He has worked at TEN for the last 15 years but Stephen Tate, Head of Entertainment and Factual Programming, has overseen some of the network’s biggest shows.
“Do you know what? I’ve not taken long service. You don’t take a holiday in Television!” he laughs.
“I’ve been really blessed with the shows that I’ve been lucky enough to work on. Australian Idol was sensational and I’m very proud of all of the incredible talent we discovered and who are still on the celebrity landscape.
“I loved doing Big Brother. It was an amazing chemistry set to play with. Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation was an absolute joy and so silly at the same time.
“The last few years has been getting Bachelor set-up, getting I’m A Celebrity commissioned and finding locations for it and now Survivor is my newest challenge.”
The four big ticket shows (Bachelor, Bachelorette, I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here and Survivor Australia) dominate a full slate for Tate.
Tate recently told TV Tonight that TEN is close to locking in its new cast for I’m a Celebrity.
“We’ve got about 4 positions we are still filling that we currently have offers out on. Particularly with the internationals we’re waiting to hear about parts in sitcoms and feature films, so you sort of come down to the wire with them. But we’re well down the track with some of our big surprises along the production path,” he explained.
“It’s going to be an incredibly funny series. Comedy is the driver of that franchise so it’s not going to disappoint.”
“Everybody had a position on it”
The second season has also been ‘easier’ to cast thanks to the success of the first.
“Everybody had a position on it so as soon as you pick up the phone and start speaking to an agent or a celebrity this year they have already projected themselves into the role. When they watched it last year they were already thinking ‘Could I do this?’ so that was half the battle fought,” Tate continued.
“Some people we were after were more adamant that they couldn’t do it, because they’d seen it. But we also had a lot more people contacting us this year and showing interest.”
Topping ex-Brady Bunch star Maureen McCormick will be a big ask. Her inclusion turned out to be inspired casting
“She was actually the first celebrity we cast last year and we couldn’t believe our luck. And then we couldn’t believe she showed up! I had numerous conversations with her in the States and I just wasn’t sure she was getting what I was saying.
“When she turned up in Africa she actually said to somebody ‘I thought I was going to Australia!’
“But she is way smarter than you think, because she always looked for her camera before she gave us a scene.”
This year Joel Creasy and ex-Bachelor star Heather Maltman will host companion series I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here Now! on ELEVEN. What about changes to the format itself?
“The main changes will come from the cast we’ve assembled, and they very much dictate the overall personality of the programme. So I don’t think there is a great deal we have to change. The show did very well and gave us 51% growth in the timeslot,” Tate said.
“But we will go bigger with our challenges, and cast differently to the way we cast last time. So we’re not casting ‘like for like’ and we are looking at other ‘walks’ of celebrity life.
“We will also have a more interesting structure to our week which we will announce closer to the time.
“It’s a show that creates conversation and a large part of the Live show with Chris and Julia is dedicated to what’s happening in the jungle so I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here Now! will be able to continue the conversation. What’s happening in the outside world, how are people interacting with the programme?”
Viewers are likely to see more of Africa next year and more happening within the confines of the camp base.
“That was very much the feedback from the audience and that’s definitely what we’re doing. But I can’t reveal too much because some of what we’re doing is a surprise to the celebrities themselves. What I can tell you is that the camp will be a lot more dynamic.”
“There are quite a few shows I would say are slightly derivative of Idol”
When he isn’t working on TEN’s big budget formats, Tate admits to watching documentaries, Game of Thrones, British comedy and singing shows on other networks.
“The shows that I love to watch on other networks are the shows that started on TEN!” he joked.
“We don’t have music programmes on this network anymore but I loved working on Idol. There are quite a few shows I would say are slightly derivative of Idol and they’re the ones I watch on other networks.
“When I can get the remote off my two teenage daughters.”
But importantly, there is still time to be made for new ideas. Tate is part of TEN’s executive team who all input into new pitch proposals.
“I actually love hearing about new ideas. In fact I took a pitch just before I took this call. As all of the EPs at TEN are, I’m still involved in the development of new projects,” he explained.
“The pitches go to Azar Marashian our development executive and depending on which genre it is she talks to the appropriate EP. We discuss its merits and meet as a team and once a week we look at everything that’s come in. We’re pretty good at getting back to people quickly with a ‘No’ if it has to be a no.
“I think we’re heading into a time where we are going to need more escapism. Television needs to deliver many things to the audience but there are times when it’s nice just to deliver a little piece of happiness and escapism.”