Tonight, it’s on.


For the third year in a row all three commercial networks have launched early with a flagship reality show – two weeks before the ratings year starts proper. Like a three-way shootout from the old west they face off tonight. Considering they’ve dished up mostly dross and sport during the rest of the summer non-ratings period, why start now? Why not wait until ratings start?

A couple of years ago Nine boldly stepped in and intended to trump its commercial rivals by delivering the “brand new hit series” Excess Baggage a week before ratings started as a means of getting the viewing public involved and connected with the show so they’d stick with it when the OzTAM meters started recording real figures. Ten saw them and raised them by delivering The Biggest Loser into the last week of the Australian Open tennis to ensure that there was room for only one reality weight loss show and it was going to be theirs – a rare victory for the network.

Since then Ten have always delivered Loser in the last week of the Tennis – in part thumbing its nose at the ratings system but mostly desperately hoping viewers will get completely sucked in and stay with their ageing reality weight loss product (in 2014 it’s delivering season 9 of the series) once the broadcast starts counting.

Suckers. They had no idea what was ahead of them.

Suckers. They had no idea what was ahead of them.

Seven and Nine have kept a cooler head about these things. They’ve been sucked into the “going early” process too but have always been able to trumpet their shows independently, with The Block running traditionally at 7 “O’Block” and My Kitchen Rules starting 30 minutes later allowing for reality tragics to stagger their viewing accordingly.

The last couple of years has seen MKR absolutely do away with anything thrown at it. Year on year the show has increased its viewership and become the ratings juggernaut Seven hoped it would be when they adapted the far less successful My Restaurant Rules format to made a home cooking show that spends most of its time making the contestants cook anywhere else BUT their home. The show also propped up the rest of their pre-Easter schedule allowing lesser programming/unknown shows from the US to get a great lead-in from the highest rating program of the night and give them the chance to continue the success.

In 2014 the battle takes a slight turn and sets MKR fans squarely against the Blockheads (and the fattest town in Australia which looks set to come a distant third).

With Nine extending their News to an hour and sliding A Current Affair to 7pm it means The Block will stand directly against MKR for the first time for almost the entire run of the series. Sunday nights will be the only night where the shows separate due to Seven and Nine’s pre-existing commitment to their respective longer form current affairs programs.

These *ARE* their happy faces.

These *ARE* their happy faces.

Playing against Nine is their decision to deliver the first of two series of The Block this year in the Survivor-esque “Fans v Favourites” mode. While the return of favourites Dale and Brad along with last season’s winners Alyssa and Lysandra will draw in many viewers the market is always drawn by the lure of new personalities to love/hate – and two series of the show, as in 2013, will likely dilute ratings as reality fatigue for viewers takes hold.

The promos have run thick and fast during all three network’s sportsball programs over summer. We’ve seen extended sneak peeks to introduce the contestants, hints at “big new twists” and promises of many “for the first time evers”, and under-enthusiastic live reads by commentators who couldn’t give a toss about these flash-in-the-pan TV stars they’ll have to pose with at the next Network PR event. The market is far more aware of the tactics involved in pushing and promoting these shows and know the formats inside out.

So why do we in droves flock to the launch of a five season/eight season/nine season old program?

We’re suckers for the relationship drama that each show delivers us. The cooking, renovating and weight loss may be chassis of these vehicles but it’s the people drama that’s the engine – right to the final episodes of each of them. The backstabbing, the alliances formed, the pursed lips and razor sharp glances all built on a well-known frame of Machiavellian proportions.

If we don't tell them maybe the yellow-shirted throng behind them will surprise crush them...

If we don’t tell them maybe the yellow-shirted throng behind them will surprise crush them…

The producers and editors work overtime to take all that footage and craft each contestant into the character they want them to be (why else do they film so far ahead for the show so as to ensure the contestants don’t get a whiff of their televised persona and try to alter they behaviour – nobody wants to see a redemption story unless some other contestant has suddenly turned nasty to take their place). Due to the sheer volume of footage they can piece it all together across 4, 5, 6 nights a week too.

As a nation we’re hooked. We’re predictable. The TV networks have learned through their own trial and error that it’s a bold scripted drama that can take on a reality program and beat it. Thus tonight Seven, Nine and Ten will deliver us their flagship first-half-of-the-year programs head to head and we’ll tune in.


Mainly because the cricket or tennis aren’t on anymore.