The Australian public is tired of reality TV. Big Brother had
a modest 2004 debut on the Ten Network on Sunday night, complete with a
spray-tanned Gretel Kllleen as Host and 14 very average Aussies looking
to snare the million buck first prize.

No mega ratings coups, audience
numbers averaged 1.72 million. Okay, in fact better than The Block’s
2004 start three Sundays ago, but it wasn’t inspiring. And in the other
judgement from viewers on reality TV, viewers preferred the Land of the
Long White Sheep to the Nine’s mega slick The Block, a real turn up.

Big
Brother peaked at just over 2.1 million, less than its opening night
last year 2.22 million average viewers. The drop from the peak was
around 400,000 viewers, down more than 20 per cent down on last year
which will give Ten programmers food for thought as they search for the
next superlative.

Despite the spin in the various ratings
announcements, it was a slow start, despite the much hyped ‘secret’. I
know this is a silly elitist question, but what’s happened to the
well-educated Aussie extrovert? The people with university education
(Ok, I know they are not watching Ten, but there’s millions of them,
right?). The ones you seeing playing netball, rugby or in a demo.
Big Brother was notable for the overwhelming ‘ordinariness’ of the
contestants.

I know that Ten goes for ‘types’ in the auditions
(so where was the Asian extrovert which we all know?) but do they have
to be so bloody ‘westie’. Now that will get Crikey into trouble .
But the dipthong, heard in 14 different ways on commercial TV is enough
to make The Block look attractive.

Now that program had a modest
rise of 72,000 viewers nationally, still down on a year ago, but it
will be welcomed at Nine, which was busily extolling the virtues of its
bounce back. That came because of a sharp lift in Sydney viewers, up
almost 117,000 people.

That means The Block continues to
underwhelm the rest of Australia even though it has tried to broaden
its appeal with couples from Melbourne and the Gold Coast.

But
The Block was beaten by the Kiwis. The Seven program, The World Around
US entitled The Secrets of New Zealand finished ahead of The Block in
both Sydney and nationally. Ahh, the ignominy of it all. A slick Sydney
renovation reality show knocked off by the Land of the Long White
Shroud. A Kiwi couple anyone?

Now what does that say about the
attractivness of the 2004 version of last year’s ratings winner? The
first two week’s performance of The Block disappointed Nine deputy CEO,
David Gyngell, after being done by a nature cheapy based on New Zealand
of all places, what will his reaction be this week?

Next week
it’s The Block’s chance to go Big Brother with an ‘expulsion’ of its
own: Convicted drug offender Dani and his wife Monique leave next week
after being outed by Sydney’s Daily Tele. On its performance so far
this year The Block will need all the help it can generate. And with it
and Big Brother finishing on the same weekend in 11 weekends’ time, it
will be a fight to the finish and ugly in the spindoctoring stakes.

Elswhere
in the ratings, another strong performance by Nine saw it will easily,
with its Sydney share lifting. The network is number one thanks to its
strong stock of US police dramas and good Sunday night news and McLeods
Daughters.

The Ten experiment in ditching the Sunday night movie
and going with first run drama (Law and Order-Criminal Intent) just
failed to pip the Nine movie nationally by 5,000 viewers (1.270 million
against 1.265 million) so that will have been judged a success and will
probably force another network (probably Seven) to start experimenting.

And
while Nine and Ten were battling it out on Sunday night, leaving Seven
third, the week before saw one problem confirmed again for Nine. It’s
slipping performance between six and seven pm.

In news Nine’s
still in front, Seven’s catching up, but will have to do more work on
Sunday night in particular. Seven claims its Sydney audience is gaining
on Nine’s, thanks to former Nine newsreader, Ian Ross.

But its
at 6.30 pm in the Today Tonight versus A Current Affair battle where
the cracks are starting to appear for Nine. Last week (to May 1) ACA
was the 27th most- watched program nationally with 1.39 million
viewers. Today Tonight was number 23, with 1.43 million. Some of that
was due to the Craig Stevens’ interview, but Seven also won other
nights. This means more pressure on Nine and Ray Martin.

And
finally, what about Today versus Sunrise? Today had 252,500
viewers and Sunrise 248,000. Seven claims they’re up 37 per cent
and Today’s down 11 per cent. Interesting times.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW