Star shines burns less brightly Down Under

'Brother' not as big as last year; 'Fireflies' also put out

SYDNEY — Southern Star Entertainment, Australia’s biggest TV producer, has hit a couple of speed bumps.

The Ten network axed the fourth series of its drama “The Secret Life of Us,” which lost viewers after a cast makeover was forced by the departure of several leads.

Pubcaster ABC won’t renew “Fireflies,” a saga about volunteer firefighters, after bumping it from Saturday to Thursday nights, where it is struggling against Ten’s “Law & Order: SVU” and Nine’s “ER.”

The Sunday night episodes of the fourth season of Southern Star Endemol’s “Big Brother” are pulling in about 14% fewer eyeballs than last year’s segs, trailing Seven’s reality show “My Restaurant Rules.”

Southern Star Entertainment chief exec Hugh Marks acknowledges “we’re going through a transitional phase” but is confident that will soon turn around.

He’s betting that at least one of his banner’s pilots will be picked up for next year. One contender is “Rapid Response,” a one-hour drama for Ten about a police unit handling various incidents.

Created inhouse by John Edwards (co-creator of “Secret Life”), pilot was to crank up May 31 in Melbourne. Marks believes the series will complement the U.S. crimeshows on Ten’s sked and is optimistic it will sell well internationally.

Another candidate is “The Alice,” a two-hour telepic/pilot due to be delivered to Nine in July.

Penned by Justin Monjo (whose credits include episodes of “Farscape” and adapting Tim Winton’s novel “Cloudstreet” for the stage), it’s about people who meet in the desert near Alice Springs to view a total eclipse of the sun.

As for “Fireflies,” Marks is proud of what his creative team produced on a tight budget, noting, “It’s hard to make quality drama for the ABC given their financial constraints.”

Marks is heartened to see the 7 p.m. weekday episodes of “Big Brother” averaging 1 million viewers, about the same as last year, against tough competition from Seven’s “Home and Away” which regularly gets 1.35 million.

“It’s 80 hours of programming, it’s rating well, and it’s a solid franchise,” Marks adds.

Southern Star Endemol’s gameshow “Deal or No Deal” is a strong draw for Seven at 5:30 p.m. weekdays, and the ABC has commissioned a second series of its terp competition “Strictly Dancing,” which airs Friday nights.

The firm’s children’s unit is operating at full strength, turning out five series including the toons “Tracey McBean,” “Bottle Top Bill” and “Foreign Exchange,” a co-production with Ireland’s RTE and Magna Film.

In April, Southern Cross Broadcasting closed a deal to take over Southern Star, while retaining the latter’s management team led by exec chairman/co-founder Neil Balnaves.

Marks says the two groups are exploring ways of collaborating, including cross promotions across SCB’s radio and TV stations.

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