Hailed by critics as a ‘must-see TV event of 2015’ Channel Nine’s heavily promoted Gallipoli miniseries launched on Monday 9 February amid a fanfare of bus posters, TV ads and media buzz.
The first episode of the seven-part series, inspired by Les Carlon’s bestselling history Gallipoli, attracted 1.104 million viewers, but failed to topple Channel Seven’s reality TV ratings juggernaut ‘My Kitchen Rules’, which regularly attracts 1.5 million viewers.
With the centenary of the Anzac landing just weeks away, the wartime drama has failed to resonate with Australians. Viewing figures for the second episode halved to 580,000 - and have continued to fall.
Channel Nine CEO Kim Gyngell described the failure to attract an audience as his ‘biggest disappointment for the year’. According to Gyngell, ‘Research panels across the country said Galipolli was going to be the biggest show on television and it hasn’t been’. The final episodes air tonight on Chanel Nine. But why aren’t Australians watching?
To sate my curiosity, I decided to examine blog comments on articles discussing the failure of the series. Would they reveal any insights into why Gallipoli had become a turn off?
The first article, ‘This TV show has been called a “must watch” for all Australians. So why aren’t we watching?’, was published by mamamia.com.au on 19 February and attracted thirty-nine comments. The popular site attracts a large audience of university-educated women aged between 25-49.
The second article, ‘Nine CEO admits Gallipoli audiences are a ‘disappointment’ as network prepares to ‘burn’ drama series’ was published by mumbrella.com.au, a website for marketing and media professionals, on 26 February and attracted forty-seven comments.
Respondents represent a self-selected sample, and are by no means representative of viewers. In fact, they reveal more about the perceptions surrounding the miniseries than reality, since few respondents claimed to have actually watched the series. Nevertheless, the comments revealed some surprising insights into why this much-hyped drama might have failed to connect with Australian viewers.
1. Anzac fatigue.By far the most common response. Have we finally reached peak Gallipoli?
- I was Gallipoli'd out by the end of school. (mamamia)
- What Australia needs is yet another telling of the same story we’ve heard hundreds of times. Using the same title as the Peter Weir film doesn’t do it any favours, either. (mumbrella)
- From primary school onwards we are saturated with the Gallipoli story. It's a shame, but it's no wonder we're fatigued. (mamamia)
- I hate to say it but I really think that we are just moving on. WW1 and WW2 have been done over and over in movies and tv (mamamia)
- The problem with "Gallipolli" is that we know about Gallipolli. It's a story which has been told. (mamamia)
- ...my kids have studied it at school, seen the movie and now have no interest in seeing the same story dragged out over weeks at 9pm (mamamia)
- The nine Gallipoli series sucks. We’ve heard this all before. 20 mins in and you know you’re never getting that time back again. I wonder if they thought we were obligated to watch. (mumbrella)
- ...the subject (still inaccurate and over stated by the way) has been done and done and done to death. (mumbrella)
- Another glorious example of misappropriated government funds (screen Australia) throwing money at boring content nobody wants to see.
- ...the money spent on producing it could have been spent on something with similar production values that told a new/relatively unknown story. (mamamia)
- With the utmost respect, I’ve been living in Australia for 4 years and I’m already shit sick of the Gallipoli story/legend. It’s talked about ad nauseum…Can’t we find other Australian stories to focus on. (mumbrella)
- Right war, wrong subject. Gallipoli has been done to death. (mumbrella)
- We are quite simply, Gallipolied out. How about more on the Western Front, or Vietnam or Borneo? Darwin, even. I fully accept that Gallipoli is integral to our nations pysche, I even travelled there for Anzac day myself and I found it so fascinating, but I feel like other important people, battles and accomplishments are being overlooked for what has become the poster child of all our conflicts. (mamamia)
2 Too sad, too violent.John Howard once asserted that he wanted Australians to be ‘comfortable and relaxed about their history'. There is no doubt the Gallipoli miniseries stands in contrast to the reassuring, sentimental national mythology surrounding the Anzac tradition. According to historian Peter Stanley, who has been reviewing the series for the Honest History website, ‘Gallipoli certainly deserves plaudits for portraying war honestly’. Here the reality of war is confronting rather than cathartic. Watching television is a discretionary leisure activity and Australians have chosen to turn off.
- At the end of the day there is enough blood shed on our TV sets. Galipolli is a quality production, but just failed to resonate with audiences who are tired of war and darkness. It’s where MKR wins… can’t get much lighter than a bunch of people cooking and taking any chance to criticize each other. (mumbrella)
- I feel like I've reached my tragedy quota. I can't bring myself to watch, I just don't have it in me. (mamamia)
- ...too sad, too violent. We get enough of that these days, I enjoyed house of hancock, light drama and escapism, that's about all I can handle at the moment. (mamamia)
- I cannot sit there, week after week, crying through a tv show. It looks fantastic, but I can't do it to myself, not after all the things I have already seen and read about WWI. It's too horrific. Maybe if we didn't have a 24 hour news cycle, broadcasting the worst of the world into our homes every day, we would be more willing to watch something like this. (mamamia)
- Not surprised at all, watching the promos alone was enough to put me off. The story from the point of view of the individual soldiers and their families is dark and sad and violent and it's been done already. (mamamia)
- I have an 18 year old son. I just couldn't watch it. Seeing those young boys going off to be slaughtered. Just the promos bought me to tears. I can't imagine what those boys and their parents went through. (mamamia)
3. Bad programming decisions.Several commenters lamented the network's programming decisions; wrong timeslot, wrong channel, too many ads, and not broadcast close enough to Anzac Day.
