Behind the scenes at Married At First Sight 2017

The supersized format is Nine’s first test of the new year

Since Nine’s Q1 programming last year slumped with both Australia’s Got Talent and Reno Rescue failing to find big audiences, CEO Hugh Marks spent time in 2016 explaining Nine would perform much better in 2017 up against Seven’s My Kitchen Rules and Ten’s I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here.

MORE: Nine secures four major sponsors for return of Married

The project earmarked to kick-start the year for Nine some time ago was the format Married At First Sight.

Nine’s head of content, production and development Adrian Swift explained to Mediaweek why the broadcaster chose the format.

“From great adversity come life’s most brilliant insights. Last year when Reno Rumble didn’t work we moved Married At First Sight from 8.30pm to 7.30pm against My Kitchen Rules and it did a job for us.

“It was not originally a show made for 7.30pm. It had an ob doc feel which was absolutely designed for an 8.30pm slot, but it did attract some younger people and women who were watching My Kitchen Rules.

Adrian Swift

“We thought it would do a good job in that slot, but not quite as good a job as it ended up doing. There was also a lot of content in the format that wasn’t getting to air. A lot of the content around how the experts matched people and other material was compressed. Michael Healy [Nine’s director of television] and I looked at each and agreed much of that content would work very well for us with our core demo…even up against the juggernaut that is MKR.”

Endemol made the first season of Married At First Sight before they merged with Shine globally. With Nine acquiring the format for this market from Red Arrow in the UK, Nine made seasons two and three in house. The new season, four, has been made for Nine by Endemol Shine Australia.

Swift told Mediaweek that Nine briefed Endemol Shine Australia in detail about what they wanted from the stripped format. “We told them what we wanted to do and how many episodes we would ideally like and they came back to us with the series structure. Endemol Shine, Fremantle Media and ITV are the production houses who are very good as doing these sorts of series.

“What we wanted to ensure was that we kept the DNA of the Married At First Sight. It was important that the show featured things that were real, stories that were actually happening. It is observational…it is not The Bachelor. It is not MKR, it is not soft-scripted, it is real. We wanted to keep the documentary sensibility, but make it bigger and open out the experiment to show the mechanics of the different relationships.”

When asked about the number of former Married At First Sight contestants who have complained about the way they have been portrayed on the series, Swift said: “Television can be a harsh mirror.” By way of explanation he told Mediaweek while watching the Test Cricket on Nine over the summer he came across an old voiceover that was used on a highlights package during a rain delay. “It had a terrible voiceover,” said Swift, soon realising it was actually his voice from his days working at Nine’s Wide World of Sports. “It was me doing a very terrible voiceover!

“We don’t ever set out to deliberately misrepresent people…we just don’t. A lot of the people who have complained were people who didn’t look great in the context of the show and I understand that. But again I say the people who make the show, Nine’s Trent Chapman and Tina Diaz, don’t set out to misrepresent anyone. But notably there are far more people who have not complained and many of them absolutely loved the process and who are very happy to talk about it.”

With Diaz the key EP on the project for Nine, the EP for Endemol Shine is Tara McWilliam.

With an important project like Married At First Sight, there can’t be too many worries about having too many chiefs contributing.

“We at Nine have a very fundamental hand in shaping these shows. Both Michael and I, with network EP John Walsh, go to every single screening of every episode.”

Nine is careful not to reveal exactly how long Married With First Sight will run for, short of confirming it has been supersized with “more episodes”.

Swift acknowledged that TV is now all about the 7.30pm slot. “You can make a bad 8.30pm show work after a good 7.30pm show, but you can’t make a good 8.30pm show work after a bad 7.30pm show.”

He added: “That is about the sum total of my programming wisdom for you.” [Laughs]

Married season four

The team from Enedmol Shine hinted late last year, and as the first promos for the new season indicate, there are some very memorable moments coming for viewers who tune into the new season.

“At the core of each couple is a love story, but there is so much drama that goes on around each one. Keeping the love story at the core of the show is the biggest battle for us as you could just follow all the drama quite easily. There are couples who are committed to the process and who start out genuinely looking for a partner for life.

“It is often the least likely pairings that work, while some that appear absolute no-brainers really don’t work.”

The promos for the new season contain footage mostly from the episodes. “But not all of it,” revealed Swift. The recent footage of the runaway bride running down a Sydney street in her gown and running shoes was shot especially for the promo, you won’t be surprised to learn. Swift added, with a laugh, “It fairly accurately represents what happened!”

Commercial Opportunities

While audiences watching The Block, My Kitchen Rules and MasterChef Australia have grown accustomed to commercial opportunities for brands to be worked into the content, Swift explained you won’t see too much of that in Married At First Sight. “There is some commercial integration, but not a lot. The Block is about using products and how to get them. There is none of that in Married At First Sight – we are not advertising wedding cars or harbour cruises.”

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