Monday, 31 January 2011

1991: February 2-8

tvweek_020291 Welcome to my nightmare!
A Country Practice marks its 800th episode with a horrifying leap into the future.  In the episodes to screen next week, Lucy Tyler (Georgie Parker, pictured) experiences a nightmare triggered by the arrival of a film crew in Wandin Valley for production of a post-holocaust movie.  In the dream, Wandin Valley has suffered a nuclear attack and Lucy finds the town and surrounds have been destroyed and her fellow Wandin Valley residents all haggard and suffering radioactive illness.  “It’s quite a philosophical episode, in that we had to try and not get too idealistic about the environment issues,” Parker told TV Week.  “We had to make it digestible, and I think that we managed to do that.”

tammymacintosh Tammy’s in love… and nervous!
”My first scene is sex.  I’ve never done anything like that before… I was petrified,” says Tammy MacIntosh (pictured), formerly of The Flying Doctors, describing her arrival into Nine’s adults-only drama Chances.  MacIntosh plays Mandy Foster, assistant and lover of advertising executive Alex Taylor (Jeremy Sims).  “I tell you it feels strange when you have your own love life and you’re there kissing someone else,” she says.  MacIntosh was offered a two-year contract for Chances, to play another role, but was reluctant to commit to another long-running series and opted for the short-term role of Mandy Foster instead.  “I’ve learnt I get all tied up when I do a long series. I get bored, then I go a bit mad,” she says.

nickybuckley Greg’s new date is not just a pretty face!
Meet Greg Evans’ new perfect match, Nicky Buckley (pictured).  The 25-year-old Melbourne model beat 140 other hopefuls to be the hostess of Blind Date, the revival of the show previously known as Perfect Match.  Buckley has worked in the UK and the United States and last year was a model on Sale Of The Century.  But she is more than just a pretty face.  She has studied economics and accounting at university, speaks French, is learning to play the piano and is keen to take up Italian and Italian history this year.  “She is a delightful girl, so amiable and friendly,” Evans told TV Week.  “I think we’re going to get along famously.”  Blind Date begins this week on Network Ten.

Briefly…
bertnewton_1989 Bert Newton (pictured) is set to re-enter Melbourne’s radio market with plans to “lease” ailing radio station 3AK from the station’s owner Peter Corso.  Newton, entering the new venture with business partner Tony Aloi, is set to present the morning shift on the station but has yet to announce who will occupy the other slots in the new-look station, which is currently broadcasting in Italian to few listeners.  It is Newton’s second chance at building a radio station, having previously been in charge of former station 3DB.

Former Young Talent Time and Neighbours cast member Mark Stevens takes on a new image in a guest role as a heavy-metal rocker in Nine’s new comedy series All Together Now.    “My character is a real punk with shoulder-length hair and a studded leather jacket,” he told TV Week

soniatoddgarysweet Despite studying classical ballet for sixteen years, Sonia Todd is out to prove that she is as good as the boys in the upcoming action series Police Rescue for ABC.  “All the writers and 10 of the directors for the series are men,” Todd (pictured, with co-star Gary Sweet) told TV Week.  “It was a constant battle to let them know I was capable of the action work.”

 

sbs_1985 John Laws says…
SBS television programmers must know something the rest of us don’t.  They must have top-secret information that scattered around Australia are tens of thousands of Russians or Russian-speaking people, all desperately anxious to catch up on the news each day from the dear old motherland.  Why else would our independent broadcaster spend money and time on screening the Russian news program Vremya each weekday at 2.00pm?  This cold whiff of brain-deadening television screens in Russian (without subtitles!) for some 40 minutes and you don’t have to speak the Moscow lingo to quickly realise that it’s little more than tedious communist propaganda.  So what’s the reasoning behind it?  If SBS was showing the nightly news program from Greece or Italy I could understand it.  But Russia!?  There is a further silly side to the whole fiasco.  SBS goes to air with Vremya at 2.00pm – then closes down again when the program finishes!  It returns to begin the “real” programs an hour and 20 minutes later.”

neridaleishman Program Highlights (February 2-8):
Saturday:  Tony Johnston
and newcomer Nerida Leishman (pictured) host the return of Nine’s early morning Cartoon Company.  Afternoon sport includes the Davis Cup tennis from Perth on Seven and the Fifth Test cricket from Perth on Nine.

Sunday:  The AFL pre-season Foster’s Cup kicks off with Fitzroy versus Carlton, live on SevenNine has Day Three of the Fifth Test from Perth and Ten crosses to Queensland for the Ironman Super Series.  Sunday night movies are Infidelity (Seven), Shakedown On The Sunset Strip (Nine) and The Chocolate War (Ten).

timwebsterkerrianne Monday:  Network Ten’s Good Morning Australia launches a revamped look, with Kerri-Anne Kennerley joined by new co-host Tim Webster.  Also joining the show this year are newsreader Anne Fulwood, weather presenter Shannon Dolan and science whiz Dr Karl Kruszelnicki.  The morning show now has a lighter, brighter format with more emphasis on entertainment, consumer affairs, recreation, health and sport.  Later in the day Ten launches its new 5.30pm game show, Let’s Make A Deal with Vince Sorrenti, followed by Ten Eyewitness News and then the debut of Blind Date, with Greg Evans and Nicky Buckley.  Late night programs Tonight Live With Steve Vizard (Seven) and Robbo’s World Tonight (Nine) return for another year.

Tuesday:  Seven’s popular science and technology show Beyond 2000 begins another year.  In Nine’s new drama series Chances, Connie’s (Deborah Kennedy) long-lost husband re-appears on the scene – is he after a reconciliation or a slice of the family’s recent lottery win?

Wednesday:  Seven presents live coverage of the Foster’s Cup match between Footscray and Hawthorn, from VFL Park in Melbourne. 

tonymartinpennycook Thursday:  In E Street, Reverend Bob (Tony Martin, pictured with Penny Cook) shocks everyone with the announcement that he is leaving Westside as his blossoming relationship with Dr Elly Fielding (Cook) appears to have stalled as she looks set to have patched things up with her estranged husband David (Noel Hodda).  ABC presents the final edition of Aboriginal affairs program Blackout

Source: TV Week (Victoria edition), incorporating TV Times and TV Guide. 2 February 1991. Southdown Press.

Friday, 28 January 2011

1991: January 26-February 1

tvweek_260191 Cover: Nicole Kidman

Here comes the bride…
Many soaps have given their ratings a boost by holding a wedding.  The Nine Network’s new series Chances is starting with one!  The adults-only drama kicks off with a wedding between David Young (Rodney Bell) and Rebecca Taylor (Natalie McCurry).  “Chances has great possibilities,” Bell told TV Week.  “It’s aimed at a more mature audience and packs a good punch!”  Bell is no newcomer to television, having started in showbiz at the age of four and later appearing in TV soaps The Restless Years and The Young Doctors.  McCurry, 24, began modelling at 14 and later appeared in TV and film roles before coming fifth in the Miss World contest, winning the Miss Oceania title.  Chances, which debuts this week on Nine, also stars John Sheerin, Brenda Addie, Jeremy Sims, Cathy Godbold, Rhys Muldoon, Simon Grey, Tim Robertson, Deborah Kennedy, Marcia Deane-Johns, Anne Grigg and Leverne McDonnell.

