Tuesday, 13 March 2007

"The night Australian TV lost its virginity.........."

It was thirty five years ago tonight, 13 March, that Australian TV 'lost its virginity' with the tell-all tales of life in a suburban block of flats in Sydney - Number 96.

The critics hated it, the censors constantly monitored it, and the viewers couldn't get enough of it - as Number 96 became compulsive viewing five nights a week. The novelty of Australia's first major prime-time soap, bundled with racy storylines, melodramatic cliff-hangers, comic relief, and generous amounts of flesh, helped the financially challenged 0-10 Network to its first ratings win.

The characters from Number 96 became cult heroes and also added quite a number of phrases into the language (most of which came from the prattling Dorrie Evans). Also, at a time when Australia was still in the grips of the White Australia policy, Number 96 embraced multiculturalism with various nationalities and cultures represented - perhaps not always in the most appropriate light - but was groundbreaking nevertheless.

The popularity of the series was reflected in the swag of awards it won during its five year run - including several TV Week Logie Awards for Best Drama, and also a Gold Logie for Pat McDonald in 1974 - and a movie spin-off that gave fans the chance to see their favourite apartment block in colour when TV was still in black and white.

Number 96 finally came to a halt in 1977, after a record breaking 1218 episodes but the series had proven that soap opera drama could be a viable prime time format. Though while it was a hit in Australia, America's NBC network was not so lucky when it adapted the series for US audiences in 1980, though it could be said that the Americans embraced the concept a generation later in the guise of Melrose Place.

TelevisionAU: Number 96

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