- Too far out from main Gallipoli anniversary (mumbrella)
- 9pm on a Monday night is too late for me…not the best programming decision methinks!’ (mamamia)
- So who thought it’d be a clever idea to launch it 2 months out Anzac Day? It failed because there’s no contextual/timings relevancy. (mumbrella)
- Rubbish timeslot. I don't think people want to spend the last available hours of their weekend sobbing in a heap in the lounge room over a horrendous historical period before migrating to the bedroom and sobbing in a heap about having to go to work soon. (mamamia)
- Too many advertisements. It shard to maintain concentration and emotional commitment when being continually bombarded by blaring ads. Kind ruins the whole vibe. (mamamia)
- Way too many commercials. I get that it was probably expensive to make, but when to stuff extra in just because the expect it to be a hit, dont be surprised when people lose interest. (mamamia)
- Could it be that FTA (free to air) television is no place for drama? Even the sleaze of the Hancock saga couldn’t kill MKR. (mumbrella)
- Channel 9 doesn't have a good track record with period dramas either. These sort of programs are usually associated with the ABC, and do well in the ABC's usual period drama time slots. It may be a case of Channel 9 misjudging their market. They are the tabloid newspaper of TV channels (not that there is anything wrong with that), while the ABC and in general period dramas appeal to a more sophisticated audience. (mamamia)
4. Anzackery and commercial exploitation.Others contested the national mythology and argued that Anzac was being exploited for commercial or political gain. These comments seem at odds with those who felt Gallipoli was 'too dark' and 'violent'. However, it unclear from responses if the individuals had actually watched the miniseries or if they constitute a more general response to Anzackery.
- I am shit sick of the “glorious” re-telling of the Anzac bullshit… We’ve learnt nothing. Why just this week the NZ PM announced more Aussie troops for Iraq. WTF?’ (mumbrella)
- Personally I'm sick of the jingoism & nationalism being shoved down my throat at the moment, I'm Team Australia'd out. I had family members serve in both World Wars & it has been fascinating researching my family tree & finding out about what happened to them, but to me the ads for this looked like more mythology being cultivated. (mumbrella)
- ...we need to discuss the ramifications of Gallipoli as militarily,it was a failure that cost many lives.however if one casts doubts on it one can be branded unpatriotic as it seems to have become somewhat of a sacred cow. (mamamia)
- I think that we need to all have an honest discussion about the Gallipoli campaign. Our soldiers fought valiantly. The landscape and conditions there are horribly harsh and unforgiving, but... we did invade another country, we killed 60 thousand of THEIR valiant young men who were just following orders too… Other than that it was a bloody, bungled battle and I don't believe it to be disrespectful to the diggers to discuss it honestly.’ (mamamia)
- ... I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea that Gallipoli should be glorified as such a heroic moment in Australian history. (mamamia)
- It (Anzac) has been monetised enough. (mamamia)
5. Marketing strategy backfired.Is there such a thing as too much promotion?
- ‘Channel Nine made a drastic error in its over-advertising of these program during the cricket….Throughout the cricket, which Australians love, we were constantly bombarded with ads for Gallipoli’ (mumbrella)
- Yep, Nine now knows the exact point where over-promotion kills a show. (mumbrella)
- I think also ladies and gents that Channel 9 needs to take a good look at their promos. If I see another description like ‘jaw dropping’ or ‘riveting’ or ‘landmark TV’ I will throw my drink at the TV. Enough. Let the show speak for itself and go easy a bit on the pre-show hype. (mumbrella)
- I'll be watching it when I can pay to watch it ad free on Netflix at a time that suits me. I stopped bothering with australian commercial free to air ages ago. (mamamia)
6. Too long. I don't want to commit to watching seven episodes.
- I recorded it… then heard it was a 10 part series and thought – I don't have time for that – and deleted it…’ (mumbrella)
- Should have been a one off telemovie or two part series (mumbrella)
- Most feedback I heard was that it was too slow. Maybe it should have been a two night mini-series aired directly around ANZAC day… (mamamia)
- I am too busy to dedicate every Sunday night for 7 weeks to a TV show. (mumbrella)
7. Too slow. Not compelling enough.The critically acclaimed drama did not appeal to some viewers who deemed it too slow. Did the story fail to hook in viewers or did cultural cringe play a factor?
- Australians will watch it if its good, not just because it's about Gallipoli. (mamamia)
- I'm now convinced the problem is the slow movie-style edit. There’s just too many shots holding on faces -asking the viewer to wait. I’m in the lounge room at home – I have too many distractions to wait for the director’s emotional beats.’ (mumbrella)
- The problem I and a lot of other had was that the first episode was slow, repetitive and didn't seem to share much. It just wasn't "compelling", nothing to do with the violence, etc. (mamamia)
- I'm watching but it's an effort. I'm drawn to the theme but the story-telling is lacking. The flashback character development isn't working. I'm not surprised there was such a big drop from week one. (mamamia)
8. I'll stick to Peter Weir’s 1981 film version, thanks.
- ...this story has already been told so much better in Peter Weir's seminal film. (mamamia)
- Why didn’t just rent a copy of Peter Weir’s Gallipolli for $1.99 and show it on the eve of Anzac day? Simple, same story, same title, minimal outlay. (mumbrella)
- Peter Weir’s Gallipoli (mentioned on here a bit) is nothing short of a masterpiece and gets the point / story across in one short sitting. (mumbrella)
- ‘While Gallipoli is an historically important event, it's a story that's been told before and told well. For most people the movie pretty much covers it.’ (mamamia)