As a long time Blockhead, I was one of the first to decry Seven’s attempt at the reality renovation genre that Nine had crafted to almost be its own. “Poor imitation” and “unlikeable contestants” were two phrases I used to describe House Rules and now six weeks on I’m man enough to admit I was wrong.

While I still very much enjoy the format The Block Sky High delivers I find my viewing time torn between it and Seven’s new stripped format reality reno show – though for different reasons than most. In fact it’s been the familiarity of The Block that has caused some to park it in favour of the new kid:

Criticism like this from fans is not unwarranted. The Block formula is now well entrenched:
Sun – Last minute panic, arguments, room reveal.
Mon – Each team start on the new room, pass judgement on last week’s rooms, arguments.
Tue – Renovation panic starts, arguments.
Wed – A multi-hour to multi-day challenge takes the contestants aware from the renovating (HOW WILL THEY FINISH THIS WEEK’S ROOMS?!), arguments continue.
Thu – At least two teams panic at not finishing room, arguments, the judges reflect on last week’s rooms.

When compared with the House Rules formula it can look somewhat tedious:
Mon – Complete house, reveal to judges & house owners.
Tue – Renovate the house, arguments.
Wed – Renovate the house, arguments.
Thu – Renovate the house, WILL EVERYTHING GET COMPLETED?!, arguments.

House Rules 2013 - Cast

Format aside, the casting has always been key; something the producers of The Block learned early (The twin sisters have proven most competent but also the most bitchy) and the House Rules team got spot on with My Kitchen Rules earlier this year and have replicated into this new venture (Jane is reality TV gold; Carly, Leighton & Michelle are simply horrible; Nick & Chris are straight out bullies). That’s why we watch – we connect with the contestants. Like some form of medieval team selection we align with a group and barrack for them (it’s why they have a back story & a TV “journey”).

It’s all drama, drama, drama too. The “will they finish?!” device has become as tired and predictable as a question on Q&A about Kevin Rudd challenging as Federal Labor leader. While it may be the truth, everyone’s sick of hearing about it. While the producers can only do what they can with the footage they capture the arguments are getting old too (though who wants to watch a series where 5 couples get along swimmingly and renovate houses in a competitive yet supportive environment?).

Integral to the success of the shows are the hosts. The love you feel for them sets you clearly into one of three camps: Team Cam, Team Griggs or Team I-Don’t-Give-A-Shit. Scott Cam is interwoven now seamlessly into the Block’s experience appearing most nights and provides the narrative to keep viewers anchored in the show’s reality. Jo Griggs gets to be a little more hands off, only appearing in the final hour of renovation and then hosting the House Rules reveal show.

People haven’t abandoned The Block – it’s still rating extremely well and acts as a vital link for Nine between it’s very strong 6pm News/Current Affairs pairing and the rest of the evening. The 7pm start does do it a disservice though with a repeat of Big Bang Theory at 8pm more often than not cruelling its winning ways through to 8:30pm, allowing the opposition to step in and take a sizeable chunk of the ratings glory.

On the whole The Block is winning the head-to-head though Thursday nights have become a House Rules favourite to win with the lesser rating The Block Sky High Unlocked watched by on the most hardcore of fans. The consolidated ratings figures including the recorded/catch-up viewing figures are falling in the favour of the Nine show – for now.

The Block Sky High - Cast

The reveal episodes are the biggest business – The Block’s reveal on Sundays at 6:30pm is a lock into their Sunday schedule and a great spoil for Seven’s Sunday Night.

While it didn’t win a night against The Voice the House Rules reveal on Mondays at 7:30pm took sizeable chunks away from the Nine marquee program – sometimes up to 1.4 million viewers would be watching to see who delivered the best room (instead of adding to the already sizeable 1.6-1.8m tuning in to see who delivered the best song of the night).

House Rules enters “finals week” this week though all the sizzle says don’t expect it to be the end of the show just yet. The Block Sky High still has a month to run to the all important auctions. There’s still plenty of time for you to choose sides. Me? I’m hooked on both (just call me a fan of the genre).

House Rules – Mon-Thu 7:30pm, Ch7.
The Block Sky High – Sun 6:30pm, Mon-Fri 7pm, Ch9.