Boost in local fare insulates Aussie nets

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Nervous Australian TV network executives are eyeing an expanded slate of local production for the 2008 TV ratings year that starts in February as uncertainty over delivery of full seasons of U.S. shows continues with the writers strike unresolved.

Happily for the networks, Australian audiences this year watched more locally produced, factual entertainment and drama programs than U.S. imports, with more local fare slated for Oz TV screens in 2008.

The newly crowned ratings market leader is Seven Network, which is the least reliant on U.S. programming for 2008. It's fast-tracking local programs into development to counter any shortfall in drama output from its U.S. suppliers.

Just this week, Seven greenlighted a second new local drama series, "Packed to the Rafters," to add to the second season of "City Homicide," the top-rated drama on Australian TV in 2007.

Entertainment formats "Battle of the Choirs" and "Gladiators" and factual series "The Zoo," "Outback Wildlife Rescue" and "Bush Doctors" will join Seven's locally produced lineup in 2008.

Nevertheless, Seven led the market this year with day-and-date scheduling of U.S. series and is eyeing progress of the strike carefully because such key U.S. dramas as "Grey's Anatomy," "Private Practice," "Desperate Housewives" and "Heroes" are on Seven's schedule next year.

At Seven's rival, the Nine Network, new CEO David Gyngell launched its 2008 lineup last week, unveiling 30 new programs for the network — with 20 of them being locally produced, including five new dramas (HR 11/30).

Network Ten has added "So You Think You Can Dance Australia" as one of its event TV shows, which along with "The Biggest Loser," "Big Brother" and "Australian Idol" underpin its 2008 schedule.

Ten chief programming officer David Mott said that "in the short to medium term, there'll be very little impact. In the long term, we are prepared," adding that some programming has been stockpiled.

A spokeswoman for Nine said that it has "no immediate problems" until at least February, adding that it still is scheduling its main U.S. dramas, including "Pushing Daisies" and "Cashmere Mafia," three to six months behind the U.S.

Nine director of programming Michael Healy also noted that Nine is more reliant on procedural dramas, like the "CSI" franchise, which repeat well, than serial dramas.
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