20. The Panel (Ten, 1998-2004)
As far as TV formats go, this one was pretty basic. Just a line-up of presenters discussing the week’s events with some special guests to keep the chat going and closing with a music act. It was remarkably simple but in an era before shows like The Project it was a means of bringing news and light entertainment together. Even though the show ended in 2004 it continued to present annual Christmas Day specials for the next few years.
19. A Country Practice (Seven/Ten, 1981-1994)
Debuting in the summer of 1981-82, A Country Practice introduced us to the town of Wandin Valley, with the main focus on the local hospital with an eye also cast on the local vet, police force and watering hole. Viewers watched in droves to see Simon and Vicky (Grant Dodwell and Penny Cook) tie the knot after a two-year courtship; but one of its top-rating episodes was the tear-jerker when Molly Jones (Anne Tenney) succumbed to leukaemia. The series also explored controversial topics such as AIDS, nuclear war, suicide and drug addiction. A bushfire was set to wipe out the town for its two-hour final episode in 1993, only to have the show revived by Ten for one more series.
18. Prisoner (Ten, 1979-1986)
Originally developed with the working title Women In Prison, Prisoner started as a 16-week series but was to run for seven years and almost 700 episodes. Inmate Bea Smith (Val Lehman) was top dog in Wentworth Detention Centre for around 400 episodes, though she always had someone ready to take her place. Viewers adored the mischievous Lizzie Birdsworth (Sheila Florance, pictured) and Doreen Anderson (Colette Mann), and loved to hate officers like Vera Bennett (Fiona Spence) and Joan Ferguson (Maggie Kirkpatrick). Of all the characters to pass through Wentworth, only officer Meg Morris (Elspeth Ballantyne) stayed the full distance. Prisoner gained a worldwide following, initially in the United States where it played out in prime time, and later in the United Kingdom where it still commands a strong fan base thirty years after its demise.
17. Big Brother (Ten, 2001-2008)
We’d already heard of Survivor, but the much-anticipated reality format to come from overseas was Big Brother — where a bunch of strangers were locked in a shared house with no connection to the outside world, directed by the booming voice of “Big Brother”. Network Ten had huge success with the show, which also made a household name of writer and comedian Gretel Killeen as its host. Each new series brought a new batch of housemate heroes and villains — often determined by some clever work in the editing suite — and FM radio stations had a new source of content and talent for their breakfast shows. Replacing Killeen with radio hosts Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O ultimately sealed its demise before Nine revisited the format a few years later.
16. Sale Of The Century (Nine, 1980-2001)
A remake of the 1970s quiz show Great Temptation, which in turn was adapted from an American format. Sale Of The Century was hugely successful for Nine with the energetic Tony Barber as host, assisted initially by Victoria Nicolls and later Delvene Delaney and Alyce Platt. Glenn Ridge and Jo Bailey took over as the show entered its second decade, with Bailey later making way for Nicky Buckley and Karina Brown. Having updated the original format for the 1980s with great success in Australia, producer Reg Grundy ended up selling the new-look concept back to the Americans!
15. The Don Lane Show (Nine, 1975-1983)
American entertainer Don Lane might have thought his Australian TV career had already come and gone following his 1960s Tonight show in Sydney, but when he was invited to return to Australia for a Darwin benefit concert following Cyclone Tracy, Lane was offered the chance to host a new variety show. The Don Lane Show was the typical Tonight format with celebrity interviews, either in the studio or via the new era of satellites, and big budget music performances, often supported by the Tony Bartuccio dancers. It also brought a touch of Hollywood as when any big star of the past or present was in town they’d come in to the show, sometimes unannounced, as Sammy Davis Jnr had done on one occasion. The ratings were huge and the chemistry between Lane and sidekick Bert Newton (pictured) was legendary.
14. Kath And Kim (ABC/Seven, 2002-2007)
A series of sketches featured in Big Girls Blouse and Something Stupid followed the antics of suburban housewife Kath Day (Jane Turner), her self-absorbed daughter Kim (Gina Riley) and Kim’s second best friend, Sharon (Magda Szubanski). The sketches were so successful that they formed the basis for a sitcom, with Kath joined by her new hunk-a-spunk husband Kel (Glenn Robbins) and Kim’s husband Brett (Peter Rowsthorn). Kath And Kim was a ratings hit for the ABC and more so when Seven snapped it up for one more series. A telemovie and feature film were also produced and the series concept was sold to America’s NBC.
13. The Sullivans (Nine, 1976-1983)
Life for a Melbourne family was never the same following the outbreak of war in 1939. The Sullivans traced the lives of Dave and Grace Sullivan (Paul Cronin and Lorraine Bayly, pictured) and their four children as World War II continued through the 1940s. The series was acclaimed for its thorough and accurate reconstruction of that era and sold well overseas as well as winning a string of Logies at home. When Cronin decided to leave the series in 1982 the war was well and truly over and it was deemed time to close the show.
12. The Late Show (ABC, 1992-1993)
After some members of The D Generation went across to form Fast Forward on Seven, the remaining team went to ABC to create The Late Show. Filling the void of Saturday night TV, The Late Show presented a mix of live and pre-recorded sketches as it mocked politics, TV, advertising, sport, pop culture and some of our social mores. The team comically re-voiced scenes from classic TV dramas Bluey and Rush and made them into Bargearse and The Olden Days, and created comedy gold with its musical mixups — where unlikely guest artists would perform songs made famous by others with similar names. Various sketches, such as the mocking of co-star Jane Kennedy‘s appearance on a celebrity edition of Sale Of The Century, are still memorable today!
11. Hey Hey It’s Saturday (Nine, 1971-1977, 1979-1999)
What began as a low-key Saturday morning show of cartoons would later evolve into one of Nine‘s most valuable prime-time brands. Host Daryl Somers was initially assisted by footballer Peter McKenna — but McKenna was soon to make way for an ostrich! With Somers and Ossie Ostrich (pictured at top) up front, they were to be joined by booth announcer John Blackman, and after a while they didn’t bother playing the cartoons anymore. A brief detour to Melbourne’s ATV0 for the ill-fated The Daryl And Ossie Show in 1978 saw the team return to Nine a year later, a little older and wiser, and this time joined by Queenslander Jacki MacDonald. The move to prime time in 1984 saw a greater emphasis on variety and for years its ratings were unbeatable as the early evening timeslot meant viewers could keep up with the show before heading out for the night. MacDonald left Hey Hey in 1988, making way for others including Denise Drysdale, Jo Beth Taylor and Livinia Nixon. Nostalgia saw the show revived for two reunion specials in 2009 and, surprising everyone, a new series in 2010.