Andrew graduates to Wandin Valley
NIDA
graduate Andrew Blackman has joined the cast of A Country Practice as Wandin Valley’s new doctor, Dr Harry Morrison.  “I am very excited and looking forward to working with one of the most experienced casts in TV today.  As yet I know little about the character, except that he comes from the Queensland bush.  However, being a country boy myself from Queensland, I don’t feel that Harry is too far away from myself,” Blackman told TV Week.  He will make his on screen debut in April.

lucindasmith Mighty minis
Voting continues for the 1991 TV Week Logie Awards.  Which mini-series or telemovies of 1990 will viewers vote for Most Popular Mini-Series?  ABC presented the popular Come In Spinner, starring Kerry Armstrong, Lisa Harrow and Rebecca Gibney, and The Paper Man, starring John Bach, Peta Toppano and Rebecca Gilling.  Network Ten’s Shadows Of The Heart, starring Marcus Graham, Jason Donovan, Colleen Hewett and Robyn Nevin, was a ratings winner.  Nine presented the action-filled Ring Of Scorpio and bawdy The Private War Of Lucinda Smith (starring Linda Cropper and Nigel Havers, pictured).  Seven produced the controversial Jackaroo, starring former Neighbours star Annie Jones, telling the story of a relationship between a part-Aboriginal man and a spoilt white girl from the city.  Seven also produced All The Rivers Run II, starring John Waters and Nikki Coghill.

Briefly…
Newlywed Aussie actor Peter O’Brien has had to leave his bride, actress Jo Riding, in the UK as he has returned home to discuss future work projects.  The pair met when they were starring in the stage production of The Wizard Of Oz.  O’Brien is set to appear in a new Australian-US film production, The Diamond Triad, while Riding is currently on stage in Around The World In Eighty Days.

Lawrie Masterson’s Sound Off
”For someone who used to have such a high profile, Don Lane’s comeback to television last year was low key to the point of being almost unheralded.  The man who once was undisputed king of prime-time variety (remember prime-time variety?) turned up without fanfare on the ABC, hosting replays of American football in a late-night slot which could hardly be called prime.”

Program Highlights (January 26-February 1):
Saturday:
  Australia Day is commemorated with golf (The Vines Classic) on ABC, tennis (Ford Australian Open) on Seven, and cricket (Fourth Test) on Nine.  Although Nine had earlier crossed to Admiralty House for the presentation of Australia Day Honours and an address by Prime Minister Bob Hawke.  After ABC News, the national broadcaster presented the Governor-General’s Australia Day Message followed by The Very Best Of Aunty Jack, the mockumentary Barbakiueria and the 1940 Australian movie classic Dad Rudd MP.  Seven presents live coverage of the Australasian Country Music Awards.

Sunday:  The Women’s Doubles Final and Men’s Singles Final mark the final day of the Ford Australian Open on Seven.  Sunday night movies are Barracuda (Seven), Murphy’s Romance (Nine) and Attack Force Z (Ten).  ABC presents the Bolshoi Ballet as its Sunday Stereo Special, followed by highlights of the annual Montsalvat Jazz Festival held in Melbourne.

Monday:  Don Lane presents ABC’s live coverage of the 25th NFL Superbowl, played in Tampa, Florida. 

nataliemccurry Tuesday:  The premiere of Nine’s new adults-only drama Chances (starring Natalie McCurry, pictured), telling the story of an ordinary suburban family whose lives are changed when they win a lottery.  ABC’s Lateline with Kerry O’Brien returns for 1991, followed by a repeat screening of the NFL Superbowl from the previous day.

Friday:  Seven crosses to Perth for live coverage of the Davis Cup, Australia versus Belgium.  Also in Perth is the cricket Fifth Test which begins today on Nine.  Nine’s late-night MTV, hosted by Richard Wilkins, returns for 1991.

Source: TV Week (Victoria edition), incorporating TV Times and TV Guide. 26 January 1991. Southdown Press.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Ten takes on the News giants

tennews For many years Network Ten’s news offering has been dismissed as a poorer cousin to the brash, high-profile Seven and Nine news portfolios.  While Seven and Nine throw money into resources and promotion, each of them keen to get an edge over the other while almost mimicking each other, Ten has kept a somewhat more modest profile – largely due to staying out of the traditional 6-7pm news hour, keeping a lower profile in the competitive breakfast timeslot, and reducing its weekend news output largely to ‘national’ Sydney-based bulletins.  And, when a major news story would be breaking or there is an election to cover, chances are it would be Seven, Nine or ABC that would pull all stops to cover it live, while Ten maintained its long-held mantra of providing an alternative option for viewers.

There have been exceptions to the rule, of course.  It was Ten News that first broke the news to Australians of the September 11 attacks in the US and, like its rivals, maintained a level of continuous news coverage in the days that followed.  The network maintained its serious Sunday morning Meet The Press interview program despite it sitting awkwardly amongst children’s programs and Video Hits, and while Nine replaced the serious Sunday with the more casual Weekend Today and Seven expanded its chummy Sunrise to the timeslot.  Ten has also maintained its 10.30pm Late News while both Seven and Nine abandoned their late night news programs.  And while the 5.00pm bulletin was avoiding the prime-time battle, it gradually built up its audience to the point where it dominated that hour, despite the high-profile late-afternoon game show battles between Seven and Nine, and both networks launching their own 4.30pm national news bulletins.

But, as time progressed, it became apparent that Ten was perhaps tiring of having the lesser of the three commercial networks’ news profiles and the impact of not having a News presence at 6.00pm.  The network was seeing its viewing numbers drop dramatically at 6.00pm after Ten News has signed off, while Seven and Nine’s 6.00pm bulletins continued to sit at the top of the nightly ratings reports, with The Simpsons and Neighbours – while they might have represented a sound viewing alternative in the 6.00pm hour many years ago – clearly no longer attracting the numbers they once did.  There were reports in 2009 that Ten was considering the idea of expanding the 5.00pm bulletin to 90 minutes – thirty years after it led the way as a network with the one-hour newscast as opposed to the traditional half-hour format.

11 Then, last year, Ten announced its bold move.  The network was bumping The Simpsons and Neighbours from their long-held timeslots to its new digital channel, Eleven.  This one-hour gap in the schedule was now going to be filled by two additional news programs – one national and one local – to sit between Ten News and The 7PM Project.  Ten also announced plans to reinstate state-based weekend news bulletins at 6.00pm.  It marks the first major shake-up of commercial television news coverage since Ten moved its evening bulletin to 5.00pm almost twenty years ago.

georgenegus_0002 In implementing this expanded news profile, Ten – a network not often known for lavish spending – was investing big money, reported to be $20 million, in infrastructure and hiring new staff, most notably the signing up of veteran journalist and presenter George Negus.  With a journalistic background dating back to This Day Tonight and the founding days of 60 Minutes and Foreign Correspondent, and more recently as host of SBSDateline, Negus presents a credible identity.  His more recent appearances as a weekly commentator on The 7PM Project have also endeared him to the network and its viewers.  Ten’s new venture also gained credibility with the signing of former ABC journalist Chris Masters as a consultant to the network.

With the expenditure and high-profile signings, it was clear that this news revamp was going to be far more than just splashing a coat of paint on the news desk or changing the logo on the network’s car fleet – this was going to be a serious shake-up of the evening news and giving viewers a decent alternative to the lookalike news and current affairs programs of Seven and Nine.  For the first time in over twenty years, Ten was now gearing up to take on its two commercial rivals – who have cosily had the 6.00pm hour all to themselves for too long – in a big way. 

So, after months of waiting and speculation – some of the latter prompted by James Packer’s surprise investment in the Ten Network with media discussing his rumoured plans to tear down the news revamp – Ten’s ‘news evolution’ finally comes to fruition tomorrow (Monday) evening. 

Essentially, the ‘First at Five’ Ten News remains intact but there are some changes in personnel and production.  The Adelaide newscast now moves back to being produced entirely from Adelaide – after being largely based at Ten’s Melbourne studio for several years – and follows the return of the Perth newscast to the Perth-based studios in 2008.

georgedonikianhelenkapalos The Adelaide 5.00pm bulletin is now being fronted by Belinda Heggen, replacing George Donikian and Rebecca Morse, while the Perth bulletin is now read by former ABC journalist Craig Smart, replacing Narelda Jacobs.  Donikian now replaces Mal Walden at the Melbourne 5.00pm newsdesk, sitting alongside Helen Kapalos.  The significance of the Greek heritage of both Donikian and Kapalos (pictured) in presenting the news together in the largest Greek city outside of Greece has not gone unnoticed. ”It's not just revolutionary, this is the first in the world,” Donikian told Melbourne-based Greek newspaper Neos Kosmos.

Walden, Morse and Jacobs now move to presenting the new 6.30pm Evening News in their respective capital cities – providing a local news-based alternative to the tabloid offerings from Seven and Nine in that timeslot.

sandrasully_0001 Former Late News presenter Sandra Sully (pictured) will be reading the Sydney-based Evening News bulletin, and Brisbane newsreader Bill McDonald will be presenting Brisbane’s Evening News as well as co-anchoring the local 5.00pm bulletin with Georgie Lewis.

Bill Woods and Deborah Knight will continue to present the 5.00pm Ten News in Sydney.

The 6.00pm timeslot now becomes home to 6PM With George Negus – a national program offering an in-depth analysis of the news.  As well as being hosted by the experienced and popular Negus, 6PM also boasts a strong line-up of journalists including Hugh Riminton, formerly of the Nine Network and CNN, and Hamish Macdonald, an Australian journalist formerly working in the United Kingdom and also a former correspondent for the Al Jazeera English channel.

With Ten’s new intentions, and the recent arrival of ABC News 24 as Australia’s first free-to-air dedicated news channel, if Seven and Nine are panicking at the prospect of the intense competition they are not showing any signs of it.  It appears to be ‘business as usual’ for the two top-rating networks, with little changing in their portfolio of news and current affairs programs.

According to Seven’s Melbourne newsreader Peter Mitchell: “Nothing changes for us," he told the Herald Sun.  "We know what we've got to do. We've always prided ourselves on being local." – a swipe at 6PM’s national focus.

Nine’s Brisbane news director Lee Anderson, talking to the Courier Mail, questions Ten’s ability to cover the big local stories on the back of its stilted response to coverage of the Queensland flood crisis: "When Brisbane faced its biggest natural disaster Ten obviously found it difficult to cover the emergency effectively, so I hope for them this will mean their network bosses start to take local operation seriously."

Seven’s Brisbane news director Rob Raschke was a little more flippant in his comments, labelling Negus as ‘a worthy successor to Homer Simpson’. 

“And, like Homer, his focus won't be on Queensland,” Raschke told the Courier Mail.

It appears that Ten’s rivals are quick to criticise the national focus of 6PM while failing to acknowledge Ten’s local approach at 5.00pm and 6.30pm against their own national programs.

georgenegusmalwalden But Ten and Negus (pictured with Melbourne newsreader Walden) have no illusions that the new line-up will be an instant hit with viewers.  News viewing habits are well-entrenched and rarely turnaround to a new competitor in an instant.  But the network has shown with The 7PM Project that it has the ability to be patient and to persevere with a new venture even if it doesn’t pay immediate dividends.

Ten News, 6PM With George Negus, Evening News, The 7PM Project.  Weeknights, from 5.00pm, starting 24 January.  Network Ten, Southern Cross Ten, Tasmanian Digital Television, Darwin Digital Television, Ten Mildura, Ten West.

Source: Herald Sun, Courier Mail, The Age, Neos Kosmos.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

1991: January 19-25

tvweek_190191 Alyce in Wunderland
While most television presenters have been taking a summer break, Sale Of The Century hostess Alyce Platt (pictured) has been pursuing a music career.  She has completed two tours with her band Alyce In Wunderland and has taken up song writing.  And although Platt and host Tony Barber will be back soon on Sale, this year she hopes to also realise her other dream – to release an album. 

Hey, look who’s back!
Although Simone Buchanan had already taped her final scenes for Seven’s Hey Dad! last year, she is now back in the studio for an extra five episodes of the popular comedy.  “The last episode we filmed last year didn’t resolve anything or suggest that she was leaving, so that’s why I’m coming back,” Buchanan told TV Week.  The five additional episodes are expected to go to air in March and April and will lead in to the appearance of new cast member Rachael Beck who replaces Buchanan but will play a different role.

nataliemccurry Chances are it’s set to shock!
Almost twenty years after Number 96 shocked the nation with adults-only drama and glimpses of nudity, the Nine Network’s Chances is set to create the same controversy.  Described as provocative, steamy and risque, Chances is hoped to turn around Nine’s shaky recent history with dramas – apart from The Flying Doctors the network has failed to secure a major drama hit since the heyday of The Young Doctors and The Sullivans.  The new drama follows the story of a suburban family whose lives are changed when they win a $3 million prize in a lottery.  Producer Lynn Bayonas told TV Week that the new series will focus more on personal stories rather than social issues.  “We’ll leave the issues to A Country Practice and The Flying Doctors,” she said.  “We have personal issues.  We’ve got older women and younger men, marriage breakups, affairs with secretaries, and women desperate for love and racing off with everybody.  It has a different look.  It doesn’t look like a serial.”  Chances’ cast includes John Sheerin, Brenda Addie, Jeremy Sims, Natalie McCurry (pictured), Cathy Godbold, Tim Robertson and Ann Grigg.

alltogethernow Briefly…
Actress Rebecca Gibney, about to appear in Nine’s new comedy All Together Now, admits that she had turned down a number of roles since leaving the popular The Flying Doctors, in particular those with elements of sex, discrimination or unnecessary nudity.  “I’m wary of exploitation,” she says.  “There are enough roles around with gratuitous sex and violence and there’s always someone else who will play them.  You can make films without the sex and violence.  Pretty Woman was funny, warm and emotional – and without tits and bums.”  All Together Now (with Gibney, pictured, left) also stars Jon English, Steve Jacobs, Jane Hall, Garry Who and Bruno Lucia.

davidreynenikkicoghill David Reyne and Nikki Coghill are leading the charge of new cast members in The Flying Doctors.  Coghill plays the role of feisty nurse Jackie Crane, who takes an instant dislike to the arrogant new doctor Guy Reid (Reyne).  Also joining the series will be Sophie Lee (The Bugs Bunny Show) and Sarah Chadwick (GP).

