But 25 years and more than a dozen Logies later, Better Homes and Gardens is a beloved fixture in the television schedule.
“I think the longevity of the show has a lot to do with its family values and its usefulness in people’s lives,” says executive producer Darren Palmer. “I think people sit down on a Friday night as part of their family ritual.”
It’s also survived thanks to its ability to regularly refresh itself, which is exactly what it’s doing now. Looking ahead to the series’ silver anniversary, Palmer sat down with his team to ask not how to reinvent the wheel, but how to give it a bit of a retread. Improve its grip, as it were.
Expanding the brief to encompass health and fitness, technology and motoring was part of the way forward, as was adding some fresh faces: Sam Wood, James Tobin and Melissa King (and, according to rumour, Selling Houses Australia’s Charlie Albone – although that’s yet to be confirmed).
“We want people to feel the show’s covering more of their lifestyle than just pergolas and painting walls,” Palmer says. “To broaden the audience so we reach the people who’ve maybe dropped off watching the show, or people who haven’t thought of watching the show but are interested in the things we introduce in 2020.”
Such changes have to be made carefully, of course. One of the things people love about BH&Gi s its familiarity. It has all the comfort of the favourite slippers you’re probably wearing as you watch it. “Whatever we introduce, it has to be introduced very slowly,” Palmer admits. “So people watching feel like there’s something different about the show, but it’s not a different show.”
And, as with all TV, casting is crucial. For Better Homes & Gardens, that means choosing people who are quickly going to feel like members of the family – its family, and ours.
“We want people to recognise that our presenters are nice people, warm people,” Palmer says. “That person you feel like if you met them they’d be your friend.”
Health and fitness guy Sam Wood, having well and truly left his Bachelor days behind him, is now a happily married father of three. James Tobin (motoring and tech) cut his teeth on kids’ TV and has grown up alongside the BH&G audience. Melissa King, who joins the gardening team, used to work with Graham Ross’ daughter, has done a stint on Gardening Australia, is a young mum herself. People who represent BH&G values – family values – are as important as the technical credentials.
And Palmer thinks if they keep tweaking from time to time while staying true to the show’s core, there’s no natural finish line. “As long as we’re adapting to people’s lifestyles I think a show like this will always be relevant,” he says. “Because it’s just a vehicle for helping people with whatever’s going on in their lives.”