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'The Block' becomes smash hit Down Under; Fox to remake as 'The Complex' in U.S.


By Wade Paulsen, 11/10/2003 

Reuters reports that the sensational ratings received by an Australian condominium fix-up show, The Block, has led to the format being purchased in both the U.S. (by Fox) and the U.K. (by ITV).

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The Block, which aired on the Nine Network, is a cross between fix-up shows like Trading Spaces and more traditional reality-competition shows. In the Australian version, four couples were given identical units in the same run-down apartment building in Sydney's famous Bondi Beach. The producers purchased the units for resale as condominiums. Each couple had 12 weeks and just A$40,000 (slightly under $30,000 U.S.) to complete their units, which started with no kitchen, bathroom or back wall ... and perhaps some additional problems (one unit, for example, had a nest of termites).

At the end of the 12 weeks, the four units were auctioned, and the couple that renovated the unit that sold for the most money won a grand prize of A$250,000 (around $175,000 U.S.). The highest-priced unit, renovated by Fiona and Adam (nicknamed "Ken and Barbie" by the other couples), sold for A$751,000 (over $525,000) -- well above the A$595,000 reserve price set by the network.

The finale of The Block drew the highest rating on Australian TV in 15 years. It was successful from a financial standpoint, too, as the producers paid A$1.95 million for the apartments and another A$400,000 to redo the wiring and building foundation ... but got to keep A$2.38 million of the A$2.83 million recouped when the units were sold. Commercial space on the show was at such a premium that product placements ran rampant, as everything from frozen dinners to cars were handed out to the participants. The show attracted so much publicity that even Australia's treasurer lamented that it was contributing to Australia's "overheated property markets." No wonder Fox bought the U.S. rights.

The mix of couples would seem familiar to any viewer of CBS's The Amazing Race -- including a gay couple, Gavin and Warren, who were also filmed going to Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. ... and who had to deal with being repeatedly flooded by their upstairs neighbor, a real-life plumber.

Even the seemingly-incompetent couple whose apartment fetched the lowest price, Phil and Amity, found success -- since Amity Dry, a singer/songwriter who twice had considered relocating to Nashville to pursue music, now has a gold album in Australia, "The Lighthouse." Those of you from outside Australia can hear the songs, including her hit single also titled "The Lighthouse," on her Website.

Whether the phenomenon that was The Block can be exported is debatable, but Fox is certainly going to try. The first thing, though, is a name change. Fox is tentatively calling the U.S. version The Complex. Four couples will be chosen to renovate condos in Southern California, but they'll only have 8 weeks to do it. The budget has not been determined ... and it looks like the prize money is a thing of the past as well. Instead, couples will be allowed to keep their profits on the condo sales. Great -- just as interest rates are starting to rise, pushing down real-estate prices in some of the key markets.

Here are the requirements for couples that might want to compete. Couples must be ages 22-35 and live together in real life (but marriage is not required). They must have been in a committed relationship for more than two years, and also must be able to take two months off from work. And, finally, they must have demonstrable skills in home renovation and decoration -- which leaves out any U.S. equivalents to Amity and Phil.

Casting will take place in the following locations: Long Island, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Dallas, Atlanta, Seattle, Minneapolis and Jackson (Mississippi). Specific locations, days and times have not been announced. Additional information pertaining to audition locations, forms, requirements and updates can be found by logging onto www.complexcasting.com or by calling 1-877-662-5625.

The Complex will be produced by FremantleMedia North America, with Ted Haimes as the executive producer.









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