TVNZ lets the great ratings wars of 2011 begin

There was an impressive haka, there was cheese (literally and, with Pippa Wetzell and some guy in orange overalls to open proceedings, figuratively), there were 560 RSVPs and there was a solid dose of market leader mentality on display as the national broadcaster launched its New Season 2011 line up for ONE and TV2 last night.

With MediaWorks boldly declaring its intentions to face off directly against TVNZ with changes to TV3 and C4, there seems to be slightly more interest than usual in the programming choices this time round. Head of sales and marketing Paul Maher, who says he was in his office in Hong Kong this time last year and never imagined he’d be standing on stage announcing a new season for TVNZ now, says he thought about saying something nasty about MediaWorks, but decided against it. He also decided against mentioning the arrival of the 10 percent decision in January. Instead, he told everyone how great TVNZ was.

“We have outstanding content for both TV ONE and TV2, and look forward to developing opportunities to leverage that content with the 2.4 million New Zealanders we engage with every day,” he says. “Working closely with our customers we will utilise these assets to create competitive advantage for their brands and businesses.”

While head of news and current affairs Anthony Flannery wasn’t present, he did record a piece to camera about the dominance of the TVNZ news offering. There was plenty of emphasis placed on the fact that TVNZ is “New Zealand’s home of big events”, something it showed by comparing its ratings during the Canterbury earthquake with those of MediaWorks, as well as comparing its ratings for the FIFA World Cup with those of Sky. This, unsurprisingly, is aimed at lubricating the wallets of the advertisers for next year’s Rugby World Cup.

As far as the programming goes, ONE’s ratings winner of last year Masterchef will be one of its biggest properties and is back for a second series (Countdown, which obviously has an unending supply of marketing money given the recent activity, is back on board as a sponsor). London-based Kiwi chef Josh Emett is the main judging drawcard and there’s even a spin-off, with MasterChef MasterClasses, a new series that gives viewers an opportunity to see the MasterChef judge’s expert knowledge in action.

Following on from the success of South, the next travel series from Marcus Lush, the aptly titled North, hits the screens (apparently it was meant to start in October but got pushed back). Next up: East and West. The ever-popular Intrepid Journeys is also back. No word on whether they’ll send Paul Henry to India for the 2012 season.

There’s plenty of new factual stuff on ONE, most of it about the afflictions of modern life. The ‘we’re too fat’ section is covered with Do Or Die, the ‘our families suck’ section is covered by Nigel Latta’s The Politically Incorrect Guide To Teenagers, Family Feud and The World’s Strictest Parents, and in a horrible confluence of reality TV and politics, there’s even Politicians At Work.

Returning real-life favourites include The Investigator, Beyond The Darklands, Fair Go, Animal Rescue, Coastwatch, Piha Rescue and the Real Life and Real Crime strands.

Programming director Jane Wilson trumpeted a brand new Kiwi drama from South Pacific Pictures, creators of TV2’s dramedy ratings winner Go Girls, called Nothing Trivial,

As far as international newbies go, it’s a solid list: there’s HBO’s Enlightened starring Laura Dern and Body Of Proof starring Dana Delany. Matt Le Blanc joins forces with the BBC and the writers of Friends to star in Episodes and there’s a new legal drama starring Kathy Bates, Harry’s Law. There’s also From the makers of McLeod’s Daughter’s comes Offspring, Winners and Losers, from the creators of Packed To The Rafter’s, plus new Australian family drama, Tangle and the spin-off series of Criminal Minds, Suspect Behaviour, starring Forest Whittaker.

Popular returning series include family favourite Packed To The Rafters, Undercover Boss, Criminal Minds, Castle and a new series of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.

TV2 still has plenty of big ratings/ad dollar winners, including Two And A Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, The Mentalist, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Cougar Town, Brothers & Sisters, The Middle, Hell’s Kitchen, American Idol, The Vampire Diaries, Scrubs, The Amazing Race (as well as movie franchises including Twilight, Terminator and Harry Potter).

New international series include Shit My Dad Says starring William Shatner (which is struggling for ratings in the US) and the much-lauded Off The Map with New Zealand studhunk Martin Henderson as the lead. In keeping with the current love affair with the supernatural, TV2 has also picked up the Zombie goodness of The Walking Dead, which has picked up a second US season, Stephen King’s new supernatural series Haven and No Ordinary Family, which is from the makers of Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives and Lost, and follows a family who go from ordinary to extraordinary after a plane crash.

This subject matter is along similar lines to TV3’s The Almighty Johnsons, which is made by the same folks as Outrageous Fortune, which, sadly for many, finishes tonight, and Wilson claimed it would be the “next big thing on New Zealand TV”.

New on the comedy front on TV2 is Hot in Cleveland with Betty White and Mike & Molly, about a couple who shack up at an over-eaters meeting (check out the furore after this Marie Claire blogpost said that fatties should get a room).

TV2’s local shows include another feature-length episode of Shortland Street and popular factual reality winners Neighbours At War, Police Ten 7, Rescue One, and Motorway Patrol.

Let the ratings games begin.

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