The new kids on The Block

Af­ter a string of dud shows, Nine pins its hopes on re­mod­elling writes Dar­ren Dev­lyn

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Cover Story -

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

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