Advertisement

EXCLUSIVE | The big new show Seven didn’t announce at its UPFRONT presentation

In a wide-ranging interview, director of network programming Angus Ross and Director of Production Andrew Backwell share revealing insights about their 2021 plans

Seven’s Director of Production Andrew Backwell (image – 7)

Here are just some of the topics covered:

  • A big new show coming
  • Mike Goldman coming back for more Big Brother
  • The Voice or AGT could make way for Australian Idol
  • Contingency plans if Olympics don’t go ahead
  • New rules for show commissions
  • A change of strategy

ROB MCKNIGHT:

I don’t think I’ve seen Seven as confident as this, in a long time.

ANGUS ROSS:

Look, I think even last year we sort of said, new management, new attitude, that’s what James has brought to the table. I think from a content point of view, we were knocked around this year by COVID, more than any other network. We’re really three formats and an Olympic short for the year. You know, despite that, the end of this week it’s going to be 17 weeks apiece and about, I think, 0.3 of a share point in it between us and Nine. And that points to the strength of our spine, of news and sport, Better Homes, Home and Away and so forth. But I think what we’re really looking forward to in 2021 is getting out there with all the rounds in the chamber for next year. We’re really got a lot of different disruptive and attention-grabbing formats for next year.

And look, I think another thing to really emphasize is that come mid December, for the first half of next year, all of our formats will be in the can already. Holey Moley, Farmer, Big Brother, and Ultimate Tag, all completed, all completely COVID proof, done. We can roll things out in whatever way we feel like it next year. And that’s very important for our advertisers obviously. And the other thing I think I should say is that the big, big difference for next year, is the freedom that James has given to us in terms of the commissioning process. It’s now very outwardly focused. We’re no longer in the program development business, if you like. All the formats that we’re doing next year across the whole year, that we’ve commissioned, are proven, powerful, international formats. And our record this year in that space, if you take out the Seven Studios shows, our record is three for three, we’ve got Big Brother, Farmer and SAS off the deck, and we’re doing that with everything next year.

So I think that’s why we’re really excited about it. And obviously Holey Moley, good things come to those who wait Rob. It was the highlight of our reel last year and Backer’s and his team in conjunction with Eureka have done an amazing job across all of our production, in making things happen that for a while, look like a technical impossibility. So I think that’s why we’re pretty stoked.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

And also when you look at the moments, of 17 weeks, all at the end of this week, if we had Holey Moley on the shelf now, on air now, that was supposed-

ANGUS ROSS:

That was supposed to.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

And AGT-

ANGUS ROSS:

And AGT. Yeah.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

It would have been a very different story, but the good thing is we’ve got it up our sleeve for next year now. So …

ANGUS ROSS:

Yeah.

ROB MCKNIGHT:

Well, there’s a couple of things there. I was lucky enough to be on the set of Holey Moley, I’ve seen it from the control room as well, so I’ve got a sense of how it was working with the commentary and everything like that. It’s very, very funny. Rob Wriggle is fantastic in his commentary, the way it’s all working with Sonia, and the way the different elements are working together. I actually thought ‘this is a hit’.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

We’re confident with this one, because I think it’s been proven in the U.S. It’s been renewed again for a third series in the U.S. And it was a big punt, we were two days into the shoot in LA, we had to call home, and get everyone back. And a big punt for James to build that big set, you’ve been to in Brisbane. It’s enormous. It’s a big investment. And it’s great that we’ve got it here. And we can use for international markets coming in now. So credit for James taking that punt. But I agree with you, Rob, there’s no guarantees in TV, but it feels like a very good punt to me.

ANGUS ROSS:

It feels like the right sort of counter programming against MAFS, and I’m guessing Amazing Race on 10, really, really family friendly, big scale entertainment.

