They have done an incredible job,” The Project’s Craig Campbell told Mediaweek from Auckland on the day before the New Zealand version of his format was launched on MediaWorks’ Three this week. The channel was formerly known as TV3 before rebranding earlier this month.
“We are always considering ideas for Rove’s return to television. Television is his thing and we need to get him back onscreen.”
Campbell is co-founder of format creator Roving Enterprises and continues to executive produce the Australian program for Network Ten.
Talking about the home of the New Zealand version, Campbell said: “They have taken over an old factory which was a former commercial television studio where they made TVCs. It had some of the bones for a TV studio, but it hadn’t been used as such for the best part of 30 years.
“In this building they have built the sets, the control room, the office, the infrastructure and the servers they need to link back to the main network.”
Campbell said the offices are just a couple of blocks away from the Three Auckland HQ. It sounds like a fair amount of money has been spent on setup. “It is the most amount of new equipment I have ever seen. Every single piece of equipment has come out of a box covered in bubble wrap.”
Campbell has been in New Zealand for two weeks, taking part in a week of run-throughs and then the first week on air for the new version.
In New Zealand the program runs five days a week at 7pm. Each episode is 30 minutes, except the Friday edition which runs for an hour from 7pm.
The New Zealand edition has three hosts – Jesse Mulligan, Josh Thomson and Kanoa Lloyd – Josh is a comedian, Jesse is a comedian and radio broadcaster and Kanoa comes from the newsroom.
Campbell was impressed by the talent: “They have a great chemistry. They were all so good in the run through shows they could have been broadcast.”
If you hear from anyone there are some differences with the Australian original, don’t believe them. “They are identical,” explained Campbell.
“Everything is identical – set, music, style, lighting and tone. The impression initially is that it could be a little bit lighter because of a song and dance promo they did.”
The executive producer of the Three daily current affairs newcomer is Jon Bridges who was the EP and creator of 7 Days which is a Mediaworks’ weekly comedy panel show. “It is still running, now in its eighth year,” said Campbell.
The competition is TV1’s Seven Sharp which has been through a couple of overhauls. “People were touting it as a copy of The Project when it launched,” said Campbell. “It lacked a couple of our key ingredients though, most notably a live audience.”
Roving Enterprises sold the format with Three, formerly TV3, with the blessing and support of Ten, Campbell noted. “We are working on season eight now in Australia. We have made so many mistakes and learnt so many lessons that when you buy a format, you are buying something that has been refined many times and does work.”
As to possible future format sales, Campbell is hopeful. “Wouldn’t that be lovely? If New Zealand works then it gives us more confidence that news and comedy can work elsewhere.”
Although he is back in Australia next week, Campbell will continue to look at the show every day and cast his eye over the rundown. “We will give input whenever they seek advice.”
Campbell doesn’t leave his South Yarra production castle all that often, but he did remind us he was away for five weeks once from his program when setting up the Rove LA series for Foxtel.
Campbell hasn’t been missing much while in Auckland, explaining the timezone has worked for him in terms of conference calls to Melbourne and watching the rehearsals and then the show go out live. “I have been texting Carrie and the gang during the program sometimes.”
Campbell has been excited by TEN’s initial survey performance, particularly on Thursday last week when it won the night across the metro network. He is also liking I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! this year. “It is great that Australia is getting to see the warm and cuddly side of Steve Price that we have known about for so long.
“He’s an angry, but cuddly, little teddy bear.”
When asked about the media attention being paid to Carrie Bickmore and Waleed Aly and their on-air relationship and possible friction between the two last week, Campbell told Mediaweek: “That is hysterical gossip. What has been suggested could not be further from the truth. The incident that was being talked about was done with such humour. It takes good friends to be able to rib each other on national television.”
Just to make it crystal clear, Campbell said, slowly, “There are no tensions on the set of The Project. We are having the best time and every meeting is full of laughs.”
Campbell noted he should probably not dispel the myths surrounding the show: “It is a publicist’s dream.”
The return of Rove?
Does Rove McManus’s business partner in Roving Enterprises have a format that could bring him back to TV? “There are things we always talk about. We are always considering ideas for his return to television. Television is his thing and we need to get him back onscreen.”