Australian television is 60 years old this week. It was on the night on 16 September 1956 that Bruce Gyngell (pictured) declared “Good evening, and welcome to television” to an estimated viewing audience of around 100,000 — whether they be at home watching on television or among the thousands to be viewing from outside shop windows, at household parties or at crowded club halls.
From the night TV began it has been subjected to judgement not just by its own people but by viewers. All of a sudden everyone had an opinion about what was good, or bad, about TV. What shows did we like, or dislike? What shows should we like or dislike?
It’s a discussion that has never ended and while we’re perhaps not watching as much TV as before, the discussion has been amplified thanks to the internet and the rise of social media.
In the interests of discussion this week we present a list of the top 60 shows that Australian TV has had to offer since that September night in 1956. The criteria for listing from this jury of one is not based solely on ratings, or critical acclaim but also by what impact they had on the TV landscape or on this one viewer. But there will be a chance to contribute. As well as leaving comments below, later this week there will be a poll to see what your own all-time favourites are.
60. Adventure Island (ABC, 1967-1972)
After the abrupt cancellation of the popular The Magic Circle Club, most of the cast and creative crew went across to ABC to create a similar series, Adventure Island. Initially hosted by Nancy Cato, then Sue Donovan, Adventure Island was the pantomime-like tale of the characters of the kingdom of Diddley-Dum-Diddley. Even though production ended in 1972 it continued in repeats for some years afterwards, though with its episodes being in black-and-white it didn’t survive long in the post-colour changeover era.
59. I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here (Ten, 2015-)
Networks can’t get enough of reality shows, whether they be about cooking, renovation, singing or, in the case of I’m A Celebrity, being a celebrity (or “celebrity”) held captive in a remote African jungle. Despite the obvious cries claiming this is no more than faded stars wishing to extend or re-gain their 15 minutes of fame, the show has given viewers an occasional glimpse into some of the perils and pressures of life in the spotlight. But possibly the show’s greatest asset has been the chemistry between hosts Julia Morris and Dr Chris Brown (pictured).
58. Dirty Laundry Live (ABC, 2013-2015)
A quiz show with a difference. Taking the spectacle of tabloid celebrity culture and bringing it much closer to earth with some witty one-liners bouncing between host Lawrence Mooney and a rotating panel of comedians, actors, journalists and other media identities who sometimes let their guard down a little given the nature of the discussion. Being buried on ABC2 for its earlier seasons it never really entered the mainstream but It is missed.
57. Letters And Numbers (SBS, 2010-2012)
Based on a decades-old overseas format, Letters And Numbers had the most simple premise of word and number puzzles but was still challenging for both contestants and viewers. The combination of host Richard Morecroft, mathematician Lily Serna and writer David Astle (pictured) was a charming one. Even though the program ceased production four years ago it still continues on SBS in re-runs.
56. Brides Of Christ (ABC, 1991)
ABC’s six-part series of life in a convent school during the radical period of the 1960s earned huge acclaim — including five TV Week Logies in 1992. It earned ratings not seen by an ABC drama series again until SeaChange almost a decade later.
55. Wentworth (Foxtel, 2013-)
It was always going to be a tough task to rework what is a classic of Australian TV drama — Prisoner — but Wentworth, which takes a much more darker and graphic tone than the original, has been a hit with fans of the original series plus earning new admirers.
54. Underbelly (Nine, 2008-2013)
The first series of Underbelly, based around the gangland war that played out in Melbourne for around a decade, was a hit even though broadcast and subsequent DVD sales in its home state of Victoria was banned due to legal proceedings involving some of the characters portrayed. The success of Underbelly (featuring Vince Colosimo, pictured) created the opportunity for further spin-offs depicting other chapters from Australia’s criminal history.
53. Insight (SBS, 1995-)
What began as a regular current affairs show was soon to evolve into a forum discussion, often tackling divisive, controversial, emotional and sometimes quirky topics. Hosted and moderated by journalist Jenny Brockie, Insight manages to bring together different sides of a debate without it falling into a session of snarky remarks or sarcastic tweets.
52. TVTV (ABC, 1993-1995)
Hosted initially by Simon Townsend with panelists including James Valentine, Edith Bliss, Jo Pearson and Caroline Baum, TVTV was a nightly review of all things TV – programs, personalities and industry news — and being on ABC allowed it to take an objective view at all the commercial networks’ offerings as well as discussing programs seen on ABC and SBS. Possibly the first series on TV to actually give viewers an insight into what exactly goes on inside that ‘idiot box’.
51. Rage (ABC, 1987-)
What began as an experiment in overnight programming for ABC has become one of its longest running programs although its format is not much more than wall-to-wall video clips. No matter what the taste in music, Rage has covered it all at one point or another — often with the aid of celebrity guest presenters. There are memories of a time when it covered the weekly Top 50 and also each January when it delves into the ABC archives for some vintage pop culture programming.
Part II: 50 through to 41.
Part III: 40 through to 31.
Part IV: 30 through to 21.
Part V: 20 through to 11
Part VI: 10 through to 1.