Packed To The Rafters: articles

Jumping ship one-by-one ... The original cast of Packed to the Rafters.

Channel Seven rocked by vanishing Rafters

THERE are those who will tell you Packed to the Rafters is staring down the barrel — no surprise following the revelation Hugh Sheridan and James Stewart are leaving the series.

Rafters has dominated the television landscape for the past three-and-a-half years, but its ratings have recently taken a hit.

A year ago Rafters was averaging about 1.9 million viewers. Last Tuesday it averaged 1.178 million. Rafters will probably pick up another 200,000 catch-up viewers.

Jessica Marais (Rachel Rafter), Jessica McNamee (Sammy Rafter), and Zoe Ventoura (Melissa Rafter) are gone. Sheridan and Stewart are going.

"Rafters will probably last one or two more seasons," media analyst Steve Allen says.

Sheridan says he decided to leave Rafters because he felt he had gone stale.

The four-time Logie winner says he is looking for new challenges after playing Ben Rafter for nearly four years.

Rival Channel 10 pounced and poached the star to host new talent show I Will Survive.

"I wasn't jaded, but I was feeling that I had stopped doing my best work," Sheridan told Switched On from New York.

"That was the last thing I wanted anyone to have to pay (me) for — me to do something average.

"I guess that is a sign. I knew then that it was time to spread my wings."

Sheridan says that Ben won't be killed off like wife Melissa, who died in a car accident.

Instead, Ben will fade out of the series like Rachel Rafter when Jessica Marais left the show.

"You look at the way Rachel left — they (Rafters producers) don't actually make it final," Sheridan says.

Channel 10 is reportedly allowing Sheridan to film two episodes of the sixth series of Rafters but that's it.

That will allow Ben to be seen on the show through to early 2013.

Rafters' ratings have been hit by The Voice in recent weeks. Sheridan's departure is a knock the show didn't need.

"The timing (for Rafters) isn't great," Sheridan says.

Sheridan has signed an exclusive multi-year contract with Channel 10 and is already in discussions about a new TV drama.

"This is a step in the right direction for me," Sheridan says. "It is a new life."

Stewart is putting his career on hold to be with fiancee Marais, who last week gave birth to their daughter, Scout.

There is every chance that Dave and Julie Rafter (Erik Thomson and Rebecca Gibney) will be the only Rafters left in 2013.

"One of the great things about the show was its wholesomeness and engagement with the whole extended family," Allen says. "Quite a few of the actors who initially attracted us have gone."

Channel 7 insists Rafters will survive Sheridan's exit. In recent weeks it has introduced Brooke Satchwell as electrician Frankie Calasso to boost the cast.

A Channel 7 spokesperson says new cast will be announced in coming weeks.

"Pre-production on series six is well underway," the spokesperson says.

Allen says Seven has to accept some of the blame for the Rafters ratings drop.

Last year, Seven cut Rafters short twice. The first time, in March, was to make way for Winners and Losers. The second, in October, happened because Seven had already won the 2011 ratings year.

Only 15 of the proposed 22 episodes were screened. That made fans angry.

"Seven made a strategic mistake about holding over seven episodes from last year," Allen says.

"It (Rafters) lacked the cliff hanger to hold viewers over and re-engage them when Rafters came back this year. The initial episodes were stale as a consequence."

By Colin Vickers
May 17, 2012