Sydney actor Simon Stokes had just completed his HSC when he auditioned for a role in the UK-based drama Families.  Two days after the audition he was told he had secured the role of Christian Stephens.  The series also features Australian actors Briony Behets (Number 96, The Box, Neighbours), Tessa Humphries, Imogen Annersley, Malcolm Stoddard and Tayler Kane.  Although it has completed its first year on air in the UK, Families has yet to be sold to an Australian network.

John Laws says…
Seven’s Hey Dad! has to be one of Australian TV’s most spectacular success stories.  It glows with a freshness and vitality that its foreign competitors rarely match.  Hey Dad! warrants the tag “family entertainment” and there’s little enough of that left on TV in these days of high-powered screen violence.  I do hope that Hey Dad! will once again be a firm favourite among Australians in 1991.”

Program Highlights (January 19-25):
Sunday:  Ten
crosses to Portsea, Victoria, for the Ironman Super SeriesABC presents golf (Sanctuary Lakes Classic) and highlights of cricket (Women’s International: Australia versus New Zealand).  Sunday night movies are Hoosiers (Seven) and Ladyhawke (Ten).  Nine presents a re-run of the 1985 mini-series The Flying Doctors, the predecessor to the ongoing series.

Monday:  The Ford Australian Open (Seven) enters its second week of competition.  And with the ratings season approaching, some regular shows are returning for the new year – Today, Good Morning Australia and ‘Til Ten are back in the daytime, and A Country Practice returns for its tenth year.  Derryn Hinch is back on board at Seven’s Hinch.

Tuesday:  Jon English and Rebecca Gibney head the cast of Nine’s new comedy series, All Together Now, which debuts tonight, followed by Australia’s Funniest Home Video Show, with new host Jacki MacDonald replacing Graham Kennedy.

Thursday:  Nine’s The Flying Doctors returns for 1991.  Seven presents a re-run of mini-series Nancy Wake, starring Noni Hazlehurst and John Waters.

Friday:  Nine crosses to the Adelaide Oval for Day One of the Fourth Test, Australia versus England.

Source: TV Week (Victoria edition), incorporating TV Times and TV Guide. 19 January 1991. Southdown Press.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

1991: January 12-18

tvweek_120191 Will love smile on Alyssa-Jane?
1991 could be a big year for E Street’s Alyssa-Jane Cook (pictured), both on and off screen.  Her character Lisa Bennett is enjoying a romance with Michael Sturgess (played by Graham Harvey) after a certain run of tragedy – she had been raped by her stepfather, saw her mother jailed, and broke her engagement to her childhood sweetheart, who was later murdered by her delinquent brother, who finally committed suicide.  She had been dumped by boyfriend “Wheels” (Marcus Graham), and E Street ended last year with her and Michael lost at sea, presumably drowned.  Off camera, Cook’s relationship with Gary Davis continues but there is no talk of marriage.  “I don’t think I’m old enough.  I think you have to be more responsible than I am right now,” she told TV Week.  Meanwhile, E Street goes into 1991 with a much leaner cast than last year, having farewelled cast members including Chris Orchard, Virginia Hey, Paul Kelman, Lisbeth Kennelly, Chelsea Brown, Rebecca Saunders and Richard Huggett, with three more (Penny Cook, Warren Jones and Vic Rooney) soon to go.

Greg calls for a rematch!
TV matchmaker Greg Evans is set to return to the Ten Network as it relaunches its axed game show Perfect Match as part of a programming revival after a disastrous 1990. This time around the show will be called Blind Date and will feature Evans with a female co-host yet to be appointed.  Perfect Match was a stand-out hit for Ten in the mid-1980s, turning Melbourne radio announcer Evans into a national celebrity. Cameron Daddo hosted the show for two years after Evans was poached by the Nine Network, with Evans returning to host the show before it was axed in a bout of cost-cutting in 1989.  “It hadn’t flagged in the ratings,” Evans told TV Week.  “It went because of the money involved.  The show was let down by Ten.”

cathygodboldrosemarymargan Rosemary’s baby…
Sixteen years ago, Nine Network personality Rosemary Margan was showing off newborn daughter Cathy Godbold to the TV Week cameras.  Now, Godbold (pictured, with Margan) is set to appear on the same network that made her mother a household name with a role in the upcoming Nine Network drama series Chances.  She will be playing the role of Nicki Taylor, a character who “loves boys and parties and she’s very tough – a bit of a tomboy.”

Briefly…
Grundy Productions
has announced that their ABC drama series Embassy has been sold for an undisclosed sum to Canada, Germany, Belgium, Holland and Greece.  The sale helps ensure a second series of Embassy which is due to go into production next month.

NIDA graduate Richard Huggett, formerly of E Street and about to make his debut in Neighbours, says that he never wanted to be a soap star.  “I’m often asked if I feel I’ve ‘sold out’ by doing shows such as E Street and Neighbours and my reply is simple: ‘I’m working’.”

johnblackman Hey Hey It’s Saturday voice-over man John Blackman (pictured) is set for his own national program later this year.  Blackman is about to tape a pilot for a daily 30-minute lifestyle program.  “As soon as you say lifestyle, people think of Jo Pearson’s Body And Soul, but it’s nothing like that,” Blackman told TV Week.  “I’m thrilled about it because I don’t get many opportunities to get out from the booth and be in front of the cameras.”

ABC is planning to launch a new music video program to lead in to the popular Rage on Saturday nights.  The new show, to be known as Racket, aims to address the often-neglected musical interests of the 25-39 age group.  The show will have a team of presenters led by James Valentine.

Lawrie Masterson’s Sound Off
”Bobby Rivers is about as thick as the air used to get during events such as the Sunbury Pop Festivals of the early Seventies.  Bobby, a washed up Seventies rock star, is one of the central characters in the Nine Network’s new sitcom All Together Now.  It is due to make its debut next week and the opening episode – written by Phillip Dalkin and winningly sub-titled Daddy Cool – has much promise.  Like anything else, All Together Now (formerly known as Rhythm And Blues) will be a matter of wait and see, but at the outset it does seem to have a lot going for it.”

Program Highlights (January 12-18):
(Note: Not listed in TV Week, but with tensions rising in the Persian Gulf between Iraq and the US-led coalition, networks this week ramp up their news coverage efforts – some of which overrides some of its pre-planned schedule.  In particular, Nine’s late-night Nightline is expanded to a one-hour format and Network Ten launches a temporary 7am news bulletin as its usual morning program Good Morning Australia is still on holidays)

Saturday:  Tennis on Seven with the NSW Open live from Sydney in the afternoon and the Rio International Challenge, live from Adelaide, in the evening.  Ten crosses to Queensland for golf with the Daikyo Palm Meadows Cup during the afternoon and ABC presents live coverage of the World Swimming Championships from Perth.

Sunday:  The final day’s play of the NSW Open on Seven.  More swimming from Perth on ABC and golf from Queensland on TenNine crosses to the Sydney Cricket Ground for the first final of the Benson And Hedges World Series Cricket.  Sunday night movies are Supergirl (Seven) and A Handful Of Dust (Ten).

ten1991 Monday:  Seven’s two-week coverage of the Ford Australian Open tennis begins.  Ten’s 6pm news bulletin is re-named Ten Eyewitness News to coincide with the launch of the network’s new logo – the new-look network entering a new era as it recovers from the financial dramas of 1990 and begins its focus on a younger audience.

Wednesday:  Nine presents a one-hour World Vision special, Reach Out For The Children, hosted by Rebecca Gibney and Brett Climo.

Thursday:  (Much of the day’s pre-planned schedule is abandoned with the outbreak of war in the Persian Gulf and networks switch to continuous news coverage – in particular the Ten Network makes much of its connection to US network CNN, relaying the news channel through most of the day and continuing its regular overnight broadcast)

Source: TV Week (Victoria country edition), incorporating TV Times and TV Guide. 12 January 1991. Southdown Press.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Eleven: 1 day to go

11 It’s almost here.  Network Ten’s digital channel Eleven makes its debut at 11.00am tomorrow, 11 January.

The channel starts with a special daytime screening of its signature late night show, The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson, from America’s CBS network – the network that Ten has partnered with in launching Eleven and from which much of its content will be sourced.  The program will then continue to air on Eleven at 10.30pm weeknights from tomorrow.

Eleven is aimed at the 13-29 age bracket, though its daytime line-up is likely to appeal to a broader age group with classic US dramas and sitcoms including The Love Boat, The Brady Bunch, Diagnosis Murder, Cheers, Roseanne, Mork And Mindy, JAG, 7th Heaven, Touched By An Angel, Happy Days and MacGyver.  It appears that there is little variation when comparing weekends to the weekday line-up.

Saturday nights also see an emphasis on classic fare, with Get Smart and Hogan’s Heroes re-runs in prime-time.

Eleven is clearly putting the focus on its premium and first-run shows in the evenings – with Neighbours maintaining its long-held 6.30 timeslot and Eleven’s big-ticket titles from 7.30pm through to The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson.  The first week’s prime-time line-up looks like this:

Tuesday 11: 6pm Family Ties, 6.25 Couch Time, 6.30 Neighbours, 7pm Everybody Loves Raymond, 7.30 The Simpsons, 8pm Futurama, 8.30 The Office, 9.30 Nurse Jackie, 10pm Californication, 10.30 The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson (repeat of 11.00am screening), 11.30 The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson.

Wednesday 12: 6pm Family Ties, 6.25 Couch Time, 6.30 Neighbours, 7pm Everybody Loves Raymond, 7.30 The Simpsons, 8pm Futurama, 8.30 The Simpsons, 9pm The Cleveland Show, 9.30 King Of The Hill, 10pm The Cleveland Show, 10.30 The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson, 11.30 Cheers.

Thursday 13: 6pm Family Ties, 6.25 Couch Time, 6.30 Neighbours, 7pm Everybody Loves Raymond, 7.30 The Simpsons, 8pm The Simpsons, 8.30 SGU Stargate Universe, 10.30 The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson, 11.30 Cheers.

Friday 14: 6pm Family Ties, 6.25 Couch Time, 6.30 Neighbours, 7.30 90210, 8.30 So You Think You Can Dance, 10.30pm The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson, 11.30 Cheers.

Saturday 15: 6pm Family Ties, 6.30 Everybody Loves Raymond, 7.30 Get Smart, 8.30 Hogan’s Heroes, 9.30 Movie: I Spy (2002), 11.30 Cheers

Sunday 16: 6pm Family Ties, 6.30 Everybody Loves Raymond, 7.30 New Zealand’s Next Top Model, 8.30 Smallville, 10.30 Angel.

Monday 17: 6pm Family Ties, 6.25 Couch Time, 6.30 Neighbours, 7pm Everybody Loves Raymond, 7.30 Futurama, 8.30 Supernatural, 9.30 Dexter, 10.30 The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson

neighbours Curiously, there is no Simpsons at 6pm which might cause some disappointment to the show’s fans that are now losing it from that timeslot on the main Ten channel.  And there will be a ‘catch-up’ screening of Neighbours at 8.30am weekdays – an awkward timeslot and such a repeat screening might be better slotted in on a weekend morning or afternoon similar to the ‘omnibus’ format popular in the United Kingdom.

At this stage there are no local content requirements for the digital multi-channels so, as with other digital channels GO!, GEM and 7mate, Eleven has a strong reliance on US content with Neighbours being the only Australian product to feature on the channel – though a Brisbane-based segment, Couch Time, will appear in between programs in the late afternoons as a means of connecting to viewers.

Eleven will be broadcast on the digital signal of Network Ten (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth), Southern Cross Ten (Regional Queensland, New South Wales/ACT and Victoria), Tasmanian Digital Television and Southern Cross Television (Spencer Gulf/Broken Hill). 

Source: TV Tonight

Saturday, 8 January 2011

1991: January 5-11

tvweek_050191 Baby tragedy for Bobby
When Home And Away finished up at the end of 1990, pregnant Bobby Simpson (Nicolle Dickson, pictured) had collapsed in the diner.  This week, with the series returning for 1991, she is told that she has miscarried at 22 weeks.  “It’s very harrowing,” Dickson tells TV Week.  “Fisher (Norman Coburn) comes in to tell her she’s lost the baby, but she already knows and is trying to keep calm.”  In entering another year with the series, Dickson told TV Week she was unsure about signing up for another year.  “I was a bit nervous about it,” she says.  “But the industry is in such bad shape and it’s so much better than not working.”

bruceroberts Bruce cops it sweet!
Home And Away newcomer Bruce Roberts (pictured) laughs off suggestions he could become television’s next hunk.  As Summer Bay’s new policeman, Nick Parish, Roberts is sure to break hearts on screen and off – but it is a notion the NIDA graduate laughs off.  “I can laugh about it because I know I’m not building my career around that sort of image,” he told TV Week.  Roberts makes his on screen debut in Home And Away in March.

