The Nine Network’s hopes of regaining ground in the 2008 ratings battle have been dealt a blow by the failure of its first significant new production of the year.

The highly promoted The Chopping Block, pitched to audiences as “From the producers of The Block“, bombed last night. Just 718,000 people watched the program at 7.30pm as it was beaten into fourth place by The 7.30 Report and the return of The New Inventors on the ABC, as well as Ten’s So You Think You Can Dance and Seven’s doco, The Shape Of Things To Come.

Nine’s primetime share plunged to 19.6%, just above the 19.5% it got the night before, which was understandable given the cricket was rained out. Last night’s share was appalling, particularly given the amount of promotion for The Chopping Block. It will be the first casualty of 2008 ratings and the real game hasn’t even started.

The program has been heavily promoted for the past month, along with the Melbourne gangland drama series, Underbelly. Nine’s plan was to have a solid program in place at 7.30pm as a lead in to Underbelly. If they risk another ep of The Chopping Block next week at 7.30pm, it could cut the expected 1.8 million audience for Underbelly‘s debut.

It is a significant setback for David Gyngell’s plans to revitalise the network’s flagging performance. And Nine majority owners, CVC, will be bemused: they’ve just seen a million dollars or more float away, no spreadsheet or analyst’s report can work that one out.

It is especially galling for Gyngell. The Chopping Block is from Granada, Gyngell ran Granada in North America before returning to Nine. And the producers, Julian Cress and David Barbour, are Gyngell favourites who he brought into the production. Granada pitched the idea to Seven when Gyngell was there. They passed… wise move.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey