The longest dating experiment on Australian primetime free-to-air TV is making a return at the end of this month. Nine’s Married At First Sight Australia will enter its fifth season when it premieres on January 29. However, both the channel and the executive producer of the show from Endemol Shine Australia, Tara McWilliams, like to think of it as the second season of the revitalised format.
Supersizing the fourth season of the show to run for 29 episodes in 2017 was “a huge challenge”, McWilliams told Mediaweek at a recent media screening of the first two episodes from the 2018 season. “There was huge amount of pressure to get it right. You only get one chance at it.”
In 2016, season 3 had only eight episodes. Giving the show 21 more episodes to run last year was a gamble. However, it proved to be a successful one for all parties involved, creating conversations on social media and consistently delivering good numbers in the overnight ratings for Nine.
Season 4 of Married At First Sight was the first time McWilliams had served on the franchise as its EP. The show’s success last year has made her more confident about season 5. “We know it works now,” she said. “Last year, it reached way more people than we’d expected.”
The first two episodes from the new season received a positive reaction from the members of the media who attended the screening event at Nine’s Willoughby office in mid-January. This gave McWilliams further assurance that the audience will warm to the participants and the stories just as they did last year. When Mediaweek spoke to her at the end of the screening, she was at ease. While she is confident about the new season, she also confessed there is a lot pressure. “It has to work. We are not contemplating the alternative. There is pressure to remain successful and for it to keep wowing the audience.
“Everyone here oohed and aahed at the exact times that I wanted the audience to. The show is also funny. I loved that people were laughing with the characters and not at them.”
The 2017 season of Married At First Sight Australia featured many memorable characters like Cheryl Maitland, Andrew Jones and Anthony Manton, who drove conversations around the franchise among viewers and media. The upcoming season “has much bigger characters and personalities”, McWilliams said. “However, it is important to point out this doesn’t mean they are less sincere or genuine about the process. In fact, I found out contributors were more invested in the experiment this series. This is perhaps because they knew what they were getting into.”
Reality dating show fans are in for a treat this year with a plethora of such shows coming to TV. Married At First Sight is the first one off the bench. Then there are also Nine’s Love Island, Seven’s First Dates and Ten’s Bachelor in Paradise, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.
“There is always a concern too much of one genre will make the audience tired of it and they will start to drop off,” McWilliams said. “But Married is very different from the other ones.
“There is a similarity between Bachelor in Paradise and Love Island, but Married is certainly the most organic of all the shows. The way we make it is more like an observational documentary. These people are here for love.
“It’s not like 20 women are vying for the attention of one man. I am not saying anything against The Bachelor. I love the show. I used to make it.” [Laughs] McWilliams worked on the second season of that much talked-about series, which featured Blake Garvey in the key role.
Asked if she has ever been likened to the character of Quinn King from the US drama series UnREAL, McWilliams laughed and said: “If I had a dollar for every time people asked if I was like the executive producer of Everlasting shown in UnREAL, I would be a very rich woman. UnREAL is a great show, but that is exaggerated.”
Married At First Sight will air four nights a week over eight weeks, starting on 29 January 2018.
Top photo: Married 2018 participant Alycia