joycejacobs Joyce’s night of anguish
A Country Practice star Joyce Jacobs (pictured) has spoken of the anguish from a recent call at midnight by police to inform her that her husband, Ian, had gone missing earlier that evening while participating in the NSW Gliding Championships.  “I didn’t know what to think,” Jacobs told TV Week.  “Ian could have hit a fence or telegraph wire and flipped over while landing.  I thought ‘maybe he’s had a minor heart attack’.  I was worried sick.”  It turned out that Ian had been forced to make an emergency landing about 25 kilometres from the town of Warren in the late afternoon.  He had sent a radio message to say that he was making an emergency landing, but a second radioed message that he had landed safely had not been received, so race organisers had feared the worst and had begun a search.  Despite being stranded in isolation he eventually found a homestead and managed to make a call to Warren police and was taken to hospital.  A relieved Jacobs is hopeful that her husband might now choose more sedate hobbies.  “He’s 68.  I think he should be getting to the stage where he is just happy to just potter around the house!" she said.

logie_1980s Briefly…
Voting has opened for the 33rd annual TV Week Logie Awards, to take place in March.  Will Home And Away star Craig McLachlan manage to make it two Gold Logies in a row, or could he be upstaged by the man who is credited with giving the Logies their name – Graham Kennedy?  Other possible contenders for TV’s biggest prize could be Steve Vizard, who has had a successful year as host of Tonight Live, or Nine Network stalwarts Jana Wendt, Daryl Somers or Ray Martin.

The popularity of Neighbours and Home And Away in the United Kingdom have seen a swag of stars making the trip to the UK for the Christmas pantomime circuit.  Among those appearing in productions this year include current and former Neighbours stars Anne Charleston, Jessica Muschamp, Kristian Schmid, Rachel Friend, Linda Hartley and Mark Stevens.

carmeltravers Beyond 2000 reporter Carmel Travers has been recently crowned Redhead of the Year.  The globe-trotting reporter has said that it is about time that somebody appreciated her genetic richness.  “My hair was a constant source of embarrassment as a child,” she says.  “I know what it’s like to go out in the sun and hope those freckles join up.  And I certainly know what it’s like to have lily-white boobs and be told to get off the beach!”  Last year’s winner of the title was Hey Dad! star Julie McGregor (pictured, with Travers) and other contenders this year included The Big Gig’s Angela Moore (who plays Shirley Purvis), ABC newsreader Mary Delahunty and Fast Forward’s Pixie-Anne Wheatley (Magda Szubanski).

neridaleishman Gold Coast teenager Nerida Leishman (pictured) has beaten hundreds of young hopefuls to join Tony Johnston as co-host of Nine Network children’s programs Cartoon Company and C Company.  She replaces former co-host Kristine Davis who is going overseas to pursue an acting career.  “I can’t believe this is happening,” the 18-year-old told TV Week.  “Not too many people get the chance to work on national television, especially at my age.”  Leishman is not a complete unknown to television, having appeared on Nine’s New Faces talent quest and performed on the local In Brisbane Today morning show.

Lawrie Masterson’s Sound Off
”With business in general – and the business of television – in such an uncertain state at the moment, it’s almost comforting to know that there is something constant.  As you’re no doubt aware by now, the TV Week Logie Awards will go ahead in 1991.  This year will be the 33rd time TV Week has presented the annual awards to the television industry, a record of which we can be proud considering the industry itself is a mere youngster at 36.”

Program Highlights (January 5-11):
Saturday:
  There’s tennis (Australian Women’s Hardcourt Championships) on Seven and cricket (Third Test: Australia versus England) on Nine.  The evening features highlights of the World Swimming Championships from Perth on ABC and live coverage of the Australian Men’s Hardcourt Championships on Seven.

Sunday:  Ten’s Sunday night movie is KGB: The Secret Of War, while Nine presents the first part of mini-series Traffik and Seven has the evening session of the Australian Men’s Hardcourt ChampionshipsABC’s Sunday Stereo Special is Sydney Dance Company In Cafe – a study of Sydney’s cafe society written and choreographed by Paul Mercurio and Kim Walker.

Monday:  Seven’s season of tennis continues with the NSW Open, live from White City, Sydney, continuing all week.  Home And Away returns for its fourth year – Bobby (Nicolle Dickson) comes to terms with her heart-breaking news, while Pippa (Debra Lawrance) comes to terms with her feelings for Michael (Dennis Coard).  ABC presents a repeat of the Hindsight special Power To The People, focusing on the 1970 Vietnam moratorium and the swing of middle Australia against the war.

Tuesday:  ABC begins a re-run of drama series House Rules, starring Jacki Weaver, Gil Tucker and Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell.

Wednesday:  Network Ten’s E Street returns for its third year.

Thursday:  Nine crosses to the MCG for the afternoon session of the Benson And Hedges World Series Cricket, Australian versus England.

Source: TV Week (Victoria country edition), incorporating TV Times and TV Guide. 5 January 1991. Southdown Press.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Obituary: Geoff Raymond

geoffraymond Former Melbourne radio and television newsreader Geoff Raymond has died in England after a sudden illness.

Raymond was a copy boy at The Herald newspaper before becoming a news presenter at Melbourne radio station 3DB in the 1940s.  After a stint working for the BBC, he came back to Melbourne to read news at 3DB’s sister television station HSV7 after Eric Pearce left the channel to go to GTV9.  As well as reading the news, Raymond hosted a discussion show, Answer Please.

He read the news for ATV0 from 1970, and hosted a weekly current affairs program The Raymond Report in 1971, before becoming ABC’s chief newsreader in Melbourne in 1973, reading the 7.00pm bulletin, often with his trademark rose lapel, until his resignation in February 1984.  He and his family then moved to Fiji where he went on to run a holiday resort.

Former HSV7 newsreader David Johnston paid tribute to his former colleague:

"Geoff had a great sense of humour.  During the disappearance of Harold Holt... Geoff was on air and he said accidentally that everything had 'come to dead halt'. [That is] one of the things he was remembered for.

"He was bit of a scallywag at times, but he had a great delivery, great contact with the audience - particularly in later years."

"He was easy to get along with. He was a great mentor.  We all tried to follow in his footsteps and I don't know if we ever quite got there, but he was a very good example for us young newsreaders."

The passing of Raymond comes after the death of another former ABC newsreader, James Dibble, late last year.

Geoff Raymond is survived by his wife, two children and four grandchildren.

