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Category: Stuff Archive

INTERVIEW John Kelly, TVNZ Programmer

If you’re a fan of 666 Park Avenue (or just a hawk when it comes to the telly schedule) you may have noticed that the show has been pulled from its Friday 8.30pm timeslot, and will be finishing its run on Sundays at 11pm – though it’s not all bad news: while it was pulled from the schedule indefinitely in the USA, TV2 told me this week that the show will be completing its run of 13 episodes on TV2, regardless of whether it comes back in the USA or not.

In fact, TV2 programmer John Kelly was kind enough to answer a few questions about how scheduling works, why 666 Park Avenue failed to find an audience, and the mechanics of moving a show to a late night slot. Here is what transpired …

Chris: How did TV2 end up with the rights to 666 Park Avenue?

John: We acquired 666 Park Avenue through our programming supply deal with Warner Bros, who also supply us with The Big Bang Theory, The Mentalist, Two and a Half Men and The Middle among others. The majority of shows on TV2 come to us through our output deals. A lot of people think we hunt around looking to buy cancelled series as cheaply as possible – the fact is that’s not true – we commit to buy shows (and through an output deal we have to take them) long before they go to air in the States – and we don’t pay any less money for them if they turn out to be cancelled!

Chris: What were your expectations for the show when you picked it up last year?

John: A number of factors come into play, including the cast, producers and the slot the American network give the show- sometimes there are shows that you know are going to die simply because of where they have been placed and the competition they face!  But ABC placed it behind Revenge, which is one of their biggest hits, so we knew the network had a lot of faith in it. Remember, that the American season launches a multitude of shows and we consider ourselves lucky if 1 or 2 of them turn out to be big hits.

Chris: Obviously, you guys must be disappointed with how 666 Park Avenue performed. How did your expectations change when you saw that the show had performed badly and been cancelled in the USA?

John: We monitor US ratings fairly closely and could see that the show wasn’t performing there as well as we hoped and then sure enough it was cancelled.  We were told the final episode was rewritten to tie up all the story strands and were given permission to show the final episodes before US transmission. So it made sense to continue with our plans and play out the series as a 13 part drama.

Chris: Why do you think 666 Park Avenue failed for TV2?

John: Launching any new series in any slot is a risk and we knew this one would take a lot of promotional effort, especially as TV2 hasn’t run much drama on Fridays in recent years and it’s our first new season without American Idol on Friday nights since 2007. I think there were a number of factors behind it failing to find an audience – re-establishing drama on Friday nights will take time, we are having a great summer across the country, so less people were available to view.

Chris: To what extent do you think that, perhaps, the show just didn’t really fit TV2’s prime time brand? Like, if 666 Park Avenue was produced by The CW, alongside stuff like Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries, it might have been a bigger hit in the USA – and I wonder if it might have met expectations better here if it was thought of alongside those kind of shows, and aired in that 10.30pm-11.30pm slot those shows seem fond of.

John: TV2 is a broadcaster and we look for shows that will appeal across the 18-49 demographic, so we do, and should be able to, run a broad range of drama. The CW is a younger skewing network that rarely gets ratings as high as the Big Four networks. If 666 Park Avenue had have got those ratings on The CW it would have been a massive hit!

There is much less pressure on shows to perform in the 10.30 slot. I have read comments from viewers wondering why we think a show will rate better at 10.30 – the truth is we don’t expect it to, the show gets to play out the rest of its run in a much more protected slot.

Chris: How did you go about deciding to move the show from Friday 8.30pm to Sunday 11pm? How much consideration is given to fans that the show might have picked up along the way?

John: A LOT of consideration, but unfortunately all 3 episodes launched with a very low number of viewers, which then dropped across the hour. As I said earlier we don’t schedule series expecting them to fail. The Sunday 10.30pm-ish timeslot was one where we could move the show to immediately, so fans could carry on watching without having to wait and it wouldn’t disrupt or displace another series that has its own loyal following.

Chris: I think one of the pitfalls of a sudden move like this is that there is a risk of alienating viewers – some, who have gotten invested in a show, might feel that “TV2 doesn’t care about us”. I guess it’s that balance between programming to make money from advertising, and programming to please viewers. How do you try to strike that balance?

John: I can honestly say that we think about the viewer first and foremost. I know some of your readers might say “yeah right”, but we don’t deliberately go out of our way to annoy them. The problem is, we are a business and yes, sometimes there are business reasons behind some of the decisions we make that we can’t share publicly. If a show is performing well then it will definitely remain in the slot we place it in.

