THE commercial and creative turbulence of 2012 was marked by a series of successes and failures whose impact was not just confined to one frozen moment in time, but echoed throughout the year.
We have stood watch for a changing of the guard as living TV legends such as David Leckie and Peter Meakin stepped aside; borne witness to a technological revolution of second screens, on-demand content and new digital channels; and seen what was tipped to be Channel Ten’s triumph and Channel Nine’s collapse switch places at the eleventh hour, ensuring the year would end in both surprise and dismay.
From the biggest show of the year, to the smallest good decisions, bad decisions, moments of programming genius and, at times, moments of decision-making, that proved disasterous we look back on the milestones that defined one of the most unpredictable years in memory.
Revenge becomes the most watched show of 2012
At first glance, it’s a slightly unlikely candidate for the biggest TV show of 2012: a turgid, overwrought soap opera riddled with the genre’s most delicious cliches, from the wronged ingenue out to settle an old family debt to the big-haired, shoulder-pad-clad soap super-bitch. Yet its success is there to see in the numbers: a weekly audience of 2 million viewers hanging on every twist and turn. Revenge is sweet.
The Voice launches and steamrolls the schedule
It takes a rare and powerful show to reshape the landscape while the industry’s key players stand on the sidelines, their jaws agape. The Voice did exactly that, and with an elegance all its own, kicking its rivals – notably Channel Seven’s Dancing with the Stars and Australia’s Got Talent – to the kerb in the process. It lifted the bar for talent shows generally and became the spearhead for a cultural and commercial reinvention that has put television’s fallen prince, Nine, back in the game.
Randling breaks Andrew Denton’s Zapruder’s spell
It should have been a walk-up start: Andrew Denton’s production company, the ABC and the sort of television parlour game that would have the ABC’s rusted-on Wednesday-night audience poncing about the living room and arguing over their chai lattes. Yet something in the recipe here was off, spoiling the dish and, for the first time, leaving Aunty’s lock on Wednesday night seriously challenged.
David Leckie resigns
Love him or hate him – and it’s fair to say there are roughly equal populations in the television industry who claim membership of each group – there are few television executives equal to Leckie, the man who steered Nine in its final golden decade under Packer rule and later, sacked, led rival Seven to victory, in the process consigning his former kingdom to ignominious defeat. Leckie is one of, if not the best commercial television executive in Australian TV history.
The Shire launches
The bold reality TV experiment – Australia’s first genuine ”soft script” reality TV show – was intended to reinvent Ten’s schedule and instead left the network the butt of jokes from an unforgiving media and an equally unimpressed audience. The Shire was sold as sex and sun, but delivered watered-down stories and a motley assortment of characters who failed to resonate.
Foxtel delivers an unrivalled multichannel Olympics
Though Nine seemed to command much of the glory, perhaps because of free-to-air’s dominance of the TV landscape, it was the cable platform Foxtel that delivered a truly transformative Olympic games in 2012, with spectacular multichannel, multidiscipline coverage, world-class commentary and, to ice the cake, an iPad app that set an almost unmatched benchmark for breadth, depth and capability.
Everybody Dance Now launches
Having considered a reboot of So You Think You Can Dance for some time, Ten ditched that format at the eleventh hour and instead launched this, a decision that would prove costly in both perception and commercial terms. Everybody Dance Now flatlined on launch, failed to engage an audience and was, within weeks, consigned to an early grave. It also left a poisonous legacy: it became the poster-child for management and programming woes at Ten.
Nine broadcasts Howzat!
With a soundtrack writ large from the 1970s and a pantheon of characters – Kerry Packer, Paul Hogan and Dennis Lillee among them – who seemed to have stepped out of a time when gods walked the earth, Howzat! became the biggest local drama of the year, for good reason. It took us back to a time when the world seemed much smaller, yet still overflowing with possibility, and delivered Nine a jewel in the drama crown, which, for the first time in a long time, reminded us of the network’s past achievements.
Nine is reborn, debt-free
History has seen few deals like this one: the chief executive of Nine, David Gyngell, walked into a meeting with billions of dollars of debt resting on his shoulders and walked out having convinced his network’s debtors to exchange their debt for equity. The deal turned Nine into a lean, mean network and single-handedly ensured 2013 would be the bloodiest year of the ratings war in memory. Seven faces a rival that is not just creatively resurgent but commercially viable again, and dangerously so.
Peter Meakin resigns
One of the true artisans of Australian commercial television, Meakin is a charming maverick who has revelled in not playing by the rules for most of his career and has, as a result, delivered some of the most innovative, inventive news programming in television history. He is, like his chieftain Leckie, perhaps a man whose expertise flourished in a now bygone era, but one thing is certain: the solid ground on which TV’s brave new world stands is build from bricks hand-carved by those such as Meakin.
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