The new kids on The Block
After a string of dud shows, Nine pins its hopes on remodelling writes Darren Devlyn
WHEN it premiered in 2003, The Block was touted as ‘‘ 73 days of hard labour’’ — a show that would cross Changing Rooms with Survivor and Melrose Place.
The show didn’t just live up to the hype, it set ratings records. It launched to an audience of two million and its finale peaked at a staggering 3.37 million viewers.
Seasons two and three performed well for Nine, but the introduction of digital multichannels has changed the ratings landscape so dramatically that such smash-hit ratings are increasingly hard to come by.
That said, Channel 9, which has been in a worrying ratings decline as a result of shows such as Mike & Molly, *&$# My Dad Says, Ben Elton Live and Between the Lines failing to find an audience, is desperate for season four of The Block — a bold reinvention of the format — to deliver it a ratings hit.
Stripping a reality format has worked well for The Biggest Loser, MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules, but there’s no hiding the fact that tampering with a format as successful as The Block, which will run Monday to Friday at 7pm, carries significant risk.
Host Scott Cam, however, is excited by the changes, which include Shelley Craft joining The Block to host challenges and the show being set in Melbourne’s inner-suburban Richmond rather than a suburb in Sydney.
Also different is that the show starts with eight couples instead of four and that couples must renovate houses rather than apartments.
The show begins with the eight couples being whittled down to four when they com- pete in a 24-hour elimination challenge.
Each of the four couples has eight weeks and a budget of $100,000 to renovate and prepare their house for auction.
Each couple gets to keep any money made above the pre-determined auction reserve.
The couple whose property makes the most over reserve wins an additional $100,000.
‘‘ I think the show always had enough elements to go five nights a week and we missed out on a lot of great tele because we didn’t have the time,’’ Cam says.
‘‘ The main demand on all of us, contestants too, is being away from home.
‘‘ We’ve got people from all over Australia who are away from their families. I’ve only been home (Sydney) once since we started and I’ve had the wife and kids here once, over Easter.’’
The couples were shocked, Cam says, to arrive at the Richmond site and discover Above: Scott Cam shows off the only doublefronted house up for renovation Scott Cam and Shelley Craft, left, at one of the houses to be renovated. Main picture: Manuela Cifra the houses were in such a sad state of disrepair.
It’s the same reason Richmond locals were so happy the TV production moved into their street.
‘‘ I think the locals are so excited because we’re doing up four derelict houses that were an eyesore. From ugly ducklings will emerge these beautiful swans,’’ Cam says.
‘‘ People walking past have said it’s great because they used to have squatters in them.
‘‘ And that is exactly what the contestants had to walk into. The houses were occupied by rats and rubbish, wet carpet and blankets.
‘‘ It was horrible. And the contestants were hit by this smell in all four houses.
‘‘ We moved them into that rotting, dead smell with the rats, with a suitcase and a mattress.
‘‘ There is tension. You’ve got the key elements of renovating an entire house, one room each week, sometimes two rooms, depending on what we set them.
‘‘ Then they’ve got lack of sleep and budget worries’’.
Initially the properties had no running water.
Outhouses and exterior bathrooms were demolished before the couples arrived so they had to share a toiletamenities block the production crew built in the yard.
That didn’t stop the producers paying a whopping $3.6 million for the four houses.
‘‘ These people are strangers, they had never met before and suddenly they are sitting beside each other on the can first thing in the morning with 15mm of plywood between them. In the Melbourne cold,’’ Cam says. The Block, Channel 9, Monday, 7pm