Saturday night highlights

Saturday nights are usually regarded as the graveyard of prime-time TV. The assumption of commercial network programmers is that the type of viewers that advertisers most likely want to attract are out of the house on Saturday night, so there is no point in trying to appeal to them.

As a result, Saturday night TV has usually been a tired mix of re-runs, shows that never worked on a weeknight timeslot, documentaries with little appeal, or straight-to-TV movies. There is some joy for football fans in the winter months, but for others there is little to get excited about.

Though there have been some exceptions in recent times. ABC has served loyal fans of British shows like The Bill, Parkinson and Doctor Who, and the SBS double of Iron Chef and Melbourne-based Rockwiz with Julia Zemiro and Brian Nankervis, pictured) helped make Saturday one of their most popular nights of the week. But despite the stigma of being TV’s equivalent of a nursing home, Saturday nights have provided a few stand-out, or at least well-remembered shows:

Sydney’s ATN7 presented one of the first popular comedy revue shows in the mid-’60s with the irreverent Mavis Bramston Show, featuring Gordon Chater, Carol Raye, Barry Creyton and later names like June Salter, Noeline Brown, Ron Frazer and Barbara Angell. There was no such person as Mavis Bramston (pictured) – rather the name was taken from a derogatory showbiz term, something like ‘Oh, what a bunch of Mavis Bramstons!’. Such was the popularity of The Mavis Bramston Show, and the fondness in which it is remembered, a recent stage production, Mavis Bramston: Reloaded brought the old revue back to life.

Young Talent Time (pictured) was a gamble by the 0-10 Network in 1971 when pop star Johnny Young assembled a group of child performers to form a variety show for children and families as an alternative to football replays on the other channels. The program was an immediate success and continued for eighteen years, and turned child performers such as Debra Byrne, Tina Arena and Dannii Minogue into household names.

At around the same time as Young Talent Time, Melbourne’s HSV7 had acquired the rights to the Saturday night harness racing but needed something to hold viewers’ interest in the gaps between races. Hence, The Penthouse Club, a variety show with Mike Williamson (later replaced by Ernie Sigley) and comedian Mary Hardy (pictured) that ran for almost ten years. A similar sports-themed variety show, The Club Show, also ran on Saturday nights in Sydney with Rex Mossop, and Adelaide’s ADS7 also produced its own Penthouse Club with local personalities Bob Francis and Anne Wills.

The Nine Network‘s popular Saturday morning children’s show Hey Hey It’s Saturday had outgrown its morning timeslot after twelve years, and made the move to Saturday night in February 1984. The show’s popular line-up of Daryl Somers, Ossie Ostrich, Jacki MacDonald and John Blackman (pictured) continued into the evening format, as did some of the show’s studio segments including Red Faces, a mock talent quest modelled on the network’s popular New Faces. The mix of variety, comedy and celebrity interviews made Hey Hey It’s Saturday a weekly tradition until it was cancelled at the end of 1999. The timeslot was then filled by Australia’s Funniest Home Video Show, a show that unashamedly relies on cringe-worthy slapstick, usually at the expense of children and animals, but appears to have maintained some level of popularity on Saturday evenings.

Comedy team The D-Generation had made their TV debut with a sketch comedy series on ABC in the 1980s, and later the Seven Network. The team had also conquered breakfast radio in Melbourne, and in 1992 made a return to TV with ABC’s The Late Show – a mix of live and pre-recorded comedy sketches. The program also made a cult hero out of former TV cop Bluey (Lucky Grills, pictured) when they comically re-voiced scenes of the 1976 police drama, and also applied the same treatment to ABC’s historical series Rush. The success of The Late Show led to the group producing Frontline, Funky Squad, The Panel, Thank God You’re Here and movies The Castle and The Dish.

There are obviously other shows that I’ve missed – particularly outside of Melbourne. What do you remember about Saturday night TV? What have been your highlights, or lowlights, of Saturday night in front of the TV?

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