Nine ‘Sex’-es up sked to lure auds

Olympics provide challenge for Oz net

SYDNEY — Kerry Packer’s Nine Network has maintained its ratings dominance this year but faces stiff challenges from Ten’s “Australian Idol 2” and next month’s Olympic Games coverage on Seven.

After winning the first 20 weeks of the survey — and the vital 25-54 demo — Nine’s director of programming Michael Healy is confident his web can take the honors in 18 of the remaining 20 weeks.

He concedes Seven will win two weeks when its sked is packed wall-to-wall with the Games from Greece. After that, Healy is counting on a slew of new U.S., U.K. and Aussie series to ensure Nine retains the 2004 crown.

Nine has a few tricks up its sleeve — it has held back the remaining episodes of “Friends” and “Sex in the City” for a post-Olympics assault on its rivals.

Among the other shows in his saddlebag is “Cold Case,” which he figures will appeal to devotees of procedural cop series such as Nine’s “Without a Trace” and the “CSI” franchise. Healy also has “Survivor Vanuatu,” which airs September in the U.S., the appetizingly titled U.K. reality skein “You Are What You Eat,” and “Body Work,” an inhouse production that looks at surgical makeovers including penis enlargements and breast enhancements.

The second series of “Australian Idol” kicked off on Ten July 13. The first edition was one of Ten’s biggest hits of last year, with the finale pulling in 3.3 million viewers, making it the second-most-watched program of the year.

Healy expects ensuing “Idol” episodes to air on Sunday and Monday nights, where he believes his “60 Minutes” and “Friends,” respectively, will hold their own.

“The Apprentice” hasn’t quite been the ratings blockbuster he was hoping for, perhaps proving a bit upmarket for some folks’ tastes, but he adds, “I’m very happy it’s in our schedule.”

Nine has dropped plans for a local version of the show after the media-shy Packer turned down the invitation to take on the Donald Trump role.

“There is no more charismatic person than Kerry Packer and if he won’t do it, I can’t think of anyone (of that ilk) who would,” he says.

Nine has a gap for a local drama series and has two pilots to choose from. They are Southern Star’s “The Alice,” centering on a group of people who meet in the center of Australia during an eclipse, and the just-wrapped “The Big Reef,” saga of a journo who flees the city to a Queensland town named Paradise.

Healy is delighted with “The Alice” and is waiting to see “Big Reef” before deciding which gets the nod.

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