The Ten Network debuts two important more programs tonight. Puberty Blues at 8.30pm is the first episode in a series based on the book (and film) of the 1970s teenage girl angst classic. Then at 9.30pm it starts Class Of, which is a sort of self-help program based on a Swedish format with “troubled” students at a Sydney high school.
After the debacles of The Shire (it’s on Ten tonight as well at 8pm), Being Lara Bingle (ended by running the final two eps back-to-back to get rid of it during the Olympics) and now Everybody Dance Now, Ten management -- from CEO James Warburton to the programmers, led by David Mott -- need some wins.
The previous management of Ten -- not Lachlan Murdoch, who was CEO in 2011, but chairman Nick Falloon and then-CEO Grant Blackley -- gave us the big flop of 2011, The Renovators, as well as the muffed 6-7pm news and current affairs idea. But they also gave Ten The Project, a bigger gamble than most of the other new programs. Class Of is a hangover from the Falloon/Blackley days.
Murdoch, in his interim capacity as CEO before Warburton came on board, signed off on Breakfast and its expensive host in Paul Henry. Being Lara Bingle was one of his. But we can’t blame The Shire wholly on him -- that’s more a Warburton/Mott flop, but Lachlan Murdoch is chairman and last year the board asserted its right to check the programming ideas and proposals coming up from Mott.
But Everybody Dance Now is The Renovators of 2012. A massive failure; tacky, poorly produced, badly hosted and a very costly mistake because Ten will have to give advertisers who have supported it freebies (called “make goods”) in the schedule to compensate for the low ratings. At a time when every advertising dollar is hard won, this will be doubly costly for Ten. A loss on the program and no revenue for the slots the make good ads are run in.
But it won’t be for long: it averaged 598,000 metro viewers on Sunday, 304,000 on Monday night and 324,000 last night (from 8-9.30pm). Ignore the 20,000 extra viewers it pulled in last night, they don’t matter. Last night’s audience figures confirmed the program’s trough, which is around 300,000 people, well below anything acceptable and profitable in the middle of prime time at 8pm. If Ten management axed The Circle on four days notice last month because its revenues had fallen below its costs (helped by the weak effort and added costs for Breakfast), then Dance Now should have been killed off on Tuesday morning.
But Ten will try and keep it going (that’s despite knowing it will to be swamped next Sunday night and Monday). You see, the chairman’s wife, Sarah Murdoch, is the host. Now who at Ten will tell Lachie that the show his wife is fronting is a turkey and she’s part of the problem?
And there’s no point in Fairfax gloating, as it did in The Sydney Morning Herald this morning. The newest director at Fairfax Media is Jack Cowin, one of the stalwarts at Ten. The flops he has sat and discussed at board level (which led to him and the rest of the board voting to flick the previous management of the network) are legion, as are the successes.
The silly thing is that Ten tried a dance program a couple of years ago and ended it because the audience tailed away and wouldn’t watch a better produced program (it was called So You Think You Can Dance Australia). It was hosted by Natalie Bassingthwaighte and produced by Fremantle Australia, which is producing Dance Now. That should have set off warning bells at Ten and in the Ten boardroom, but it obviously didn’t.
But it’s the flops which cause trouble. Everybody Dance Now is one of those flops (along with The Shire) that will test the mettle of Ten’s board to make sure there’s accountability for the flops and financial losses. What’s the bet no one who should go gets flicked and that any casualties will be among the small people at the network, not higher up?
Gina Rinehart is also a board member at Ten and is part of the group that should take responsibility for the flops and the network’s weak performance this year. This is a lesson in advance for Fairfax should she gain defacto control of the company and board seats. She talks a lot about accountability at Fairfax Media (as has Cowin), but it doesn’t apply to themselves at Ten.