The devil you know

The devil you know

Posted June 4th, 2011 by debritz

The fourth and final episode of the Eddie McGuire-hosted sport quiz Between the Lines has gone to air on Australian television. It's the third show starring the former "golden boy" and onetime CEO of Channel 9 to get the chop this year. The others were Million Dollar Drop and This Is Your Life, which may return as a series of specials later in the year. (The Courier-Mail's Geoff Shearer has the details, here.)

While McGuire's Hot Seat continues to perform well in the 5.30pm slot, executives and shareholders at Nine must be questioning their star's long-presumed status as one of the network's solid-gold drawcards. While the exact details are secret, McGuire is reported to be on a very lucrative long-term contract, and he presumably gets paid handsomely whether he's on the air or not. Right now, the question is: should the man who also hosts a relatively-low-rating breakfast show on Melbourne's Triple M radio station and runs AFL club Collingwood be permanently benched by the TV network?

It could, of course, be argued that the "vehicles" (i.e. the shows) were flawed and it wasn't McGuire's fault that they all failed to live up to expectations. It could also be said they they weren't given a proper chance to find their audience (we all know stories of classic TV shows that took a couple of series to hit their groove). But, then again, it could also be argued that Hot Seat is a winning formula and it would be a success no matter who was hosing it.

From a business perspective -- and that's the way Nine management has to look at things, not least beause it is considering a float -- McGuire would seem to be a liability who doesn't deliver sufficient "bang for the buck". But he's not the only one in the broadcasting industry.

It's very common for TV and radio stations to pay way over the odds (and well beyond market rate) to hang on to certain talent -- if only to keep them away from other neworks. Earlier this year, after rumours he was in talks with Channel 9, the Seven Network reportedly upped the annual salary of The Morning Show's Larry Emdur to "well in excess of $800,000 a year". The Sunday Herald Sun quoted a Seven source as saying the deal "set a dangerous precedent".

It's about here, I suppose, that I should make some sort of comment about what heart surgeons, nurses, teachers, police and fire officers etc. are earning for the very important work they do, but we can take that as read. The fact is that TV stations are commercial enterprises, and it's entirely a matter for the owners of those businesses to decide how much they want to spend and how much they want to earn from their investment.

My real concern is that because they always take the "safe" option of using the same talent on air and off -- how many opportunities are there for first-time writers and producers, for example? -- television is becoming blander and viewers are deprived the opportunity to see something genuinely new and exciting.

Thank goodness, then, for the theatre and the internet -- and for all-too-rare initiatives such as Andrew Denton's $30,000 "disfellowship" for an emerging screenwriter. The TV execs would do well to note that the new ideas -- the ones that will make them money in the future -- are not all coming through the traditional channels.