 

Source: ABC. TV Times, 4 March 1970. The Age, 19 January 1984. From Wireless To Radio – The  3DB Story, 1985.  Australian TV – The First 25 Years, 1981.
YouTube: Conniptions886

TelevisionAU Update 7-Jan-2011

http://www.televisionau.com

judynunn_0001 FLASHBACK #57:
In 1981 former The Box actress Judy Nunn made a guest appearance in another Crawford Productions drama, Skyways.  Her guest role is as Bessie Langhurst, a World War II pilot who makes a mysterious re-appearance after going missing on a solo war flight in 1944, and looking exactly as she was when she disappeared - with the 37-year mystery of the missing ghost flight leading to a dramatic climax.  Judy Nunn would later go on to appear in drama series Sons And Daughters, followed by the long-running role of Ailsa in Seven's Home And Away.  She is now an accomplished writer with several titles of adult and children's fiction to her credit.  Picture: TV Week, 3 January 1981.

gtv9_launch CLASSIC TV GUIDES
Melbourne:
1957 (Opening Night GTV9)
1976 (TV Week Logie Awards)
1976 (Opening Ceremony, Olympic Games)
1993 (Announcement of host city for 2000 Olympic Games. The Footy Show begins)

Victoria:
1965 (Official Opening STV8)
1980 (Melbourne Cup Day)

New South Wales:
1962 (Official Opening CBN8)
1962 (Official Opening WIN4)

Canberra:
1993 (Prime 6 O’Clock News launches)
2000

GREAT OZ TV FLOPS
The Bounce
(Seven, 2010)
Warnie (Nine, 2010)

teleausm TELEVISIONAU - THE HISTORY OF AUSTRALIAN TELEVISION
http://www.televisionau.com
http://blog.televisionau.com
http://www.twitter.com/TelevisionAU
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/televisionau
http://au.youtube.com/user/TelevisionAU

Monday, 3 January 2011

40 years at Sesame Street

sesamestreet It is not often that this blog specifically highlights programs from overseas but there is one show that reaches a certain milestone on Australian television this week that it would be remiss not to acknowledge it.

Sesame Street, a production of the New York-based Children’s Television Workshop (now the Sesame Workshop), made its US debut in November 1969.   As well as being a hit with viewers, the series won instant acclaim with three Emmys in its first year.  As at 2009 it has won a total of 118 Emmy awards, the most of any television program.

sesamestreet_0001 The program made its Australian debut on ABC on Monday, 4 January 1971 at 8.00am – with a repeat at 4.30pm.  By the time the show had debuted in Australia Sesame Street was already showing in 50 other countries.  For the next 15 years, ABC’s broadcast day was started each weekday by Sesame Street.

Sesame Street was started with the goal to entertain and educate pre-school age children on basic literacy, numeracy, analytical and social skills – by means of employing the methods already familiar to a television-savvy culture.  If commercial breaks can be used to sell junk food and plastic merchandise to children, then the concept can also be used to promote the use of the alphabet and basic mathematics.  Sesame Street therefore used the culture of television to get its message across – by having episodic stories based around the human and Muppet characters at the fictional street interspersed with ‘breaks’ of snappy animations, short film segments, music performances and send-ups of popular culture that would be played in rotation as normal commercials would appear on television.

The series has also tackled breaking down cultural barriers, by featuring a multicultural cast and educating viewers on the basics of different cultures and languages such as Spanish, and educating on matters such as adoption, disability and death – the latter touched on by the sudden departure of store owner Mr Hooper, following the passing of actor Will Lee in 1982, as a means of providing an honest discussion of the topic.

Such is the power of the ‘commercial’ format employed by the show that some of the catchphrases or themes used to educate children will still resonate with those children now as adults – how many adults can still recite “a load of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter” or sing the tune that accompanied the pinball animations used to count the numbers 1 through to 12?

bigbirdbertnewton The popularity of Sesame Street led to the 7-foot-tall Big Bird visiting Australia in 1980 for the TV Week Logie Awards (pictured, with host Bert Newton), and in more recent years the character of Elmo has made numerous appearances on programs including Rove, The 7PM Project and The Circle, either in the studio or via satellite.  As well as Big Bird and Elmo, Sesame Street has featured a long list of one-off and recurring Muppet characters – with such characters as flatmates Bert and Ernie, Kermit the Frog, Oscar the Grouch, the Cookie Monster, Grover and The Count among some of the show’s most familiar and long-serving characters.

Some of Sesame Street’s original human cast members and characters are still with the series forty years later. Loretta Long (pictured, above, with an orange Oscar the Grouch in 1971) has played the role of Susan since the show’s beginning.

The characters of Bob (Bob McGrath) and Susan’s husband Gordon (played by Roscoe Orman since 1973) have also been in the series since the start.  The character of Luis (Emilio Delgado) first joined the show in 1971 and the character of Maria (Sonia Manzano) was first written into the show in 1974.  Luis and Maria later engaged and were married in the show in 1989 and Manzano’s later real-life pregnancy was incorporated into the show.

For many years Sesame Street and Australia’s Play School (which had launched in 1966) were the flagship of ABC’s children’s television schedule – with both programs screening twice each weekday.  The afternoon screening of Sesame Street was shifted from 4.30pm to 3.00pm in the early 1980s to enable the broadcaster to widen its scope of children’s programming in the after school hours. 

The success of Sesame Street in the US led to another series in the early 1970s, The Electric Company, aimed at improving literacy skills in early school-age children.  The Electric Company had some exposure in Australia, through some channels in the 0-10 Network and later on SBS.

opensesame The Sesame Street concept has being franchised widely around the world, with versions produced in Brazil (Vila S├ęsamo), Egypt (Alam Simsim), India (Galli Galli Sim Sim), South Africa (Takalani Sesame), Northern Ireland (Sesame Tree) and Germany (Sesamstrasse) amongst many others, and an Australian version – Open Sesame – was produced by pay-TV channel Nick Jr and introduced the first ever Australian Muppet, Ollie (pictured).

These days the prominence of Sesame Street on ABC is dwarfed somewhat, purely by the sheer volume of children’s programming that now comes out of ABC’s three free-to-air channels and with various competing children’s channels on pay-TV – but it can currently be found each weekday at 8.30am on ABC1 and at 12.00pm on ABC2

Pictures: The Age, 31 December 1970. TV Times, 20 January 1971. TV Week, 29 March 1980.
Source: Sesame Workshop, Wikipedia.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

A decade of digital TV

watchtv3 Australian television first entered the digital age on 1 January 2001 – a decade ago today.

On that day all five networks – ABC, Seven, Nine, Ten, SBS – commenced full-time standard-definition digital transmission in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth as part of the initial roll-out of digital television.  High-definition signals were not to launch until later in the year.

Regional areas and other cities were to gradually be covered by digital broadcasts as ABC, SBS and regional broadcasters upgraded their infrastructure to include digital in the years that followed.  Indeed, even now, some regional and remote areas are still yet to receive commercial television channels, either the primary or multi-channels, in digital.

However, very few would have actually witnessed those first digital transmissions on 1 January 2001.  With the government making last-minute changes to digital broadcasting standards as late as towards the end of 2000, very few manufacturers had been able to commit to producing compatible receiving equipment much before the launch date.  Even after 1 January, major retailers may have had a handful of set top boxes (STB) on display but would be lucky to have had any to actually sell.  Broadcasters themselves even had to scramble for the few tuners that were available.  Colin Knowles, head of ABC’s digital roll-out, told The Sunday Age late in December 2000 that he had only been able to secure five units nationwide which would be used for signal testing.  The commercial networks were forced to underwrite the initial roll-out of digital tuners, just to get them in the stores, but even then only a few thousand were expected to be in the marketplace nationwide by the end of February.

