Winners & Losers: articles

More winners than losers in this duo's resume

JOHN Holmes and Bevan Lee have launched some of Australia's best-loved TV during their 30-year professional partnership, and tomorrow they hope to do it again with the debut of their latest Seven Network show.

Winners & Losers will make its debut in the 8.30pm timeslot previously occupied by Packed to the Rafters, Holmes and Lee's latest mega-hit, which last week finished its third season with an average audience of 1.9 million viewers per episode.

In a bold programming strategy, Seven ran Rafters for only six episodes instead of the planned 10 before yanking it to make way for Winners, which it predicts will attract much the same audience, although younger and with more women.

Holmes, Seven's head of drama, and network script executive Lee are keen to downplay any expectations their new offering will immediately attract the same spectacular ratings. But they are cautiously optimistic.

"We hate projecting what sort of ratings we'd like to get," Holmes says. "(But) the research off the back of the pilot suggests we'll have a very strong core audience."

With Rafters setting the standard, the pressure is high. But at least there isn't long to wait before they find out if the gamble has paid off. The ratings for tomorrow night's premiere episode of Winners will arrive at 8.30 Wednesday morning. By next week, when the numbers for the second episode come in, the program's fate could well be sealed.

"In the old days you were given a chance, basically a year to get a show right," Holmes says. "Nowadays? Totally different. You basically know the first night and more especially you know the second episode (when you see) how many people come back.

"It's the drop-off you look at. If you go from two million (viewers) to 1.7 you're OK.

"If you go from two million to 1.2 you're in trouble. If it was two million to 700,000 you'd be gone. You'd probably last one more week to see if it was an anomaly."

However, both are sanguine about the sudden-death nature of modern TV mathematics.

"It's bums on seats," Holmes shrugs. "It's the same if you do a play or you have a movie and no one goes and sits on the seats in the theatre. What is the point?"

Fortunately, in almost three decades working together, Holmes and Lee have had more hits than misses. They met in 1982 when they worked on Grundy's Sons & Daughters, Holmes as a producer, Lee as a self-described "highly overworked and highly overstrung" script producer.

Five years later they came together again to work on a pilot for Seven that Holmes felt had a "very dodgy script". Lee agreed, they chucked it out three weeks before shooting was due to start and reimagined the idea that would end up as soap stalwart Home & Away.

Over the years they have moved around all three commercial networks, with Lee spending eight years as Nine's network script executive and Holmes doing a stint as head of drama at Ten before taking the same role at Seven. By 1998, they were both working at Seven on what would turn out to be another success. Says Lee: "John brought me over and said would you help put together a . . . medical show. I'd had this idea in my head for a long time since I had my own personal confrontation with cancer and came out of hospital thinking the nurses are all saints."

All Saints was on air for eight seasons, ending its run last year. Shorter-lived was Always Greener, which lasted only two seasons, but was a critical success, nominated for an international Emmy for best drama. The duo also created Seven's City Homicide, now in its fifth season.

There have also been misfires. Some viewers may remember the 2005 soapie Headland, originally intended as a Home & Away spin-off; "sexy legal" series Marshall Law in 2002 with Lisa McCune; and, for Nine, the 1990 flop Family & Friends. Lee regrets none of them. "I've learned more from those shows than I learned from the hits. And they keep you humble and stop you being a ponce."

Winners & Losers came from an idea that had been rattling about in Lee's head for years to do a show about young women. Eventually, the concept took shape around the idea of four friends, considered "losers" at school, who are brought back together by a high school reunion, and a stroke of good fortune that promises to change their lives completely.

Lee describes the program as being, like Rafters, a "charmedy": part drama, part comedy but, above all, charming.

"It's honest to what I know is going on in the lives of women in their late 20s."

By Sally Jackson
March 21, 2011
The Australian

fact correction: All Saints ran for 12 years, 1998 - 2009, not 8 as stated