In a bid to reverse its flagging fortunes, Network Ten has come up with a bold strategy that relies on a host of formidable women to save the day.
Ladies leading the charge. Controversial? In the world of commercial TV, yes.
It’s been just over 18 months since an ailing Ten was acquired by CBS, becoming our first US-owned network in the process.
As Nine and Seven continue their brutal rivalry with a slew of cooking, renovation and relationship reality TV, underdog Ten has quietly slotted welcome exceptions into its line-up.
For starters, there’s new drama Five Bedrooms, which premiered on Wednesday.
The cast’s biggest name is Kat Stewart, 46, who was beloved as Offspring’s hot mess Billie Proudman during the show’s seven season run.
Stewart is Ten’s best bet to attract a ready-made fanbase for this kind of enjoyable, light drama, as one of five singles who pool their resources to crack the competitive property market and become housemates in the process.
But Stewart is far from the only female ace up the network’s sleeve.
In recent years, comedian and actor Julia Morris, 51, has become one of its most valuable assets.
Hosting I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! with Chris Brown, 40, she has flipped the traditional hosting model, which used to be an older man with a foxy, young female sidekick.
The pair’s easy chemistry and seemingly effortless banter allows Morris to play up, and Brown is an excellent sparring partner.
They joined forces again earlier this year for Chris and Julia’s Sunday Night Takeaway, a risky venture given live TV is notoriously expensive to produce.
The ratings were dismal, although to be fair, it went up against Nine’s juggernaut Married at First Sight, which tends to demolish other unfortunate programs in its time slot.
Despite this, Ten is reportedly backing the concept.
Next year Takeaway will return with a new format and time slot, Ten’s programming chief Beverley McGarvey told The Sydney Morning Herald last month.
“We really like the show and we’re really proud of it,” McGarvey said. “If we walk away too early, it could be to our detriment.”
Once upon a time women over 40 disappeared from our screens, but along with Morris, Amanda Keller has become a mainstay of Ten’s line-up.
As host of The Living Room she takes on a Charlie’s Angels-style hosting role sending Brown (again), Barry Du Bois and Miguel Maestre on travel, renovation and food missions.
Keller, 57, also hosted Ten’s 2019 revival of Dancing With the Stars – another ratings disappointment – and unlike previous female hosts, wasn’t relegated to behind-the-scenes interviews.
Instead Grant Denyer, 41, played second fiddle to her very capable and funny first.
Smart, experienced women being rewarded with vital roles isn’t restricted to drama.
Women also make up a strong component of Ten’s news and current affairs team.
Lisa Wilkinson, 59, was lured from Nine at great expense, in a shock defection from Nine.
After sparking mass debate about the size of her pay packet, Wilkinson had the last laugh as her former co-host Karl Stefanovic, 44, more or less singlehandedly sunk Nine’s Today.
Gold Logie winner Carrie Bickmore, 38, currently on maternity leave, is among the network’s most-valued presenters at the helm of The Project alongside Waleed Aly, 40.
Will the female-centric talent strategy pay off?
Media analyst Steve Allen thinks it will help Ten, but other improvements are needed.
“It will (pay off) in the long run, but Ten have to get more in the mainstream programming game to make it pay off,” Allen says.
“As is the rule book for free-to-air commercial networks they need two or three hit shows to get in the game.
“Ten presently have none, although they have good solid programs. But no breakout hits.
“I think it will be another year or two before they find that hit or two.”