will hurt it. If Australian Idol declines, then Seven’s gamble has a better chance of grabbing younger viewers from Ten and monstering 60 Minutes for its lock on older viewers.

In all of this Nine Network doesn’t have to do a thing. It’s got lots of new programming, it wants to finish with a rush so it can boast about its comeback and is trying get more revenue in a shrinking market next year. All the risks are being borne by Seven and Ten, at 7.30pm Sundays and Tuesday nights.

Peter Fray

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