ROB MCKNIGHT:

Yeah. Well it’s funny you say that, Angus, because there was some criticism that it was playing against MAFS, but I think that is a smart move because why do like for like, when you can offer the audience something very different up against that

ANGUS ROSS:

I agree, like for like would be a fool’s errand there in Q1. You have to come out with something different and something you confident in, and something that you think is going to make a lot of noise.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

And also we target kids. Kids are not watching Married At First Sight, they shouldn’t be. And you get kids, you get family viewing and suddenly you get that broad family audience. I personally think it’s a really good alternative.

ANGUS ROSS:

A bit of light relief after this year we’ve been through.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

Yeah.

ROB MCKNIGHT:

Backers, with all the talk of Seven Studios, I know you’ve been very much involved with Seven Studios, what does that mean for your role with that part of the business and where is that getting to now.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

Well Seven, we’re not making any shows internally. We continue to make Home and Away, Better Homes and Gardens and Border Security, but apart from that we’re outsourcing. So a very similar model to the other networks, just to how I ran production when I was at Nine, dealing with the biggest production companies. The thing that excites me most, Rob, is that the three biggest entertainment formats in the world are The Voice, AGT and Idol. And to have them all on one channel is just incredible. No one in the world has had that before, we’ll be the first network ever to have that. And we can control them, how we play them out. Angus can control when he plays them out during the year. That is a huge big coup for us. There’s so much reality, everywhere, for us to be the only network with big entertainment shows like that, really gives us a point of difference. And it’s part of James’s strategy. Having the biggest formats in the world, all on one network.

ROB MCKNIGHT:

I genuinely got excited. I was literally, we were rolling the opener for The Ben, Rob & Robbo Show, and I was keeping my eye out for the big announcement. I saw you Angus with that Australian Idols sign, and I’m just like, ‘are you kidding me? This is amazing’. We actually led the show off with that, because we were that excited about it. No one saw this coming. You know, this is amazing.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

Angus kept it really quantitative and tell me we were doing it.

ROB MCKNIGHT:

Well that’s the only way to keep a secret in this business.

ANGUS ROSS:

No, it is quite remarkable that it didn’t leak. We had people emailing us about all sorts of formats from other networks. Oh, this is your announcement, that’s your announcement. We thought, oh, people are actually going to get a shock here.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

Yeah.

ANGUS ROSS:

It’s good to be able to do that for once. As you know, it’s very hard to keep a secret in this business.

ROB MCKNIGHT:

It really is, especially with people like me around.

ANGUS ROSS:

I was going to say that.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

You do have some good sources, mate.

ROB MCKNIGHT:

But let me ask you here, three big singing based formats, is it overload? Will you look at what happens in 2021, and have the option of only going with two in 2022? Because you’ve got Idol as a possible replacement?

ANDREW BACKWELL:

So if you look what’s happened in the past, Rob, we’ve had these singing shows all during the year, but they’ve been on different networks. So you’ve got X-Factor, AGT, The Voice, all on there at the same time. I think that the only difference now is they’re all on one network. So your base is still, it’s still the same number of people auditioning. AGT has got a very different type of person that’s auditioning for that show. And what we’re doing is powering these format. So we’re not stretching them out, what we’ve done with The Voices is, we’ve taken out the soft middle area, we’re going from the blind additions into semifinals and finals. So we’re making them shorter run, but we’ll have two of them on the schedule, rather than the long run, where it gets, it sags in the middle.

ANGUS ROSS:

Yeah. And again, you’d rather have the option on these formats than not. What a great problem to have, if they’re all firing, and looking at where are we going to roll, where we’re going to roll them out during the year? The control, the rollout of these formats is up to us.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

Yeah. And a good problem, as you say, to have too many hits.

ROB MCKNIGHT:

Actually, that’s a good point.

ANGUS ROSS:

Yeah. Too many hits, not enough slots. Wouldn’t that be good?

