COMMENT

Brooke from Bold and the Beautiful, which will get an extra run on Channel Ten.

Brooke (played by Katherine Kelly Lang) from Bold and the Beautiful, which will get an extra run on Channel Ten.

Senior executives at the Seven and Nine networks will breathe a sigh of relief at Channel Ten’s new schedule.

Having axed the low-rating Wake Up and its early, morning and late news bulletins – as well as 150 staff – the struggling broadcaster had some big holes to fill.

But rather than compete head-on with its commercial rivals or try to grow its audience, Ten appears more focused on getting its costs down.

On repeat ... Ten returns to soapie stronghold with <i>The Bold and the Beautiful</i>.

On repeat ... Ten returns to soapie stronghold with The Bold and the Beautiful.

All its axed programs were expensive to produce – especially Wake Up, which required a purpose-built studio on Sydney’s Manly beach. The replacement programs are generally cheap overseas imports and local repeats; hardly a threat to Sunrise and Today.

The new schedule begins with an hour of Ready Steady Cook at 6am, American showbiz program Entertainment Tonight at 7am, then a Bold and The Beautiful repeat at 7.30am.

British cooking show Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals airs at 8am, followed by local program Studio 10 (which escaped the axe) at 8.30am.

<i>Jamie's 30 Minute Meals</i> will fill the gap.

Jamie's 30 Minute Meals will fill the gap.

Tellingly, Ten will screen "Australian content repeats, e.g. MasterChef" between 11am and noon.

Our main free-to-air channels are compelled to air at least 55 per cent Australian content between 6am and midnight. But as long as they meet the sub-quotas for first-run drama, documentaries and children’s programs, they can show repeats to reach the main target.

Ten’s now-defunct breakfast show and three daily news bulletins went a fair way to meeting the 55 per cent quota. All of it fresh, topical and home-grown.

Who needs news when you have <i>Ready Steady Cook</i>?

Who needs news when you have Ready Steady Cook?

Now, Ten has replaced this with a mish-mash of low-budget foreign shows and local repeats. This is not to say they won’t find an appreciative audience. (It’s safe to assume they won’t set the ratings on fire, either.)

But it’s always a shame to see Australian programs get the chop, not to mention talented news staff lose their jobs.

The long-term concern about this new schedule is that it reveals a lack of vision for Ten. Last month, CEO Hamish McLennan emphasised news as a "priority". A few weeks later, he took an axe to what remains one of the best-performing programs for his network.

Conspicuously absent from Ten’s current line-up is a "tent pole" series such as The Voice or My Kitchen Rules. These are the kind of programs that viewers watch live, a few nights a week, attracting premium advertising rates. They also provide a great platform to promote new series and huge lead-in audiences for other shows. Indeed, they’re called tent pole shows because they prop up a network’s entire schedule.

Unfortunately, Ten misfired with its recent attempts: So You Think You Can Dance (too niche) and The Biggest Loser (too mean). MasterChef, a former ratings powerhouse, was diluted by too many spin-offs but still does comparatively well.

The absence of a tent pole show, however, can precipitate a downward spiral that’s hard to correct.

There are fewer viewers to promote programs to and eventually, even good shows go unnoticed. Your prime time programs have smaller lead-in audiences, so they suffer as well. And the effect is self-reinforcing, making it harder to break the cycle the longer it continues.

It’s often said that if only Channel Ten "would put some good shows on", their woes would be fixed.

This is rubbish.

Ten already has plenty of great shows. It has the best dramas of any commercial network (Offspring, Puberty Blues, Secrets and Lies), some marvellous imported series (The Good Wife) and some great new local series (Have You Been Paying Attention?). There are many other examples.

But without some more bold attempts at tent pole programming, nothing will change.

McLennan has already indicated the network must focus on this kind of "event" television, but there’s not much to suggest he has anything up his sleeve right now. It must become a (well-funded) priority.

It would be shame for Ten to effectively throw in the towel by going further down the path of endless cost-cutting and cheap programming. This is not an inevitability. Only a few years ago, Nine’s sinking ratings and revenue problems seemed intractable – problems since solved by skilled management.

Ten already has many excellent programs that deserve a bigger audience. It also has passionate, talented and loyal staff. With the right leadership, it could again become a great network.