“We have a saying that the great thing about working on the show is everyone is so close. But the worst thing about working on the show is everyone is so close,” says Russell Palmer, Executive Producer of Better Homes & Gardens.
This year the Seven lifestyle show will celebrate 30 years on air having recently farewelled presenter Fast Ed and welcoming Colin Fassnidge.
Yesterday Karen Martini also announced she is leaving the show to focus on projects including her two new restaurants. She will continue to be seen in coming months.
Over its three decades on air, Better Homes, as it is fondly known, has handed on the baton many times, but continues to draw big audiences.
“If we do make any changes, they’re incremental,” says Palmer. “They don’t feel like a seismic shift to something else, that we’re not chasing another rainbow off on the horizon and losing behind what they’ve come to know and love about the show.”
Long hosted by Johanna Griggs, the show was initially hosted by Noni Hazelhurst and John Jarratt in 1995. It screened on Saturdays for a few years, before landing on Friday nights, expanding to 90 mins in 2011. By 2013 it moved from 7:30pm to 7.00pm.
Veteran horticulturalist Graham Ross is the sole original cast member, while DIY Researcher Johnny Rae is the only original member of the production team.
Palmer, who joined in 2013, says the biggest evolution took place in when Pacific Magazines was sold to Seven in 2003.
“At that time they pretty much wanted to change everything about the show. There was a big staff change, big presenter change, it was massive. There was also a big shift in the tone of the show. In those early years it was almost shot like a drama, where the shoots were heavily scripted, and no-one strayed off the script,” he explains.
“Today we tend to focus more on how a story ‘feels’”
“Today we tend to focus more on how a story ‘feels’ than the mechanics of the story. We’ve tried to introduce a lot more, commercial music to our stories, because we recognise that there’s a great age range watching the show. We also have an enormous age range, presenting the show.
“We’ve done that with the style of cuts or the speed of cut that we do, if we slow them down or the style of music we use, pairing different presenters together to do different types of stories presented that you wouldn’t normally think of being together just to add a different guest chemistry with present as much as possible.
“Every minute of vision we shoot has to stretch a lot further because it’s going out to the many different broadcast and digital tentacles that Seven’s associated with… magazines, 7plus websites, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok.”
Returning cast in 2024 are host Johanna Griggs, Adam Dovile (DIY), Charlie Albone (landscaping), Dr Harry Cooper (vet), Graham Ross (gardening), Juliet Love (decorating and design), Karen Martini (chef), Melissa King (gardening) and Pete Colquhoun (architect).
“Simple, affordable, family cooking”
Adding Colin Fassnidge was a no-brainer says Palmer.
“Colin, already being part of the Seven family, seemed like the perfect fit, because he knew so many of our cast already. The thing that he has promoted so well on the show in his time is simple, affordable, family cooking. He does that so well…. that’s really Collin’s brand. So we felt that because he’s doing MKR Australia, MKR New Zealand, he’s kind of had it in the back of his mind that Better Homes and Gardens would be great for him. And after a number of conversations we really felt that it was just the perfect scenario for us too,” he continues.
“Content that appeals to everyone in the family”
“The show has become a family show that we believe gives people content that has anything to do with their lifestyle. It’s not just cooking and gardening, we look at anything that people find interesting that relates to them on a daily / weekly basis. We try and give them content that appeals to everyone in the family, because we realise that it’s families sitting down and watching it. We want to make sure when the kids get to a certain age, they don’t discover Friday nights and forget Better Homes.
“In the last four or five years, we’ve tried Technology and Motoring. We’ve done a bit of Health and Fitness with Sam Wood when he was on board. It’s really just anytime we think of something that can give the show a broader appeal, both in terms of the content, and adding a few genres along the way. ”
2024 also marks 20 years on Better Homes for Johanna Griggs.
“Stories that hit at the heart of people”
“Joh’s stories in recent years, have broadened in the types of stories with a lot more small business stories, human interest stories. We’re still doing those amazing homes. But really, we think of stories that hit at the heart of people that are watching,” says Palmer.
“We don’t focus as much on the process because we have a magazine that complements us. People can get a heavy process from that. If you’re watching on a Friday night, and you’re not about to build a pagola on Saturday or Sunday evening, you don’t need someone to take you through the nuts and bolts of building a pagola.”
If there is any celebratory episode for the show further down the track, does Palmer envisage any returning faces such as former presenters?
“I would like to…. I think it’d be a great sign of respect if some of them would be willing or happy to be part of a special show.”
Better Homes & Gardens returns 7pm Friday February 2 on Seven / 7TWO.