ROB MCKNIGHT:

Well, yeah. Absolutely. It’s interesting. Your back half of the year has been much stronger than the front half. It must’ve been very nerve-wracking for those first few months with My Kitchen Rules and House Rules failing to fire. You’ve done something extraordinary and actually replaced those shows with new formats, new invigorated formats. You guys used the term powerhouse, and these shows certainly seem that. Are you worried about the risk? Are you feeling confident? Where are your heads at compared to where you were four months ago?

ANGUS ROSS:

Look, I think the new content-led growth strategy kicked, in earnest, with Big Brother, that was the first of the outwardly focused commissions. And as I said, there’s three for three Big Brother, farmer Wants a Wife and SAS Australia now. SAS was obviously a show on Channel 4, it’s done the number of seasons there. Channel 4 is a very different network to us, but it’s a hit show for them. And we thought we could make it work in this market. I think if anything, next year, given this different commissioning process that we are now allowed to undertake, I think the year is far more de-risked than when you’re in the program development business and sending out something brand new into the space. And as we know, the very best production companies in the world have a strike rate of 25 to 30%, if they are lucky. So what we’re now is, is taking formats that have proof points in other markets, and de-risking the schedule.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

And as you’re say Angus, this year you booked three new shows returning-

ANGUS ROSS:

Yes, I can’t remember the last time that happened.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

… you add The Voice to that-

ANGUS ROSS:

Yeah.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

… you taking into next year four successful shows.

ANGUS ROSS:

Yeah.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

That’s a pretty good base.

ANGUS ROSS:

Yeah. I agree

ROB MCKNIGHT:

With the idea of running heritage brands and big powerhouses, do we lose the sense of innovation?

ANDREW BACKWELL:

No, because what we’re doing is new shows too. So Holey Moley, brand new to this market, Ultimate Tag, brand new to this market. You know, SAS is brand new to this market. So it’s not just going back, it’s having the right balance of entertainment, of reality, of established, of new, that balance is very, very important.

ANGUS ROSS:

I’d say there’s probably going to be another big announcement for another format for next year as well. I don’t think we’re quite done yet with where we want to be. So, you know what, watch this space over the next … The good thing is with, with all of our schedule that’s going to be banked and set, for the post Olympics space, just keep your ear to the ground.

ROB MCKNIGHT:

So does that mean you’ve got something on the boil or you’re on the lookout?

ANGUS ROSS:

We’ve got a number of things on the boil.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

We’ve got a couple of them on the boil, so just working out the balance once again.

ANGUS ROSS:

Yeah. But they will be, they will be probably new formats to this market, I would say.

ROB MCKNIGHT:

Very interesting. Are you shocked by how successful SAS Australia has been? Schapelle Corby has certainly been a big part of the publicity trail for that. And it’s beating The Block, can it sustain with her leaving the show?

ANGUS ROSS:

I think so. I’m just looking at the sort of social media firestorm around it. There’s more publicity the day after the episode’s gone to air, even the day of. I mean, it was clearly a show that we believed in. I like it when things catch people by surprise, but other folks have written them off and so forth. This, I think was probably a bit of a, even though it works for Channel 4, it runs in a later slot in that market. I think it was one of our, I guess, bolder commissions, even though again, it is based on a hit format. We believe it can sustain the quality of the show and the emotional punch that it packs is something that I don’t think you normally see on a commercial network in this market.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

Yeah. And we started feeling confident when we started seeing the cast that were putting up their hands to be part of it.

ANGUS ROSS:

Yeah.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

Because I think that Screentime have delivered a fantastic cast.

ANGUS ROSS:

Yeah.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

A very, very strong celebrity lineup. And that’s when I started thinking this show could really fire. And then on location, we started getting reports back and we started seeing the edits, and we were confident that it was going to launch really well. And it’s just so noisy.

ANGUS ROSS:

Yeah. I mean, look, we know we’re everybody’s favourite whipping boy on a lot of websites and from a lot of commentators. So when something like this gets off the decks, something that’s a bit riskier, makes us feel even better. We take motivation from that.

