Block nails it as a model for TV success
WHO said there were no second chances in TV? Channel 9’s home renovation show The Block has broken every rule in television.
It was off air for six years. It changed hosts (Scott Cam replaced Jamie Durie) and cities (Sydney to Melbourne).
It went from weekly to five, and then six nights each week.
The Block’s debut series, in 2003, took 12 hours to show its four teams renovating a Bondi apartment block.
This year’s series will have been on air a whopping 67 hours by the finale.
The Block has been shameless in its product placement, with viewers assaulted with plugs for everything from hardware to furniture to computers.
Despite it all, The Block has prospered. Last year’s finale was 2011’s highest-rating program (3.089 million viewers) and the 2012 auction episode will be huge.
Cam feels The Block is riding high because its contestants are overcoming limited budgets, stress and bonewearying tiredness to create amazing rooms.
‘‘ These (South Melbourne) are the four best houses we’ve done,’’ Cam says.
‘‘ The quality of the renovations is outstanding — unparalleled in Block history.’’
Creators Julian Cress and David Barbour have been there for the entire wild ride.
The first series of The Block was a TV phenomenon.
Gay contestants Gav and Waz became overnight stars.
The second series ran into trouble. Dani and Monique left the program after two weeks when it was reported that Dani had been jailed for a drugrelated offence.
Nine more than doubled the episodes — from 12 to 26. The nastiness between contestants was ramped up. Viewers turned off. The collapse of the property market was the final nail in The Block coffin.
The first series of The Block averaged 2.239 million viewers. In 2004, the show averaged 1.6 million viewers.
‘‘( Nine CEO) David Gyngell felt that The Block had a lot of life in it but it was best not to make a third series straight away,’’ Cress says. ‘‘ If that happened, it might have killed the format forever.’’
The Block looked dead when Gyngell quit Nine in 2005.
New CEO Eddie McGuire was accused of refusing to honour a ‘‘ handshake’’ pro- duction deal Cress and Barbour had made with Gyngell. The pair left Nine and followed Gyngell to Los Angeles to work for Granada Television.
‘‘ ‘ Gyng’ said to us that if he was back running the Nine Network he would seriously look at doing The Block again,’’ Cress recalls.
In 2007 Gyngell returned to his old job and The Block was back on the agenda.
The third series, set in Vaucluse, Sydney, got off to a tentative start. It returned one night a week. Cam replaced Durie. Ratings expectations were kept low.
‘‘ The feeling was that in 2004, when we went out two nights a week, we might all have gotten a bit greedy,’’ Cress says.
‘‘ The idea in 2010 was to bring it back, put it on once a week and build an audience again.’’
The strategy worked. The third series finale grabbed 1.716 million viewers.
‘‘ We proved that, seven years out from the original, there was still a lot of goodwill for the brand,’’ Cress says.
Gyngell and Nine program chief Michael Healy certainly thought so.
They decided to strip The Block five nights a week at 7pm, which turned The Block into a phenomenon again.
‘‘ It was a big, ballsy risk,’’ Cress admits. ‘‘ We went from being a renovation show to a family meal every night.
‘‘ We added challenges that were really colourful in the way they were designed and executed. That drove us to much bigger ratings than we expected because it brought in half a million viewers under the age of 15.’’
Block hosts Shelley Craft and Scott Cam.