Monday night’s launch of Nine’s The Briefcase, and the subsequent responses to the show, caused quite the brouhaha, with everything from people’s “faith in humanity restored” to people shaming the network for exploiting struggling families.
So B&T spoke to Nine Entertainment managing director of programming and production Andrew Backwell about the show, the social experiment genre and why audiences can’t get enough of these types of shows.
“When we commissioned the show we knew it was going to be controversial,” Backwell said.
“I get both sides of the argument; I understand why people are criticising it. I don’t personally agree. I think if someone’s being exploited, the best person to say they’re being exploited are the people being exploited.
“But none of the families that participated believe they were exploited. In fact, they all said it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to them.
“It was always going to divide audiences and that’s exactly what we saw, more in terms of social media commentary. You’ve got a group of people who found it really uplifting, heart-warming… and on the other side you’ve got people saying we were exploiting people who are down on their luck for entertainment.
“The way I answer that, is that we have had 12 families that have been participants in this social experiment or moral dilemma on the television show, and every family has said it’s been a really positive experience and it’s changed their lives.
“There’s been a lot of people who have criticised the show without having seen it. But I’m never going to hide from the fact that it’s a controversial premise. We said it in our promos, we’ve told the audience, we’ve been absolutely upfront.
“It’s fascinating to see someone with a dilemma, because what it does is engage you at home and you wonder what you would do. So you sit on the couch with your family, your partner, and the first thing you do is turn to each other and ask, what would you do? And if it’s creating that debate at home, I think that’s a positive.
“The thing about these shows is they’re quite authentic,” Backwell continued. “It’s real people and their reactions, it’s not actors, and if people respond well to them we’ll make more of them.
“For example, last year we launched Married At First Sight and that got an average of 1.2 million viewers for the series. And what you find now, there’s quite a few shows in that area. Seven has First Date, Seven Year Switch and Kiss Bang Love. Everyone sees what the audiences are responding to and they commission shows along those lines.
“And when the audiences don’t watch them anymore, we commission something else. I think it’s all cyclical; people’s tastes change.
“We could do too many reality TV shows and people get bored of it and then they want to see something else. Then only the good reality TV shows will stick around and all the ones that aren’t as good will disappear and be replaced by something else.”
Quizzed about the ratings, Backwell called it a “solid launch” but conceded he always wants higher figures.
“As programmers, we always want bigger ratings. But it was a solid launch and I believe that we’re going to see growth in the series as more people come in and sample and get a notion of the show. That’s just my personal prediction, we’ll have to see next week if the ratings go up or down.
“But honestly, we never get enough viewers, we always want to get more viewers. I would like it to rate the same as the State of Origin will on Wednesday night, which is around two and a half million viewers. So we always want more.”
Asked if this series might spur other reality programs for Nine, Backwell added, “There will be other ideas that come out of this show”.