Part IV of this week’s tribute to 50 years of Network Ten.
- Part I — ATV0… from Go!! to Ten
- Part II — ATV0: The Channel 0 Viewers’ Club
- Part III — ATV10… A new decade, a new channel
- Part V — Ten: 2000 to now
The Nineties started with Australia in the “recession we had to have” and the television industry was caught right up in it. The Seven Network had gone into receivership following the collapse of Christopher Skase‘s Qintex empire, and the Nine Network was bought back by Kerry Packer for a fraction of what he sold it to Alan Bond for only three years earlier.
The Ten Network was also in financial trouble. Frank Lowy, who had bought into the network three years earlier, had sold the Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane channels to production house Broadcom, headed by Steve Cosser, at a bargain basement price far below the $840 million he’d spent to buy them. Cosser, a Network Ten journalist in the early ’80s, was appointed Managing Director of Ten but his tenure was to be short-lived.
New productions during 1990 had an emphasis on comedy, including slapstick sitcom Let The Blood Run Free (starring Jean Kittson and Peter Rowsthorn, pictured) and Comedy Company spin-offs Larger Than Life and Col’n Carpenter, but there wasn’t much laughing going on behind the scenes. In September 1990, Ten went into receivership and 15 executive staff were sacked. Former Nine Network executive Gary Rice was appointed CEO. Two months later Rice had announced more brutal cuts across the network, mostly from within the news and current affairs portfolio, with the aim of stopping ongoing financial losses which were reported to be as much as $2 million per week. ATV10 had its one-hour news bulletin cut down to 30 minutes, while local current affairs shows from Ten’s Sydney and Brisbane stations were axed.
But while this axing was occurring, the network was assembling a revamped image and programming strategy. In January 1991, the 10 TV Australia logo was gone and replaced with a shiny new logo and tagline — ‘The Entertainment Network’.
The new image sought to re-position Ten as a brand for the under-40 age group. Melbourne-based Neighbours and Sydney-based E Street, both dramas with a focus on youth, were maintained, and some canny programming deals saw Ten capture some of the hottest shows to come out of the US, in particular The Simpsons and mystery drama Twin Peaks, later to be joined by Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, Seinfeld, Baywatch, NYPD Blue, The X Files, Law And Order, Northern Exposure, Picket Fences, The Nanny and daytime talk show queen Oprah Winfrey.
Local production was slowly cranked back up with game shows Blind Date (a rework of Perfect Match) and Let’s Make A Deal and talent quest Star Search. Ten Eyewitness News was soon to reinstate the one-hour format that had been axed amid the previous year’s cutbacks — with former Melbourne newsreader Jo Pearson welcomed back to the ATV10 newsdesk alongside David Johnston, and in Sydney Katrina Lee and John Mangos fronted the new-look bulletin. Melbourne radio talkback host Neil Mitchell had his own “talk back TV” show, Mitchell On Sunday, and former Good Morning Australia co-host Gordon Elliott hosted a local version of US current affairs show Hard Copy.
Newsreader David Johnston had branched out to host a new weekly interview program, Meet The Press. The outbreak of the Gulf War in 1991 led to Ten running continuous overnight news coverage from the US CNN network, with Ten Eyewitness News also launching its own national late night news bulletin from Sydney — initially fronted by Eric Walters, then Anne Fulwood and later Sandra Sully.
The network had then signed up big names Bert Newton, Derryn Hinch and Jacki MacDonald. Hinch’s current affairs show had just been axed by Seven and he took the same program to Ten where it lasted another two years. Former Hey Hey It’s Saturday star MacDonald (pictured) had made a surprise move to co-host Ten’s new lifestyle series Healthy Wealthy And Wise, and Newton was signed up to host The Morning Show as well as a revived version of his former Nine Network show New Faces.
The Morning Show soon became Good Morning Australia, picking up the title after the breakfast show of the same name had been axed. Ten Eyewitness News made the bold move from its regular 6.00pm timeslot to become ‘First At 5’, giving it a one-hour head start on Seven’s and Nine’s news bulletins.
The year 1992 saw the network sold to Canadian media company CanWest and in the same year ATV10 moved out of its original building in Nunawading. The station took up more modest premises within the Como Centre building in inner suburban South Yarra, but the station maintained links with Nunawading where the site would operate as an outsourced production facility, in particular for Neighbours but also for other large scale productions as needed.
In 1993, Jeopardy marked Tony Barber‘s (pictured) return to television after quitting Nine’s Sale Of The Century two years earlier. The program lasted only six months in the competitive 6.00pm timeslot up against news bulletins from Seven and Nine. Subsequent attempts to fill the timeslot included youth magazine show Level 23, drama series Echo Point and quiz show Battle Of The Sexes. Echo Point was an attempt to build a teen-based soap to work alongside Neighbours but was axed after six months. The network had better luck a few years later with another teen soap, Breakers, that screened out of prime time but lasted two years.
With E Street axed in early 1993 Ten added new drama Heartbreak High and adopted A Country Practice which had been axed by Seven. Ten went on to pick up other titles discarded from other networks with varying degrees of success — including lifestyle show Live It Up (from Seven), Beyond 2000 (from Seven), Full Frontal (also from Seven and re-named Totally Full Frontal), Sex (from Nine and re-named by Ten as Sex/Life) and Good News Week (from ABC).
The days of the big-budget, epic mini-series productions were over but Ten had made other inroads into adult drama, including State Coroner, Big Sky and Medivac. The 1977 Granville train disaster was the basis for a two-part mini-series, The Day Of The Roses.
The Melbourne Cup Carnival continued to be covered by Ten through the decade, with the network also going to Canada to cover the 1994 Commonwealth Games from Victoria, British Columbia. The National Basketball League also got prime time exposure when Ten gained the broadcast rights from Seven.
In late 1995, David Johnston (pictured) made a sudden decision to leave ATV10 and go back to rival HSV7 almost 20 years after leaving there. His departure led to Mal Walden taking the prime anchor spot alongside Jennifer Hansen. With sports presenter Steve Quartermain and weather man Mike Larkan, the team were a consistent presence at Melbourne’s Ten News for many years. Presenting Ten News in other cities during the decade were Ron Wilson and Juanita Phillips (later Jessica Rowe) in Sydney, Glenn Taylor and Tracey Spicer (later Marie-Louise Theile) in Brisbane, George Donikian and Nicky Dwyer in Adelaide and Greg Pearce and Christina Morrissey in Perth.
The Panel, from the Working Dog team, was a surprise hit with its low-key chat format, while a daytime stalwart dating back to the 1960s, Beauty And The Beast, made a return to the network.
Meanwhile, a relatively unknown comedian called Rove McManus had been hosting a late night comedy show on the Nine Network. Nine decided not to extend Rove beyond its initial ten-week run, but it wasn’t long before Ten snapped him up…
Source: From The Word Go! Forty Years Of Ten Melbourne, 2003. Herald Sun, 27 November 1990.