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Australia: Seven rolls winning numbers with trio of hits

SYDNEY — It might be premature to proclaim that three shows have overturned the established order of Aussie broadcasting, but “Desperate Housewives,” “Lost” and “Dancing With the Stars” have given the Seven web its strongest ratings in some years — and have threatened the ascendancy of perennial leader Nine.

Seven was the primetime victor in two of the first four weeks of the 2005 survey, which kicked off in February. Nine won one and the other week resulted in a tie between Seven and Nine. By contrast, Nine triumphed in 38 weeks of the ratings last year, and lost only two weeks in August, when Seven was tops with the Olympics.

Seven’s trio of hits has had a halo effect as a lot of “Housewives” viewers stay tuned for “Crossing Jordan”; “Lost” flowed on to “The Amazing Race”; and the second season of Oz celeb show “Dancing With the Stars” was an effective lead-in to local hospital drama “All Saints.”

Seven also made gains in the early evening news and current affairs slots, traditionally Nine’s stronghold, and with its early morning “Sunrise.”

Nine director of programming Michael Healy concedes that Seven has juggernauts in “Housewives” and “Lost” (“I’d love to have them”), but insists he’s happy with his web’s consistency, noting it had seven of the top 10 shows including three “CSI” skeins, “Without a Trace” and Oz’s “60 Minutes.”

At Mip, Healy will be scouting for formats, reality programs with a bit of edge, gameshows for late-afternoon or early fringe, and “event television.” At Mip last year, Nine nabbed HBO’s “Rome.”

Over the first four weeks, Ten remained No. 1 in its core 16-39 demo with a 34 share.

“It’s been the toughest start to a ratings year in memory,” says David Mott, Ten’s general manager of network programming. “We’ve held really well considering what is out there, and we’re rolling out ‘Big Brother,’ ‘Australian Idol’ and most of our new U.S. series later in the year.”

Mott acknowledges that he’s looking for shows that will strengthen its 6-7 p.m. weekday slots, 6:30 p.m. Sundays and 9:30 p.m. Thursdays (vs. “Without a Trace”).

Looking to maintain momentum, Tim Worner, Seven’s director of programming, will be chasing specials at Mip, variety shows that could capitalize on the success of “Dancing With the Stars,” and formats.

Worner likens the Riviera bazaar to a treasure hunt where the buyers have to look under every rock.

The nets won’t disclose their acquisition budgets but the message to sellers from all three programmers is clear: “We always have money for the right shows.”

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