In 2004 Seven launched My Restaurant Rule to the fuzz-guitar-driven, venom-laced Dandy Warhols hit “(A Long Time Ago) We Used To Be Friends”. While the series lasted only two seasons it set the Australian public for a long-standing love/hate/love affair with reality TV cooking shows that has seen MasterChef Australia rise, sink and rise again, and the original MRR spawn it’s own spin-off monster My Kitchen Rules.

With season seven of MasterChef finishing last Monday and season six of MKR smashing TV ratings earlier this year have Seven cooked their own goose by delivering us Restaurant Revolution so promptly, especially when it’s competing head to head with Nine’s The Hotplate (and looks so familiar to something they ditched ten years ago)?

Yes. But it’s salvageable.

After four eps RR’s ratings are diabolical. It launched last Tuesday with an almost reasonable 676,000* (versus Hotplate’s 784,000* launching the same night), slipped further after Wednesday’s double ep and near vanished by Thursday (415,000). Seven’s immediate response has been to alter their schedule so it’s only 2 nights a week now (Monday & Thursday) though each of those nights are two hours long (delivering on the 4 hour programming promise made to partners and advertisers) – but that’s not going to be enough.

Viewers are fatigued and reality TV is more demanding than any personal trainer. Watching a modern reality series is a marathon-esque commitment viewers must be race-fit for as the expectation is you’ll watch every minute of every episode, otherwise you’re missing out on the key moments (and nobody wants to be revealed as only half-watching the latest big thing).

When it comes to Seven’s Revolution, there’s lots to like at face value about this new entry into the competitive culinary vernacular.

Host Jock Zonfrillo

Host Jock Zonfrillo

Host Jock Zonfrillo is very personable on screen and has a nice rapport with both the contestants and judges. He has instant credibility from his efforts in getting his two restaurants Orana & Street running in Adelaide & is well known within the foodie community in the city of churches. It’s his first gig hosting TV and it would be our loss if it becomes his last.

The team mix is solid. Themes of family, strength & passion all carry through and are revealed consistently (if too frequently) each time we dive into a different team’s restaurant experience. The diversity between & within the teams – ethnicity, gender & age – is refreshing and rarely seen on TV other than in cooking shows.

The experts are a more interesting proposition. Neil Perry has a serious pedigree in food, though not so much in TV. Using the best know ponytail in Australia as an expert & not relying on him to maintain the program’s pace is a very smart move. Front of House specialist Erez Gordon is direct and clearly skilled, and his critiques come with practical solutions to the contestant’s issues. The other two experts (The Australian’s national food critic John Lethlean & restaurant brand manager/social media expert Jess Ho) are, well… part of the problem.

I do appreciate the irony of this situation: Commentators like me, and the wider TV media, race daily to publish the overnight OzTAM ratings (the “overnights”). Viewers can easily review these figures to feel validated by last night’s TV consumption choices (“Everyone’s watching what I’m watching, so I must be doing OK”) or to join in the inevitable group bloodlust that comes from calling for the cancellation of the latest flop (hint: very few reality shows see a demise like The Resort & usually play out to their natural end despite poor ratings). The overnights are only part of the picture these days and cannot be solely used to determine the outcome of any program, and anyone resting on the overnights to make such a decision is missing the longer game of Australian TV.

So what can Seven do to right the audience perception that Restaurant Revolution is a dead duck?

I’d start with these three recommendations:

1) Stop trying to manufacture tension/conflict. It’s a reality staple and when done well you hardly know you’re being manipulated. When delivered poorly though you can spot the ‘clip taken out of context played before the ad’ a mile away – and it’s usually only saved for the desperate producer/editor trying vainly to bring some light and shade to what otherwise is a love-fest. Take Wednesday’s show when it was promoed that Victorian Maz agreed with the expert’s summation of partner Nathan’s culinary skills that he “wasn’t even a C or D-grade chef”. It looked very Lisa-Simpson-metaphorically-ripping-Ralph’s-heart-out-at-Krusty’s-show, when in fact she went on to dig up with her explanation that he’s not a three-hatted chef and they didn’t call him Z-grade. You gotta take the momentss when you get them, but sometimes in doing so you reveal to viewers just how little conflict there is (or how hard you’re working to manufacture it).

The Experts: Neil Perry, Jess Ho, Erez Gordon, John Lethlean.

The Experts: Neil Perry, Jess Ho, Erez Gordon, John Lethlean.

2) Give Jess Ho a personality overhaul. I’m sure in real life Jess Ho is a delightful, engaging person. On RR she is portrayed as emotionless and cold; someone who would sooner see a puppy delivered as a carpaccio with a drizzled balsamic vinaigrette & micro-herbs than a bouncing, enthusiastic bundle of joy to cuddle and love. Four eps deep and Ms Ho has smiled twice. TWICE. It’s too late to replace her, so how about letting/encouraging her be nice sometimes. While we’re at it why is there only one woman in the team of experts? Don’t we have female restaurant critics?

3) Make the episodes bite-sized rather than buffet. Four plus hours a week (most eps were scheduled for at least 70 mintues) is a massive commitment from audiences for any new program. The Block didn’t start out as a multi-night/stripped format – it became that as Nine called on the production team for more and they summarily delivered. Starting a new format 4 nights a week is a very confident expectation of an audience and one that, like any gamble, can pay off big or end quite cruelly. Two fixed hours, two nights a week is an easier commitment for viewers & reduces the inevitable claims of fatigue from an audience being force fed reality TV. It also limits your exposure if it doesn’t go well and you have to move it to the “all-new time” of nobody’s-watching-o’clock.

A long time ago, Seven, we used to be friends. We still can be too, though it’s gonna take some work from you if you wanna get Restaurant Revolution back into the wider (and ever-shrinking) viewing audience’s good graces.

Restaurant Revolution – Mon 7:30pm (two hours)/Thu 8pm (two hours)**, Seven.

*All figures quoted are 5 City Metro/Overnights only.
** Broadcast schedule correct at time of publication.