News, doc knock ‘Block,’ ‘Bro’

Oz duo down new forrmats, skeins eyed

SYDNEY — “Big Brother” and “The Block,” both ratings thoroughbreds in Australia last year, have been a bit slower out of the starting gate this year amid signs the reality craze is fading.

The fourth-season preem of the Ten Network’s “Brother” at 7:30 p.m. on May 2 was beaten by Nine’s “60 Minutes.” And just as Nine was hoping for “The Block” to gain momentum, the third episode, which aired at 6:30, was knocked off by — ready? — a New Zealand natural history docu on Seven.

Nonetheless, David Mott, Ten’s general manager of network programming, was delighted with “Brother’s” entry, which dominated in the web’s core 16-to-39 demos and 25-to-54. He acknowledged “60 Minutes” that night featured a strong story (the heart-rending tale of two girls injured when a car crashed into their day-care center) which attracted older viewers.

Some 1.7 million people watched “Brother’s” first episode, down from the 2.2 million who were glued to the third series’ preem last year.

Mott concedes it’s hard to maintain audiences at the same level for successive series, but he’s confident the Southern Star Endemol production (for which Ten is reportedly shelling out $19.5 million) will build over its 12 weeks, especially as the prize money has been quadrupled to $750,000. He was heartened to see the May 3 seg drew 1.4 million viewers at 7 p.m. vs. 1.7 million for a first-run episode of “Friends” on Nine.

Nine didn’t expect “The Block” (which has four couples renovating identical, near-derelict apartments) to be beaten by the docu “Secrets of New Zealand” from Fox’s Natural History New Zealand unit.

“Docus are rating higher on Australian TV than they have for several years; it could be a reaction to all the reality shows we’ve seen,” says Tim Worner, Seven’s director of programming and production.

The first two segs of “The Block” won their timeslots, but Nine’s director of programming, Michael Healy, believes the skein was “damaged by some substandard shows in that genre,” which screened earlier this year.

He was alluding to Seven’s “My Restaurant Rules” and Ten’s “The Hot House.”

“I’m still very optimistic that ‘The Block’ will build,” adds Healy, whose web has made tidy sums licensing the format — which was created inhouse — to the U.S., the U.K. and other international broadcasters.

And Nine was pleased with the May 4 debut of “The Apprentice,” which won its 9:30 p.m. slot, grabbing 1.1 million viewers. “It’s a cracking show, real water-cooler material,” says Healy, who plans a local version of the show as soon as he can find a suitable counterpart to Donald Trump.