All this week television networks, production companies and program makers will be crossing their fingers as they jump the gun and roll out a selection of new shows before the start of the official ratings period. Consequently, executives will be rushing to their desks for the ratings and hoping for a number they can be proud of… So how do the numbers get there?

With all the technology around, it’s not as sophisticated as you might think. Thankfully it’s a step above the system used for radio where listeners fill in books from memory. Having produced at a station where listeners would phone up insisting to speak to Richard Stubbs immediately even though he’d left 8 years earlier, never gave me much reason to trust the pen and paper system.

Television ratings are calculated via information gathered from ratings boxes or what AGB Nielsen call peoplemeters. Householders key in what they are watching and who is in the room and this information is collected 24/7 from every television they own. For their efforts these esteemed viewers accrue rewards points. Depending on how long they are part of this proud voluntary position (which can last for up to four years), they cash in their points for things like toasters, blenders, electric toothbrushes – anything that doesn’t take them away from the TV for too long. There is a significant emphasis put on choosing a cross section of households that accurately represent the entire population of Australia. Demographics, how many televisions they own and whether they have pay TV is all taken into account. Once the peoplemeter is installed their viewing habits are beamed down the phone lines in the wee hours of the morning.

By sun up Blackberries are buzzing and press releases are being issued by the program makers. On top of the raw data, it’s worth visiting a site like ebroadcast, where it’s common for all commercial networks to claim the night as theirs by adding terms like ‘target demographic’, ‘commercial share’ or ‘previous timeslot average’. What everyone broadcasting in primetime wants is 1 million viewers. Of course, events like Big Brother or Idol, sporting finals and nightly news are expected to pull in a whole lot more. But a million is the minimum for anything else – from Deal or No Deal to NCIS repeats (which consistently beguile us all by rating above 1 million).

So how many ratings boxes need to be tuned in to the same program for the execs to celebrate? From past training sessions I’ve learnt that there are approximately 5000 peoplemeters – 3000 in the five largest state capitals, plus another 2000 spread out over the rest of the country. The Australian population is just over 21 million (as revealed by the ABS late 2007). So each ratings box represents 4200 head of population. One million divided by 4200 equals 238.

It sounds so easy. And even if these early attempts at grabbing viewers work, getting them to come back is the real challenge. Because even though we know if people are watching, we don’t know until the following week whether they liked what they saw.


A few weeks ago certain passionate Sex and the City fans in this office had a chat that became a heated discussion that ended in a stand-up argument about what point in time the SATC movie is set in. The crux of the conversation centered on whether time has passed since we last saw Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, Charlotte and their entourage. Will the big screen be filled with Carrie calling out John’s name (no wonder she used a pet name) in ecstasy as they consummate their escape from Paris and re-commitment? Or, as the main opponent foresaw, will it reflect that years have passed like in our lives? Can it only work if the four women are back to struggling with single status or will they bring glamour to facing a mid-life crisis?

Either way, the transition from TV to feature is always going to be a tough one, and with SATC there are particular challenges. In the comfort of your own home you can laugh with superiority, cringe with familiarity and jot down sex tips from their choreographed onscreen copulations. Won’t it feel dirty witnessing similar scenes whilst sitting next to a stranger licking hot buttered popcorn off your fingers? And after six jam-packed seasons that explored everything from going up the butt to going overseas, what could possibly be left for these four fashion icons to tackle in 90 minutes in a darkened theatre?

Surely everyone who’s been desperately hanging out for a well-earned reunion over brunch at Pastis has already checked out the poster.


At first glance it’s all good. The glittering pink lettering, the great dress, a strutting confident grown-up Carrie, compared to that ballet-skirted girl who first greeted us on the streets of NYC in 1998. However, look again and you’ll be struck cold by that byline. Shudder. We’ve sympathised with the SATC writers who were forced week after week to balance realistic dialogue with the ‘I often wonder’ headline that Carrie would pound into her sad Mac (the only laptop that is part of the American Treasures collection at the Smithsonian Institute).

Let’s hope that this was a last-minute thing – that the production team had been struggling with changing schedules, precious talent, bad light, late nights in the edit suite and that Michael Patrick King didn’t get time for approval.

I fear the most heart-wrenching break up in SATC history could be on its way.

Over the non-ratings holiday period free-to-air repeats of Friends appeared. It’s more than 10 years my relationship started with Phoebe, Joey, Ross and Rachel, Chandler and Monica. The six of them have always been high maintenance – the couplings, the holiday seasons, the pets (illegal monkey, hairless cat, allergy-inducing dog). They took a lot of attention then and all these years later, like a tune you and an ex called ‘our song’, the Rembrandts’ one hit pulls me back to my couch and into the times we shared. That’s what real friendship demands. With this in mind and a slew of new programs beckoning, who should I clear my calendar and make time to see this year (and perhaps until 2018)?

For quite some time Mondays have been a regular catch up with the girls. Previously juicy brunches with SATC, this year again it’ll be a whimsical walk in Wisteria Lane followed by a proper sit-down meal with the Walkers. Those Brothers & Sisters are friends in need. So good looking, so much repressed emotion and so much estrogen. It didn’t surprise me that the now dead William cheated, what surprised me is that he welcomed ANOTHER woman into his life. I’m already wondering how many tense, tear-jerking family dinners we’ll all need to sit through when Nora is found in a compromising position with McAllister (that’s not a spoiler, just wishful thinking and yes, it’s disloyal to Kitty but she already has everything.)

Mid-week I venture outside my normal circle and go to the other side with Alison Dubois. With her, it’s intense. You have to pay attention; be alert when a dream startles her in the middle of the night. At exactly the same time the Without a Trace gang wants me to look for clues, so bumping our regular catch up to a later slot was the only option.

On top of all that are the associations with fair-weather friends. Those Idol/So You Think You Can Dance/Biggest Losers turn up night after night. Late night wind downs are usually spent in the sublime

So all of that leaves very few spare TV hours to spend quality time with Lipstick Jungle, Cashmere Mafia, Dirty Sexy Money, Samantha Who? plus a catch-up with my new bestie Liz Lemon (30 Rock –you will LOVE her.)

It’s always been a mystery as to how characters in TV shows fit in work, relationships, shopping, eating and seeing their friends in their aspirational lives, but it’s obvious. We never see any of them watching television. Where’s the fun in that?