It’s been called New Zealand's most expensive TV show in history—and for good reason. With over $8 million of New Zealand On Air funding on top of the amount contributed from TVNZ’s own coffers, Filthy Rich certainly does live up to its name.
This level of investment brings high expectations, not only from viewers but also from the commercial team at the network.
With the pressure on to perform on both fronts, TVNZ Blacksand has rolled out a cross-platform campaign over the last month giving viewers a glimpse of what they can expect from the show.
From the outset, the creative approach was different from that normally seen in promos for dramas.
Rather than splicing a series of teaser segments into a 30-second clip, TVNZ Blacksand instead focused on the characters that will drive the drama.
The lead TVC was then followed by a series of shorter clips, featuring each of the protagonists telling viewers the lengths they would go to in a bid to claim the fortune left behind by the patriarch of the family (the guy who plummets to his death in the promo).
In some ways, this feels more akin to the reality TV approach of introducing the contestants before the show kicks off. And TVNZ Blacksand executive creative director Jens Hertzum says this isn’t far off.
“When briefed, we were told to sell it differently,” he says. “The creative team lapped that up, and we went about it by breaking down the fourth wall and having the characters communicate directly with the viewers.”
Early during the creative process the marketing and creative teams at TVNZ Blacksand met with the Filthy Rich writers to find out as much as they could about the show.
And this collaboration was carried out throughout the creative process with Filthy Rich writer Rachel Lang penning the scripts for each of the to-camera segments.
“We didn’t want to give too much away,” says Hertzum.
He says the aim was just to pique viewer interest, while simultaneously encouraging viewers to think of how far they were willing to go for such a large sum of money.
This theme was also carried over to an online execution that lets users enter responses to the question ‘How far would you go for $100 million?’
The best confessions, along with the names and locations of the contributors, were then rolled across the digital billboard and Adshel networks across Auckland.
The TVNZ Blacksand team has already shown its knack for getting the audience involved in its elaborate integrated campaigns for Shortland Street, which previously featured an interactive murder mystery and an online memorial for a deceased character.
But the challenge in this instance is somewhat different. While Shortland Street has a legion of dedicated fans, Filthy Rich is new to the public—something, which when combined with the expense of the production process, ups the ante for the creative team.
However, Hertzum plays down the pressure of promoting such an expensive show, saying the team is well accustomed to developing creative ideas for big campaigns.
“There’s always pressure on this side,” he says.
Next week, when Filthy Rich kicks off, it will be running on both Monday and Tuesday nights at 8.30pm.
This scheduling approach for a major drama is somewhat unusual, but TVNZ’s Andrew Shaw (general manager of acquisitions, production and commissioning) believes it’s more suited to modern viewing habits.
“It’s a loud, noisy and engaging drama that lends itself to binge-watching,” Shaw says.
Shaw says the success of Dr Foster as a multi-night drama provided a strong indication that Kiwi audiences are comfortable watching a fictional show on more than one night a week.
Of course, this approach is common in reality TV shows—like My Kitchen Rules and Our First Home—but it is somewhat novel in terms of a high-budget series.
The need to experiment with the programming schedule arises because audiences are becoming increasingly used to following up one episode with another in quick succession.
Previously, a major TV network would’ve been comfortable stretching out the broadcast of a 20-episode show over 20 weeks. But in the age of online streaming, a week’s waiting period seems a lifetime to today’s impatient viewers.
“We’ve had to make up new [programming] rules,” says Shaw.
Each episode will be uploaded to TVNZ OnDemand immediately after the show airs, giving viewers the opportunity to catch up on the content immediately after it airs on TV.
Shaw says the strength of the network across TVNZ OnDemand and linear television is part of the reason why the broadcaster continues to have such a good partnership with New Zealand On Air.
“I’m really grateful to NZ On Air, because without their support Filthy Rich wouldn’t have been possible.”
Shaw says the willingness of NZ On Air to fund TVNZ shows comes down to that fact that the decision makers trust in the network’s ability to deliver a big audience of Kiwi viewers.
With over a million subscribers on TVNZ OnDemand, the broadcaster also has quite a useful bargaining chip in its online audience—which is important given the increased emphasis NZ On Air is placing on online content.
In recent years, NZ On Air has been allocating a portion of its funding to web-based shows through initiatives like the ‘Webseries fund,’ first formed in 2013. NZ On Air received 109 applications under this fund in 2015 and proceeded to support six new series.
This type of funding will only become common over the next few years, with initiatives like TVNZ’s OnDemand Shorts and NZME’s WatchMe now giving content creators a local platform through which to deliver their stories to large Kiwi audiences.
For NZ On Air to continue funding projects, whether long- or short-form, the networks will, however, have to deliver big audiences. And, as any film producer will tell you, there are no guarantees that something will be popular.
While the success of Filthy Rich will obviously depend on its ability to pull in an audience, there does seem to be a sense of serendipity around the timing of the launch.
On the one hand, you have the Max Key phenomenon fuelling public interest in the young and powerful; and, on the other, you have the series issue of New Zealand’s inequality sparking debate across the country.
The storyline in Filthy Rich conveniently straddles both these issues, and Hertzum says he hopes that this will help to attract the interest of viewers.
Both stylistically and in terms of touching on topical issues, Filthy Rich lends itself to comparison with US show Empire, which proved to be a surprise hit last year.
“You’re not wrong,” says Hertzum. “[Filthy Rich] is about three children grappling to get the family fortune and it covers those classic themes of truth, love and betrayal.”
At a time when TV ratings in the US were continuing to drop, Empire pulled in millions of fans with its melodramatic style and references to current US issues (like police brutality). And in doing so, it served as a reminder that quality entertainment can still come from a mainstream broadcaster.
Emulating this type of success in the local market will, however, require more than being topical. It’ll require strong writing and infectious characters that keep the audience hanging on from week to week. Whether the show has this is difficult to gauge from the 15-second promos and will only be revealed on the launch night. For now, we can only hope for the Kiwi equivalent of Cookie Lyon to grace our screens.
GM Marketing: Sarah Finnie
Group Marketing Manager: Tim Aitken
TV2 Marketing Manager: Clare Barker
Media Strategist : Paula Adams
Executive Creative Director: Jens Hertzum
Creative Director TV2: Dan Martin
Director: Jamie Lawrence & Jens Hertzum
Group Campaign Manager: Morag Lavich
Campaign Manager-Vicki Keogh
Producer: Peter Clews
Production Manager: Georgia Stephens
DOP: Dave Cameron
Art Director: Jacob Slack
Digital Production & Publishing Manager: Samantha Taylor
Digital Producer: Gary Mulholland
Post: TVNZ Blacksand Post
Creative Producers: Jamie Lawrence, Alan Cornish
Copy : Jens Hertzum & Rachel Lang
Graphics: Justin Fels
Sound Design: Simon Weir
TVNZ Commissioner Drama/Comedy: Kathleen Anderson