ROB MCKNIGHT:

Do you really feel that’s true Angus, or has it been a case of, there’s been a few issues, like the start of the year, and the commentary is reflective of that? Or do you think there is an anti-Seven agenda?

ANDREW BACKWELL:

I don’t think there’s, it’s because of the beginning of the year, I think Seven has been dominant, been number one for so long, that people just love to bash the number one. I mean, Channel 9 did well last year, this year they’re going to scrape through possibly, but Channel 7 has been so dominant, and I know that firsthand because I was on not position and just got smashed year in and year out from Angus programming. So I think it’s a backlash from that. Yeah.

ANGUS ROSS:

Yeah. But, Rob, it’ll turn. Let’s see, you look at the reaction to Nine’s upfronts, which were pretty muted. It’s nice to be the underdog as well I’ll say.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

And the good thing is, I hated you for 10 years, now I just dislike you. That’s the difference.

ANGUS ROSS:

It’s great. You’ve got the two Ronnie’s here.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

Yeah. No, I do, I just think it’s a backlash.

ANGUS ROSS:

But no. It always happens when you’re the leading network, it happened to Nine when they were there. It’s part of the territory.

ROB MCKNIGHT:

Well, I will say that I-

ANGUS ROSS:

I’m not putting you in that camp, mate. I’m not putting you in that camp. You even liked Pooch Perfect.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

I knew we’d find someone.

ANGUS ROSS:

Yeah. Hey, by the way-

ROB MCKNIGHT:

I’ll never live that one down, I loved Pooch Perfect, it’s great.

ANGUS ROSS:

Hey, by the way. And you know what, that show, let’s remember BBC One are making it, and ABC in the U.S. are making it. So interesting one. But that’s, we’re no longer in that program development business, it’s too hard.

ROB MCKNIGHT:

All right. Talk to me about the multi-channel strategy because you guys have one less multi-channel than Nine, but you’re delivering more consistent audience figures?

ANGUS ROSS:

I think mate, it’s been, well it’s the leading multi-channel and all the key demos, or 16-39s, 25-54s, has been for a number of years. And it prides itself on a number of innovative local commissions that channel. We’ve got Housos coming in next weekend, Regular Old Bogan, so they know their wheelhouse and they stay in their lane and they do a really great job of it. 7TWO, we’ve really knuckled down on making sure we’ve delivered consistent programming for those 40 plus viewers. It’s very English drama dependent. And when we have a very strong slate of dramas and we’ve really tried to be extremely consistent across this year, and I think that’s paid off. 7flix is a mainly movie based the newest library based channel. And when you’re quite reliant on movies, I think your performance can jump around a bit, but it is beating Nine Life in the key demographics for the year to-date.

ANGUS ROSS:

So I think we’ve got a little bit more work to do on 7flix to drive a bit more consistency. But overall, I feel our suite of channels is doing the job. But yeah, a bit more work to do on flix I’d say, but keep an eye on that for next year.

ROB MCKNIGHT:

Hey, Backers, talk to me about 7plus, like the networks were all going gangbusters on the digital platform, with unique content. We saw things like Love Island, doing a lot of stuff there. You guys, I know are putting a lot around SAS Australia on 7plus, but because of the diminishing advertising market and being affected by COVID, are we pulling back on really having that as a focus with unique content, because we need to focus on the main broadcast?

ANGUS ROSS:

I’ll handle this one. This year has been a massive year for 7plus, it’s the number one commercial BVOD service in the market. Yes, it beats Nine now. We have always made sure we have a large library that operates independent of broadcast. So it’s not just a catch-up service for us. When we really hit our strides is when we repaired the tent poles in the schedule, which for when Big Brother hit, through to Farmer, and now SAS. SAS is going to be the biggest show that we have ever had on 7plus. The Monday night episode-

ROB MCKNIGHT:

Wow.

