Q&A with TV2 programmer John Kelly

If you're a fan of 666 Park Avenue (or just a hawk when it comes to the telly schedule) you may have noticed that the show has been pulled from its Friday 8.30pm timeslot, and will be finishing its run on Sundays at 11pm - though it's not all bad news: while it was pulled from the schedule indefinitely in the USA, TV2 told me this week that the show will be completing its run of 13 episodes on TV2, regardless of whether it comes back in the USA or not.

In fact, TV2 programmer John Kelly was kind enough to answer a few questions about how scheduling works, why 666 Park Avenue failed to find an audience, and the mechanics of moving a show to a late night slot. Thanks, John! Here is what transpired ...

Chris: How did TV2 end up with the rights to 666 Park Avenue?

John: We acquired 666 Park Avenue through our programming supply deal with Warner Bros, who also supply us with The Big Bang Theory, The Mentalist, Two and a Half Men and The Middle among others. The majority of shows on TV2 come to us through our output deals. A lot of people think we hunt around looking to buy cancelled series as cheaply as possible - the fact is that's not true - we commit to buy shows (and through an output deal we have to take them) long before they go to air in the States - and we don't pay any less money for them if they turn out to be cancelled!

Chris: What were your expectations for the show when you picked it up last year?

John: A number of factors come into play, including the cast, producers and the slot the American network give the show- sometimes there are shows that you know are going to die simply because of where they have been placed and the competition they face!  But ABC placed it behind Revenge, which is one of their biggest hits, so we knew the network had a lot of faith in it. Remember, that the American season launches a multitude of shows and we consider ourselves lucky if 1 or 2 of them turn out to be big hits.

Chris: Obviously, you guys must be disappointed with how 666 Park Avenue performed. How did your expectations change when you saw that the show had performed badly and been cancelled in the USA?

John: We monitor US ratings fairly closely and could see that the show wasn't performing there as well as we hoped and then sure enough it was cancelled.  We were told the final episode was rewritten to tie up all the story strands and were given permission to show the final episodes before US transmission. So it made sense to continue with our plans and play out the series as a 13 part drama.

Chris: Why do you think 666 Park Avenue failed for TV2?

John: Launching any new series in any slot is a risk and we knew this one would take a lot of promotional effort, especially as TV2 hasn't run much drama on Fridays in recent years and it's our first new season without American Idol on Friday nights since 2007. I think there were a number of factors behind it failing to find an audience - re-establishing drama on Friday nights will take time, we are having a great summer across the country, so less people were available to view.

Chris: To what extent do you think that, perhaps, the show just didn't really fit TV2's prime time brand? Like, if 666 Park Avenue was produced by The CW, alongside stuff like Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries, it might have been a bigger hit in the USA - and I wonder if it might have met expectations better here if it was thought of alongside those kind of shows, and aired in that 10.30pm-11.30pm slot those shows seem fond of.

John: TV2 is a broadcaster and we look for shows that will appeal across the 18-49 demographic, so we do, and should be able to, run a broad range of drama. The CW is a younger skewing network that rarely gets ratings as high as the Big Four networks. If 666 Park Avenue had have got those ratings on The CW it would have been a massive hit!

There is much less pressure on shows to perform in the 10.30 slot. I have read comments from viewers wondering why we think a show will rate better at 10.30 - the truth is we don't expect it to, the show gets to play out the rest of its run in a much more protected slot.

Chris: How did you go about deciding to move the show from Friday 8.30pm to Sunday 11pm? How much consideration is given to fans that the show might have picked up along the way?

John: A LOT of consideration, but unfortunately all 3 episodes launched with a very low number of viewers, which then dropped across the hour. As I said earlier we don't schedule series expecting them to fail. The Sunday 10.30pm-ish timeslot was one where we could move the show to immediately, so fans could carry on watching without having to wait and it wouldn't disrupt or displace another series that has its own loyal following.

