INSIDE: Seven days of TV viewing
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.