Block nails it as a model for TV suc­cess

Herald Sun - Switched On - - On The Couch -

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.

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