As well as the lack of supply, the cost of even the most basic set top box came with considerable cost as manufacturers sought to recoup their development costs for the new technology.  A standard definition STB would have likely cost anything from $700 recommended retail – and a high-definition box would set you back over $1000.  In both cases, the tuners only served to downgrade the digital signal to one that can be displayed through a traditional cathode ray tube (CRT) TV – so a high-definition tuner would not display high-definition when used on a CRT TV, it just meant that you could view high-definition channels.

digitaltvset As for television sets with integrated digital tuners – ten years ago they were still yet to hit the market and before they arrived a standard-definition set was estimated to set you back around $5000 – even more if you wanted a high-definition set, estimated to cost anything around $8000.  Prices for digital tuners would inevitably come down but it was not going to happen quickly, particularly given the high price tag for early adopters.

And in introducing digital television, the government had placed restrictions on offering more channels – even though the technology supported it – seemingly as a concession to the pay-TV lobby.  Only ABC and SBS were initially allowed to set up multi-channels and even then they had rigid restrictions on what they could actually air on them.  Basically, anything resembling entertainment was not allowed.  News bulletins were only allowed if they were in foreign languages.  Specific program genres like education, children’s and arts programs would be allowed.  Not really the sort of programming to encourage people to run out and buy digital tuners en masse.

digitaltv_widescreen As well as offering widescreen, crystal clear pictures and improved sound quality, digital television also offered multi-view broadcasts on sporting events – a feature that has been used maybe once or twice as a pilot in the early years of digital television, but not since.  Indeed, the networks were even lacking in providing widescreen broadcasts of some sporting events, a genre that seems a natural fit for widescreen transmission, in the earlier years.

ABC’s first ventures in digital multi-channelling – ABC Kids and youth channel Fly TV – were launched late in 2001 but due to budget constraints were shutdown less than two years later.  SBS later launched the World News Channel, providing continuous broadcasts of foreign language news bulletins and not much else.

Is it any wonder that viewers didn’t immediately adopt digital TV?  With such a lack lustre introduction by the broadcasters and heavy restrictions by government, the take-up of digital tuners by the viewing public was less than spectacular.

ABC2_0001 By the middle of the decade it was realised that the government’s initial planned cut off date for analogue television – 2008 – was fast approaching and the viewing public was far from being ready.  The date for the analogue shutdown was postponed and incentives were put in place to encourage viewers to make the transition to digital TV.  Some of the rigid genre restrictions on multi-channels, such as ABC2 launched in 2005, were being lifted and areas like Tasmania, Mildura and Darwin, all lacking a third commercial channel, were being allowed a digital-only commercial channel operated by the existing local commercial broadcasters.

By 2007, networks were allowed to start offering exclusive high-definition content, not in simulcast with the analogue or standard-definition signals, which led to Seven, Nine and Ten launching HD-specific channels which offered limited amounts of exclusive programming, though this was mostly restricted to off-peak daytime or late-night timeslots so that major prime-time programming was still able to viewed in high definition.

freeview_channels Late in 2008, the free-to-air broadcasters collaborated to launch a joint initiative, Freeview, to promote digital television to the wider audience on behalf of all networks – emphasising the multi-channel platform and  subscription-free nature of free-to-air digital television as an alternative to pay-TV, and later the promotion of Freeview-branded equipment such as PVRs, though this specifically-branded equipment is not mandatory for receiving or viewing digital television but would be needed to have access to the Freeview electronic program guide (EPG) which is now in operation.

In 2009 the commercial networks were permitted to launch a second standard-definition channel.  Network Ten took the first, and most radical, step and re-launched its Ten HD channel into a 24/7 sports channel, One HD, which was simulcast as its second standard-definition channel.  Ten figured that sport was the most desired programming genre for high-definition and would be the genre least affected by internet downloads, and offering a sports format would act as a deterrent for viewers adopting pay-TV.  The downside is that Ten’s main channel was now denied any high-definition programming.

go_channel The Nine Network followed later in 2009 with a youth-focused standard-definition channel, GO!, which also included a catalogue of classic titles from the 1960s and 1970s.  Seven’s first digital-only channel, 7TWO, presented largely an extension of the Seven brand with a mix of general entertainment programming with some exclusive titles.  In more recent times 7TWO has focused more firmly on British programming such as soap operas, lifestyle programming and classic comedy and drama.

ABC3 The Federal Government allowed ABC a budget increase to enable it to set up a children’s channel, ABC3, by the end of 2009.  But, while SBS was denied its requests for more funding for its digital initiatives, the World News Channel was re-worked into SBS2 in June 2009, offering the same news bulletin format during the day but with a wider scope for programming in the evenings, including lifestyle programming, foreign-language drama series and movies.

7mate In 2010, ABC sacrificed its high-definition channel to launch its 24/7 news channel, ABC News 24, as a free-to-air competitor to pay-TV channels like Sky News.  Seven and Nine also followed suit by ceasing the simulcast their main channel in high-definition and instead offering a full-scale third unique channel, even though their high-definition channels, 7mate and GEM, would feature a lot of vintage and standard-definition programming not designed or intended for high-definition viewing.  For viewers that had hoped to see their favourite prime-time programs or signature events like sporting telecasts in high-definition, it is a disappointment – although this scenario may only be an interim phase to allow more channels across their limited broadcast allotment until the complete shutdown of analogue television which may then allow the networks the opportunity to re-assess and potentially extend their digital channel offerings.

11 Network Ten announced in August last year that it would replace its standard-definition simulcast of One HD with an entertainment-focused channel, Eleven, to launch early in 2011.

With all this activity by the national and commercial broadcasters, the community TV sector was all but left out of the equation entirely.  Federal governments, both past and present, had denied the community TV sector access to the digital platform even though it had given various handouts and concessions to the national and commercial broadcasters – such as free broadcasting spectrum, infrastructure rebates and the commercial networks gaining a $250 million license rebate from the Federal Government.  It wasn’t until late 2009 that temporary broadcast capacity was granted to the community TV sector and relevant channels in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth are now broadcasting in digital.

digitalgetready Since early 2009 the Federal Government has commissioned a quarterly survey, Digital Tracker, to monitor the conversion rate of households to digital television.  The first Digital Tracker survey, covering the period January to March 2009, reported that 47 per cent of households Australia-wide had converted at least one television set to digital.  The most recent survey, covering the period June to September 2010, found that 75 per cent of households had made the switch to digital.

It has not been until 2010 that the first analogue shutdowns were implemented.  Mildura/Sunraysia was the first area to make the change from analogue transmission in June 2010, with regional South Australia following last month.  Regional Victoria and Queensland will follow during 2011, with all remaining areas scheduled to convert from analogue television by 31 December 2013.

Source: The Sunday Age, 24 December 2000. Sun Herald, 10 December 2000.  Sydney Morning Herald, 1 January 2001.