IN­SIDE: Seven days of TV viewing

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page - COLIN VICK­ERY PACKED TO THE RAFTERS, South­ern Cross, Tues­day, 8.30pm

HOW much longer can Packed to the

Rafters last? That is the ques­tion TV in­sid­ers are ask­ing af­ter it emerged that Hugh Sheri­dan and James Ste­wart are leav­ing the show.

Rafters has dom­i­nated the tele­vi­sion land­scape for the past 3 ½ years but rat­ings now sug­gest it is on the wane. The fig­ures don’t lie.

A year ago, Rafters was av­er­ag­ing about 1.9 mil­lion view­ers an episode. On May 8, it av­er­aged 1.178 mil­lion and prob­a­bly picked up an­other 200,000 catch- up view­ers.

Jes­sica Marais ( Rachel Rafter), Jes­sica Mcnamee ( Sammy Rafter) and Zoe Ven­toura ( Melissa Rafter) are al­ready gone. Sheri­dan and Ste­wart are go­ing. Me­dia an­a­lyst Steve Allen says Rafters will prob­a­bly last only one or two more sea­sons.

Sheri­dan says he is leav­ing Rafters to avoid go­ing stale.

The four- time Lo­gie win­ner says he is look­ing for new chal­lenges af­ter play­ing Ben Rafter for nearly four years. Ri­val Chan­nel Ten pounced and en­listed the star to host new tal­ent show I Will Sur­vive.

‘‘ I wasn’t jaded but I was feel­ing that I had stopped do­ing my best work,’’ Sheri­dan told Eguide from New York.

‘‘ I guess that is a sign. I knew then that it was time to spread my wings.’’

Sheri­dan says Ben won’t be killed off like on- screen wife Melissa ( Ven­toura), who died in a car ac­ci­dent. In­stead, he will fade out of the se­ries like Rachel Rafter ( Marais). She left for New York, only re­turn­ing via Skype.

‘‘ You look at the way Rachel left – they [ the pro­duc­ers] don’t ac­tu­ally make it final,’’ Sheri­dan says.

Ten is re­port­edly al­low­ing Sheri­dan to film two episodes of the sixth se­ries of Rafters, but that’s it. That will al­low Ben to be seen on the show through to early 2013.

Rafters rat­ings have been hit by The Voice in re­cent weeks. Sheri­dan’s de­par­ture is a knock the show didn’t need.

Sheri­dan has signed an ex­clu­sive multi- year con­tract with Ten and is al­ready in dis­cus­sions about a new TV drama.

‘‘ This is a step in the right di­rec­tion for me,’’ Sheri­dan says.

Ste­wart, mean­while, is putting his act­ing ca­reer on hold to be with fi­ancee Marais af­ter the birth of their first child.

The cou­ple wel­comed Scout Edie Ste­wart at Rand­wick Pri­vate Hospi­tal ear­lier this month.

Dave and Julie Rafter ( Erik Thom­son and Re­becca Gib­ney) may be the only Rafters left in 2013.

Seven in­sists Rafters will sur­vive Sheri­dan’s exit. In re­cent weeks it has in­tro­duced Brooke Satch­well as elec­tri­cian Frankie Calasso to boost the cast.

The net­work says the new cast will be an­nounced in com­ing weeks, with pre- pro­duc­tion on se­ries six al­ready in progress.

Allen says Seven has to ac­cept some of the blame for the Rafters rat­ings drop.

Last year Seven cut Rafters short twice. The first time, in March, was to make way for Win­ners and Losers. The sec­ond oc­ca­sion, in Oc­to­ber, hap­pened be­cause Seven had al­ready won the 2011 rat­ings year.

Only 15 of the pro­posed 22 episodes were screened. That made fans an­gry.

‘‘ Seven made a strate­gic mis­take about hold­ing more than seven episodes from last year,’’ Allen says.

‘‘ It [ Rafters] lacked the cliffhanger to hold view­ers over and re- en­gage them when Rafters came back this year.

‘‘ The ini­tial episodes were stale as a con­se­quence.’’

EMPTY HOUSE: Lo­gie Award win­ner Hugh Sheri­dan with the Most Pop­u­lar Ac­tor award.

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