You’d be forgiven for feeling a little unfaithful when it comes to the remote control with all this network bed-hopping going on in Australian commercial television.
“Exclusivity no longer means what it once did,” says one network senior executive who declined to be named.
“The days of loyalty to one network which is known for specific shows has become somewhat diluted … that goes for the talent too, there would only be a handful of names on each network which would be considered as part of the network’s DNA.”
Australian Survivor first aired on Nine in 2002 and featured a bunch of third rate media personalities battling over hairy rock crustaceans in the frigid waters of South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula.
In 2006 the show moved to Seven with fairly underwhelming results, only to be rebooted a decade later, this time in its most successful incarnation yet on Ten, and with Jonathan LaPaglia as host.
“To be honest, there is a reason why these shows are cancelled in the first place, and that’s usually audience fatigue,” the TV insider explains, adding: “Rebooting a franchise on a different network is a safe bet for a programmer who has run out of ideas and not willing to take a risk on trying something fresh.”
It is usually written into contracts between networks and production companies that when their broadcast arrangement comes to an end, the original network has a period of exclusivity over the show if they want to pick it up again for another season.
Those contracts also include “hold back” clauses which kick in when a network drops a series to prevent a rival network from picking up the franchise in the first 12 months after the series went to air on its original network.
When it comes to individual contracts signed by “talent”, there are no standard procedures. Which is why when some big names quit one network and turn up unexpectedly at another during their “off contract” period, it can result in a blaze of headlines – as it did for former Today co-host Lisa Wilkinson when she left Nine, the owner of this masthead, for Ten.
Channel Nine’s Graham Kennedy was once famously paid by the station’s proprietor Sir Frank Packer $50,000 on top of his salary in 1974 as a “retainer” after the rising star, suffering from exhaustion, wanted a break from television.
The money (which equates to around $500,000 in today’s value) was intended to stop him from working for any other network.
But the days of “talent” being exclusively owned by a particular network are over, especially given the advent of social media and other platforms which diminish any sort of propriety rights a network has over its “stars”.
Though television “horse trading” has been going on for decades, and some decisions made in years past certainly look less impressive with the benefit of hindsight.
The idea for Neighbours was originally pitched to Nine in 1982, which knocked it back.
The show ended up making its debut in March 1985 on Seven with a budget of $8 million, however the Melbourne-produced show underperformed in Sydney and by July Seven announced it was cancelling it.
Neighbours was then bought by Seven’s rival network Ten, much to Seven’s annoyance, which clearly did not have any “hold back” clauses in its contract with the show’s mastermind, the late Reg Grundy.
So aggrieved was Seven at the time that Ten had to build replica sets when it took over production as Seven had destroyed the original sets to prevent the rival network obtaining them.
Ten began screening the series in January 1986, and Neighbours has gone on to become the longest-running Australian television series of all time, bringing in countless millions in advertising revenue and generating huge amounts in global sales – which helped make Grundy one of the richest men in Australia.
We all love them, but Jane Turner and Gina Riley’s comic alter egos Kath & Kim probably rank as Australian TV’s greatest network philanderers.
Their hugely successful series started out as a sketch in Seven’s Big Girl’s Blouse – created by Turner, Riley and Magda Szubanski, after it had been originally rejected by the ABC Comedy department. Big mistake.
It was an error the broadcaster was not going to make twice, and the Kath & Kim series was eventually picked up by the ABC after audiences responded positively to the characters.
The ABC commissioned three highly successful series and a telemovie before producer Rick McKenna, who is married to Gina Riley, signed a new deal with Seven, which also enjoyed success with the show.
Nine wanted a slice of the action too, and in 2017 bought the show’s rerun rights. That includes the episodes Seven paid for, which are now broadcasting on its rival’s airwaves.
Talk about ironic.
Andrew Hornery is a senior journalist and Private Sydney columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.