Who knew? Veteran TV executive Peter Meakin is the man who helped The Block to see the light of day.
Back in 2003 Meakin was Head of News at Nine as well as Head of Reality.
Julian Cress was a 60 Minutes producer when Meakin introduced him to David Barbour from Changing Rooms.
“He said, ‘You guys keep pitching shows at me. Of all the people under me the two of you seem to be the most creative in terms of your own ideas of a show,'” Cress tells TV Tonight.
“We came up with it on a Thursday, pitched it on a Monday and it was commissioned on a Tuesday.
“We printed it on an A1 paper because it was too big to file! We figured that all of the pitches he got were on A4 and went into a filing cabinet –in those days everything was on paper. So we printed it on A1 and said ‘Where are you going to file this?’
“Peter Meakin loved the idea, and he took it directly upstairs to the new Deputy CEO of the Nine Network, David Gyngell. He was looking to make his mark on Nine.
“So Meakin said ‘Here’s your chance’ and Gyngell loved it because he was into real estate.
“Kerry thought he was crazy and said, ‘It will never work. Madness.’”
“Gyngell took it to Kerry and said, ‘This is my show I want to make it.’
“Kerry thought he was crazy and said, ‘It will never work. Madness.’ When the ratings came in he rang David Gyngell and said, ‘Son, I never saw that!’”
The show was an instant phenomenon, averaging 2.24m viewers, screening once a week. Hosted by Jamie Durie it also featured Reality TV’s first primetime gay couple, Gav & Waz. It aired for two seasons before being cleverly revived in 2010 with Scott Cam where, aside from twice-yearly seasons, it has enjoyed strong ratings.
The show has also been sold as a format to countries including Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Russia, UK, US, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Belgium and Israel.
The current season, its 13th, in Regent Street Elsternwick, continues to dominate its timeslot.
“TEN tried to copy the show …. nobody watched”
“It’s been pretty intense. It’s probably the most challenging series I’ve ever done because we started with nothing: a green fields site,” Cress continues.
“We would never start the show where the contestants turn up and there’s nothing there. There’s no way of engaging with an audience. TEN tried that when they tried to copy the show and came up with a genius idea of starting with a block of land, and nobody watched (Ed: The Hothouse anyone?).
“The Block is about saying to the audience ‘Here’s a challenge. Here’s something interesting to start with.’ We want the contestants to walk into something, look at it, see it, feel it.
“So the idea here was to start with some character: these old houses. The challenge for me was finding them.”
“We had to threaten someone with literally throwing them off the show”
Cress sourced 5 weatherboard homes, all from different owners and histories and relocated them Regent Street.
“We had to find 5 houses that fit in a row that had some character, and that we could get here in time.
“The lovely thing about this series is that we’re giving these houses a new lease of life and saving them from demolition.
“There were 3 series where we’ve done houses before, but nothing on this scale. It surprises me even that this is the first in 13 seasons where we have done family homes. We’ve never done family-sized houses,” he insists.
“The sheer size of the rooms has created more drama than we’ve ever seen before. The square meterage to do in 7 days is ridiculous.
“That has tested these contestants to breaking point. We’ve had couples literally not able to finish rooms. In one case we had to threaten someone with literally throwing them off the show.
“It’s that hard a challenge.”
The Block airs 7pm Sundays, 7:30pm Monday – Wednesday on Nine.