ANGUS ROSS:

The Monday night episode has added over 150,000 viewers already. That’s the VPM already. Both Farmer and Big Brother averaged over 200,000 extra there per episode. And these are all signed in users. They’re all very young end demographics that are choosing to watch these shows there. So look, when we get our tent pole strategy firing, and combined with our library, we are just absolutely unbeatable in that space. With something like SAS, Backers, do you want to talk about the extras that are there? We’ve got the uncensored version, obviously, but we need shows to work on all platforms is the message there. We need them to work on broadcast and we need them to deliver on streaming, which both Big Brother, Farmer and SAS Australia have all done. And obviously Home and Away there is delivering week in, week out. That’s our biggest show on 7plus. So dramas kind of the way in, and we’re working on the reality space.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

Yes, and what we’ve got is we’ve got some extras from SAS. The interrogation at the end of the show, we’ve got that now uncut there. And when you see the viewers in touch, big numbers going to look at that, it means the engagement is incredibly high, they watched the show and they want to see extra content, and that shows really high engagement for that show. And we seeing record numbers for those clips as well.

ROB MCKNIGHT:

It’s fascinating how you can get more viewers to experience more content through the 7plus with those extras. You mentioned Big Brother. We had two offshoot programs for Big Brother this year. We had the Mike Goldman show and we had the official Sonia Kruger show. Will both those be back, will you be looking at other ways to engage new audiences?

ANGUS ROSS:

I think they’ll both be back, and we’re always looking for extras around Big Brother. Make no mistake on what drives viewing on these platforms. It’s the broadcast shows, the extra are great additions to have, but their performance is dwarfed by people seeking out what went to where.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

Exactly right. So it’s broadcast that drives it all.

ANGUS ROSS:

Yeah. And what we aim to do is allow them to find that other content within that ecosystem, and obviously also pushing to it at the end of the shows, as you would have seen on SAS. Are you liking the SAS mate?

ROB MCKNIGHT:

Mate, I’m loving it. I saw the preview episode, minus the last segment, and I was texting Kate, begging her for that final segment, which she wouldn’t give me. Because, and my wife who does not like celebrity torture porn or anything like that, really became engaged with it, and really loved it, and especially loved the Schapelle Corby storyline. But she’s so engaged with it now, and wants to see the preview episodes. And she’s never like that with anything. So yeah, the McKnight household is loving it.

ANGUS ROSS:

Yeah. It really, I mean, you just going to obviously become more attached to those people who remained in the show over the coming weeks, but it’s highly emotional and intense and people that you perhaps, when you’re looking at them from the outside, think I’ve never been too fond of that person.

You see a whole other side of them and you think they’re actually all right.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

And the thing that I find fascinating, it’s not the big strong blokes that make it through. It’s all about mental toughness.

ANGUS ROSS:

Yup.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

You need to be fit and you need to be able to do it, but you’ll see in further episodes, some of the big blogs absolutely fail, and you’ve got some of the smaller woman that do incredibly well because psychologically they so strong.

ANGUS ROSS:

And it was key for us getting, Ant Middleton and the DS from the UK, because we just think they’re superstars.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

Yeah.

ROB MCKNIGHT:

Oh, they were perfect. And I’ve got to tell you guys, I would have lasted less than Roxy Jacenko

to be honest.

ANGUS ROSS:

Don’t worry about us. Would be the same for us.

ROB MCKNIGHT:

What is success in 2021 for you guys? Is it being number one? Is it just year on year growth? What is, when you look back at 2021, success?

ANGUS ROSS:

I think the year on year growth is extremely important, particularly in that first half, where we’re very honest about our under-performance in that half of the year. And I think those formats that we’re rolling out, I think we are really in a position to shake things up. I mean, if you take a step back from all of the upfronts and look at each of them, which network do you think is going to shake it up.

ROB MCKNIGHT:

I think it was pretty obvious.

ANGUS ROSS:

Yeah, exactly. Well, rhetorical question there.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

We’re in the business of building new brands. We’re in the business now of building new brands and to go into next year with four already established, Holey Moley coming, which we feel very confident, Tag coming after that. We’ve got some really strong content coming in. If we can then go into 2022 with even more hits shows. That’s really our aim.

ANGUS ROSS:

I think, we don’t consider parts of our year, our best year I think James said, you saw glimpses of app potential. And even with those glimpses, it’s 17 weeks a pop, and 0.3 of a share point in it, for year to date. So I think we are, like I said, if we get all the rounds in the chamber, we’re very excited for a potential next year across both being number one and delivering that growth in key demographics across those parts of poorer performance in the year.

ROB MCKNIGHT:

And we’re not even talking to sport at the moment.

ANGUS ROSS:

No.

ROB MCKNIGHT:

And you’ve got this array of sport with the idea of two Olympics within eight months of each other is just amazing. How confident are you that the Olympics will go ahead, or will you have the headache you had in 2020?

ANGUS ROSS:

Well, you always prepare yourself, but either way. We clearly, you need to have contingency plans around this sort of thing, but I would think the messaging that you’ve seen from the Olympic committee in our presentation, they seem pretty firm that they can get the job done. And we rely on that. I think as a fast stop for 2022, the Winter Olympics have proven themselves in prime time before, they did for us in 2018. And they are a massive deliverer of demographics, just by the nature of the sports that are featured. So, we think that’s just like you can lock in those ratings at the start of 22, and that then becomes a launch pad for Idol and whatever other formats we are introducing at that time.

ROB MCKNIGHT:

Well, guys, I wish you all the very best in 2021, because seriously that was a great reel and got me excited about Channel 7.

ANGUS ROSS:

I’m glad, I’m sorry it took so long.

ANDREW BACKWELL:

Thanks Rob.

ANGUS ROSS:

All right mate, talk to you soon. See you Rob.

Robert McKnight
"Leading TV commentator" - The Daily Telegraph | "Known for his impeccable sources in the TV industry" - The Daily Mail | Robert McKnight is a highly regarded Australian Television Producer having worked at SEVEN, NINE and TEN during his 25 years in the industry. Publicly he is most well-known for creating and producing STUDIO 10 but has worked on Sunrise, The Morning Show plus other prime time productions in addition to creating award-winning news campaigns for both 7 News and 9 News. Currently Rob is the host and producer of the TV Blackbox, McKnight Tonight and Monsters Who Murder podcasts plus host & Executive Producer of the video streaming show The Ben, Rob & Robbo show
Advertisement

Similar Articles

Comments

We Want To Hear From You

Advertisment

Follow US

3,482FansLike
390FollowersFollow
16,304FollowersFollow

Latest

Celebrate the festive season on Nine with CHRISTMAS WITH DELTA

Join Delta Goodrem for a night of joy and holiday cheer from the Sydney Opera House with a special television event, Christmas with Delta.

Thursday Ratings | HIGHWAY PATROL leads a very silent night

When do the BBL games start on FTA TV? Oh, that's right - next Thursday...

FOXTEL sets new ratings record with Australia vs India cricket coverage

Game 3 of the Australia vs India ODI Series on Wednesday averaged 435K across the combined platforms of Foxtel

Grab your Quarantinis and saddle up as THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF DALLAS returns to Foxtel

This season, after years of being a doting mother and wife, Stephanie is eager to return to work and launches her own foundation. When her husband Travis questions her ability to follow through, she sets on a course to prove him wrong.

MTV Announce Māori Artist Rei As The Next Indigenous Artist Of The Moment

The second artist to be highlighted is 26-year-old, proud Māori Artist, Rei. The Auckland-based bilingual rapper, singer and producer firmly represents the next generation of Aotearoa artists.

TODAY release their ratings performance for 2020

In one of the biggest news years in history, families have flocked to the TODAY Show for trusted, up-to-the-minute information – and Karl and Ally have been with them every step of the way during what has been a truly testing and emotional 2020.

Support TV Blackbox by using our partners