Publication Details

Buchanan, I. 2004, 'Renovating reality TV', Australian Humanities Review, no. 31-32, pp. 1-11.


The Block was Australia's hit TV show of 2003. Its viewing audience regularly topped the 2 million mark, easily surpassing all the other 'lifestyle' shows - DIY Rescue, Burke's Backyard, Backyard Blitz, Changing Rooms, Better Homes and Gardens , Location Location, Auction Squad, Hot Auctions , the list is practically endless. Australian made TV drama has meanwhile delivered its worst ratings performance in years, virtually guaranteeing The Block will not only be repeated but cloned as well. David Castran, the managing director of Audience Development Australia, explains it this way: "recent world turmoil has brought people closer to home to focus on what they control" such as the colour of the dining room wall and the type of turf you sow in your backyard. Meanwhile social researcher Hugh Mackay attributes the turn toward lifestyle TV to a cultural shift in attitudes. On his view, Australians are becoming "more self-obsessed and less compassionate".1 Why we are so willing and seemingly find so much satisfaction in making these kinds of pronouncements about the deteriorating quality of the national character is a question we will have to come back to because it touches on what I see as one of the central themes of Reality TV, namely civil society. But before we get to that, I think we need to start with the obvious: no viewer of The Block can have failed to notice, nationally, we are in the middle of an unprecedented property boom - no state or territory, not even the traditional laggers NT and Tasmania, has been left unaffected