Chris: I think one of the pitfalls of a sudden move like this is that there is a risk of alienating viewers - some, who have gotten invested in a show, might feel that "TV2 doesn't care about us". I guess it's that balance between programming to make money from advertising, and programming to please viewers. How do you try to strike that balance?

John: I can honestly say that we think about the viewer first and foremost. I know some of your readers might say "yeah right", but we don't deliberately go out of our way to annoy them. The problem is, we are a business and yes, sometimes there are business reasons behind some of the decisions we make that we can't share publicly. If a show is performing well then it will definitely remain in the slot we place it in.

I hate pulling shows. We don't do a heck of a lot of work to watch our shows fail - or deliberately annoy our viewers. And I am a viewer too, I hate it when other channels move shows I like without telling me. So, we are working on improving our messaging to people, warning about any changes to the schedule.  We've introduced a new continuity message that played in both 666 Park Avenue and The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business.

And speaking of The Amazing Race, please assure your readers that we are planning for future seasons to continue to play in primetime and we are looking at ways to shrink the gap between here and America.

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It's a busy week on the box - here's a look at what is coming up in the next seven days ...

I used to love those catch-up episodes that would precede each new season of Lost (mostly because that show was confusing as hell), so I'm fairly excited that two returning shows are doing it this year: Once Upon A Time: Magic Is Coming (TV2, 7.30pm) and Revenge: The First Chapter (TV2, 8.30pm) will get you up to date on these hit shows. I'm excited for the return of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (TV3, 8.30pm), which pushes CSI: New York back an hour (TV3, 9.30pm). Lastly, if you're a SoHo subscriber, I highly recommend you check out both The Hour: Season 1 (SoHo, from 12pm) and Line Of Duty: Season 1 (SoHo, from 6pm) - two great shows, playing in their entirety.

TV One is rejigging its lineup: current affairs show Sunday (One, 7pm), cooking reality show Masterchef NZ (One, 7.30pm), Aussie dramedy Packed To The Rafters (One, 8.30pm), Aussie comedy House Husbands (One, 9.30pm) and British supernatural drama Marchlands (One, 10.30pm) all join the schedule this week.

Daytime viewers can enjoy a new season of Good Morning (One, 9am). Later, the second season of 1950s-set The Hour (SoHo, 8.30pm) promises more intrigue, before Kevin Bacon gets caught up with a serial killer cult on The Following (One, 9.30pm). Prime also has a new season of 60 Minutes starting this evening (Prime, 9.35pm).

The final episode of Renters (TV2, 7.30pm) leads into the new season of Revenge (TV2, 8.30pm), taking us back to the Hamptons with a feature-length premiere. Later, take a look inside some tough prisons on Lockdown (One, 9.45pm) and - best of all, if you ask me - get into the fifth and final season of Fringe (TV2, 10.30pm), which finds Olivia, Peter and Walter fighting an Observer invasion in the year 2036 (like in that future-set episode of Season 4).

Two of the biggest comedies on television return: The Big Bang Theory (TV2, 8.30pm) and 2 Broke Girls (TV2, 9pm) are back with their sixth and second seasons, respectively. I'm mostly excited that The Walking Dead is back, a mere two days behind the USA (TV2, 10.30pm), to continue its fantastic third season.

I went on a work trip to Brisbane once and the staff there told me they loved Police Ten-7 - its back for a new series tonight (TV2, 7.30pm), followed by Highway Patrol (TV2, 8pm) and the second season premiere of entertaining modern fairy tale Once Upon A Time (TV2, 8.30pm). Later, Holy Flying Circus takes a look at the furore surrounding the release of Monty Python's Life Of Brian (UKTV, 8.30pm), 20/20 is back (TV2, 9.30pm) and The Vampire Diaries returns (TV2, 10.30pm). Also, if you're interested, The Halberg Awards are on this evening (Prime, 10.40pm).

No changes to speak of - everything just keeps ticking along.

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