Entertainment TV How Ten reheated MasterChef and didn’t get burned
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How Ten reheated MasterChef and didn’t get burned

Masterchef
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The reports of MasterChef Australia’s death were greatly exaggerated.

While a long way from the stellar highs that once made the show the envy of every other network executive, the fans are returning. They are happy. They have fallen back in love with George, Gary and Matt.

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It has been a slow cook. This year’s sixth series launched on May 5, yet finally hit the magic one million metropolitan viewer mark in the ratings for the first time on Sunday 15 June.

Such success is rich reward for a lot of hard work and truth-telling after MasterChef had almost irrevocably tampered with its own recipe.

It has topped that benchmark repeatedly since. Last Thursday more than 1.15 million tuned in and Ten will be hoping the arrival of Heston Blumenthal for a week of creative culinary construction will push the show’s ratings even higher.

Such success is rich reward for a lot of hard work and truth-telling after MasterChef had almost irrevocably tampered with its own recipe.

Entree

Masterchef
Season two MasterChef winner Adam Liaw (right) with runner up Callum Hann were in the most watched finale of the show’s history. Photo: AAP

In 2009, Network Ten first revolutionised the original MasterChef format from England to an unrecognisable level that has since been emulated around the world.

It also genuinely revolutionised reality television. These contestants weren’t after fame or prize money, they wanted to become chefs. They cheered each other on, casting aside competition for camaraderie.

It was positive and it rated its chef’s hat off.

The 2009 final ranks as the sixth highest rating television event in Australian history with 3.962 million viewers. The 2010 final went one better, ranking fifth with 3.973 viewers. Only two State of Origin games, an Australian Open tennis final and a Rugby World Cup final rank above them.

Glutton for punishment

But it still wasn’t enough, Ten wanted more. But did the audience?

Celebrity MasterChef, Junior MasterChef and MasterChef All-Stars followed. One a year delivered alongside an ever-expanding original format.  

Their appetite for MasterChef was insatiable and unthinking. Inevitably it exploded.

MasterChef’s annus horribilis came in 2013. First came MasterChef Professionals, the spin-off that forgot the basic premise of the series: the Cinderella story. Now professional chefs would try and make it as chefs. Nobody cared, not even the contestants.

Then the series ‘proper’, an ill-advised Boys vs Girls theme,  suffered against Seven’s My Kitchen Rules juggernaut. It averaged 800,000 viewers for the series. The winner, Emma Dean, is more likely to be a trivia quiz answer than a celebrity chef.

Just desserts

2013 winner Emma Dean and fellow contestant Daniel Churchill at the season five launch. Photo: AAP
2013 winner Emma Dean and fellow contestant Daniel Churchill at the season five launch. Photo: AAP

Ten and the show’s producers Shine Television brought everyone together, hosts include for crisis talks and planning at the end of 2013 and decided to rebuild the show.

They carried out extensive research on the show’s values. The result was the motto “ordinary people, extraordinary food.”

Then, Ten backed it. They ran it against The Voice and House Rules knowing it would suffer, but they also took advantage of those shows’ dark nights. After its first few weeks The Voice became a strictly Sunday-Monday affair. Seven refuses to screen major shows on Thursdays.

Ten waited for the audience to return. Now, MasterChef owns Thursday. The audience of 1.15 million was the fourth consecutive Thursday over a million for the series.

Chocolate ripple effect

It has knock-on network-wide benefits. Ten’s total prime time audience has increased by 38 per cent over the past six weeks compared to the rest of the ratings year.

Ten have other similar decisions looming. Will they also back Biggest Loser and So You Think You Can Dance for another year?

Its not just reality programming that requires some bravery. In drama, with Puberty Blues set for a third series, their attention is focused on Offspring. Only a modest ratings prospect, the show wins awards and acclaim. It adds credibility and audience affection.

Due to tax laws though, the show will cost 30 per cent more for a new season as a series that makes more than 65 episodes no longer warrants a rebate. Plus they already have a new Asher Keddie led series, Party Tricks, in production from the same creative team.

“There are significant difficulties and there are scheduling difficulties because we’re doing things,” said Offspring producer John Edwards. “But never say never.”

It’s a big ask in a year for which Ten have been known best for redundancies and cuts, but perhaps they’ve learned a few lessons about trimming and cutting from their kitchen experience.

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