Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Star system holding television back

As has been widely reported this week alleged funnyman Trevor Marmalade was dropped from Nine's footy show.

This morning on 3AW Peter Ford reported that the reason for the departure was over Salary. According to Ford, Nine had told Marmalade that they would only have him back if he took a pay cut down from 300K to 150K, it was a take it or leave it deal and Marmalade apparently left it.

Now I'm no financial whiz, but if they were paying him $300,000pa to tell 3 jokes a week on a show that only plays on one of Nine's O&Os (and 4 affiliates) representing less than half of the total Australian aud, they're weren't exactly getting their money's worth were they?

I’d want some more bang for my buck – truth be told. One of the things that seems to be broken with the TV business model is the idea of star salaries. This is where people are kept on the company payroll and yet there’s no role for them.

It’s very reminiscent of the whole Hollywood Star System where studios would employ actors on a full time basis and assign them to their movies as they see fit.

Old time movie buffs will wax nostalgic about this closed shop but really in terms of finding the best people for your movie it was holding the whole system back. You only have to compare the vanilla films of the studio era to the more memorable films of the 60’s, 70’s and beyond and you’ll see that while it may maintain a competitive advantage for the biggest player, it often locks out good new talent and keeps talented people away from the movies that would suit them.

So it is with television.

The most glaring example of this is Eddie McGuire, what has he actually done this year? Has been on TV? I think he hosted ACA at one point. Could anybody have imagined years ago that McGuire could host ACA? I couldn’t, it seems bizarre but there he was for a week earlier this year.

How come, well because he’s getting paid anyway, so they may as well have him do something. This is just weird, surely you wouldn’t run a business like this.

McGuire’s stock in trade is AFL and Game Shows, Game Shows are all but extinct after a surge in the early part of this decade and Nine not only doesn’t have the rights to AFL but it’s Melbourne Footy Show has had an all new team in place for two years since McGuire made the improbable leap to ring-in CEO.

While Nine’s problems with having so many faded stars on the payroll have been biting them over the past two years, Seven has been amassing a huge employee base of it’s own, poaching people left right and centre from the other networks.

They’ve been doing it since 2004 when they lured Ian Ross (Rosco) from Seven and Ian Dickson (Dicko) from Ten, and ever since then have been coaxing folks from the other three nets with alarming regularity.

Having all these people on the payroll is great when you’re riding high, suddenly your network becomes a destination for viewers to see their favourite stars or newsreaders, Nine used to be like this – in the 90’s but slowly bit by bit the wheels come off the star factory and you’re stuck with highly paid people being warehoused, or twiddling their thumbs after their shows have been cancelled.

We then get the embarrassing situation where the network starts trying to come up with ‘star vehicles’, Seven has already experienced this with Dicko lurching the poor man (well not that poor really) from flop to flop in a vain attempt to fit a round peg into a square hole. Nine did it with Bert Newton, kicking Bud Tingwell off 20 to 01 and giving it over to Bert. All this year they’ve scratching around for something for Eddie to do, too afraid to cut him loose and yet the vehicle is just not there.

Eventually this will happen to Seven when their current crop ages or viewers move on and they’ll find themselves in much the same strife that Nine is in now, it’s in their DNA – you see in the past 5 years Seven has become Nine.

What does this have to do with Marmalade, well its just a small example of some of the misplaced capital invested at Nine over the years and I’m hopeful for their sake that they take a long hard look at their star system.

Making entertaining shows for viewers should be the priority, not making shows solely to occupy their talent.

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