I hate pulling shows. We don’t do a heck of a lot of work to watch our shows fail – or deliberately annoy our viewers. And I am a viewer too, I hate it when other channels move shows I like without telling me. So, we are working on improving our messaging to people, warning about any changes to the schedule.  We’ve introduced a new continuity message that played in both 666 Park Avenue and The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business.

And speaking of The Amazing Race, please assure your readers that we are planning for future seasons to continue to play in primetime and we are looking at ways to shrink the gap between here and America.

TV REVIEW Agent Anna S1 premiere

New, locally produced comedy series Agent Anna debuted last night on One, produced by Rachel Gardner (The Cult) and written by Maxine Fleming (who wrote two first season episodes of Outrageous Fortune), and starring a familiar face in Robyn Malcolm – and I have a few thoughts after the requisite spoiler warning …

(Warning: Spoilers from last night’s Agent Anna premiere follow.)

Very little is made of the differences between producing a series here in New Zealand, as opposed to in the USA.

For example, in the USA, new shows are funded by a combination of studio and network, and creators are required to make a pilot episode to impress the powers that be, in the hopes of getting picked up for a series order (usually 10 or 13 episodes to start with). Pilot episodes are generally jam-packed with exposition, the back story we need to make sense of the episodes that follow. They are heavy on detail, and usually lacking in character depth.

New Zealand show creators don’t have the same limitation: shows are pitched and produced in their entirety – if you have an idea for a six-part comedy series about an upper-class divorcee forced to re-enter the work force to provide for her teenage daughters, and if you’re lucky, you can get a commitment and funding to make the entire six episode series.

First episodes of New Zealand-made shows – writers like me refer to them as “pilot” episodes, but you can see why they’re technically different – still need to feature plenty of exposition, and while a single half-hour of Agent Anna was not enough to form a proper opinion, it was this key difference between NZ and USA production processes that impressed me.

The first episode of Agent Anna was a tale in three parts, each section giving us an important look at the titular character, and providing important information about the show. In the first act, we meet Anna Kingston (Malcolm) as she endures – I think endure is the right word, as she doesn’t seem happy – a motivational CD in her rundown red hatchback. We head into the office and meet her ultra-competitive office mates, including the talented Adam Gardiner as slimeball Leon, with whom the lovely Anna appears to be no match. We get the sense that she is absolutely miserable. But we don’t know why.

In the second act, we follow Anna to a former friends farewell party – it appears that Anna used to be married into the upper-class before her husband fled to Australia. Her former friends seem bemused by her current situation. In the final act, Anna decides to debase herself to get a high value listing, only to be pipped at the post by slimeball Leon. We get a few quick scenes with her kids, and her parents (with whom Anna is now living), and that is that.

Rather than just introduce a bunch of characters, a setting and a situation, the show has hooked us – well, me at least – by saying “this is Anna and this is her situation (miserably taking a real estate job) – this is why she is so miserable there (the divorce/the drop in societal status) – but this is why she is doing it (her kids)”.

And much more than simple amusement at her lot in life, I’m instantly sympathetic to poor Anna. This isn’t just a character in a show; this is a housewife who has been ripped off by her husband, and by life. I want to see Anna overcome the obstacles that have been laid before her. A hand-written post-it note in her office reads “there is no failure!!!” – I want to see Anna succeed. And that’s exactly why I’ll tune in next week.

It helps that Agent Anna finds Robyn Malcolm – who has been largely missing from television screens since the demise of her former show – in fine form. Malcolm catches the vulnerability, the humanity, at the core of Anna Kingston, and she sells the despair that this former housewife is going through. It’s a fine performance, evocative of the world performances of (and I don’t mean to just point out middle-aged actresses) Laura Linney on The Big C or Laura Dern on Enlightened.

We didn’t spend much time with the supporting cast, though Gardiner is a great sidekick for Malcolm, and there is promise in our glimpses of Theresa Healey (who was great in a guest spot on Go Girls last year) and the legendary Ian Mune. We’ll have to wait and see how the rest of the ensemble pans out.

But mostly, I’m impressed by the straight-forward way the first episode was structured, and how that structure made me get behind Anna almost instantly. US-made pilot episodes are big, clunky things; Agent Anna hooked me by sparing the details and getting right to the core of the show. I’ll definitely be back for more.

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