MeTVThe advent and conversion to digital television has opened the market right up to new opportunities and niche markets as broadcasters can now cram more digital channels in the same space that in the past used to only accommodate one analogue channel.

In the United States, the conversion to digital television has opened up a whole industry of classic-themed channels. There are now several major such channels available in the US market — including MeTV, This TV, Antenna, Cozi and the soon-to-launch Decades — all tapping into their own pools of syndicated material and classic movies dating back to the 1950s.

Just as an example, MeTV, which covers 91% of the US, has been revisiting classic shows such as The Carol Burnett Show, Roller Derby, Perry Mason, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Thriller, Gilligan’s Island, HR Puf ‘n’ Stuf, That Girl, Petticoat Junction, The Adventures Of Superman, Batman, The Land Of The Lost, Mod Squad, The Streets Of San Francisco, Route 66 and Naked City.

Australia’s free-to-air networks have never really properly embraced the concept, although they promised it when launching channels like Eleven, GO and GEM. While these have had a certain emphasis on classic content during daytime or off-peak periods, they are barely scratching the surface of the volume of classic TV titles. In many cases they are only re-running programs that have already been re-run here constantly for years. Eleven has been rotating much the same library of classic titles for four years now with little variation, despite apparently having access to thousands of hours from the back catalogue of the huge CBS studio in the States.

There are mountains of programs that are clearly available but networks here are sticking to the same tired playlist of titles. Eleven’s HD counterpart One gives us two episodes of MASH each weeknight. As if we haven’t been exposed to that series enough over 40 years. Likewise, Nine‘s GEM is giving us two episodes of Friends each weeknight. A popular show, by all means, but at least use the second half hour for something different. It becomes lazy and shallow programming.

Just the sample of MeTV’s playlist alone indicates that there is so much greater depth of classic programming that networks could tap into instead of giving us MASH or Friends twice a night.

There must be enough content out there for at least one of the free-to-air channels here in Australia to embrace a truly retro or classic format. And not just to dig up stuff from the US or even the UK but actually invest in reviving some Australian content. The Crawfords library alone (owned by WIN) contains a vastly impressive list of titles, some of which is available on DVD.

againstthewindAustralian TV has a tremendous track record in mini-series over the decades, with productions including Against The Wind (pictured), For The Term Of His Natural Life, Anzacs, Bodyline, The Dismissal, Bangkok Hilton, Sword Of Honour, Vietnam, Winners, The Dirtwater Dynasty, Women Of The Sun and Harp In The South. At a time when so many Australians don’t have a grasp on their own nation’s history, these shows could be a real eye opener and production-wise, apart from not being in widescreen, would still hold up extremely well if broadcast today.

sonsanddaughters_2Classic soaps like Sons And Daughters (pictured), Prisoner and A Country Practice have all had various re-runs but there are so many others that haven’t seen the light of day since they were originally broadcast and could be embraced by a new generation of viewers. The DVD releases of Number 96 have shown that there is a market for watching classic Australian soaps.

Even duds like Arcade, Holiday Island, Punishment, Starting Out or Above The Law could be fodder for a binge night of TV shockers.

rp_mavis.jpgFast Forward has been repeated on One, but how many other classic comedies could be getting exposed to a new generation? The Seven Network has seemingly put The Mavis Bramston Show, the show that really put Australian comedy on the map, into the too hard basket — yet it still exists in the archives.

These shows might not be the highest brow of entertainment, but neither is much of what the networks push onto us every night now, anyway. (Because in 40 years time, are we going to be reminiscing about reality pap like My Kitchen Rules or The Block? I don’t think so.)

Sure, there is a vast market of DVD titles of classic shows available and the advent of streaming video platforms such as Stan, Presto, Apple TV and Netflix might one day expose 21st century viewers to some of the shows that defined TV culture in the last century, but watching these shows on the platform that they were designed for — free-to-air broadcast TV — serves as a nostalgic nod not just to the shows themselves but the medium that created them. And there is still something attractive about the common experience of watching a program with thousands of others, something that is even enhanced these days by being able to share the experience over social media in real time.

Of course, and in particular with regards to Australian content, there is a hidden cost to the networks as actors, performers, composers and so on may (and should) be entitled to some token payment for their work to be paraded once again — but, guess what, that’s what commercial breaks are for.

Instead of filling up bandwidth with shopping channels that might be good for revenue (though the demise of Seven’s Fresh Ideas TV indicates that the revenue stream may not be as abundant as first thought) but do nothing to actively encourage people to watch, perhaps the networks could be proactive and invest in a programming niche that might actively bring some people back to traditional TV as an alternative to them being tortured with multiple repeats of Nutri Bullet commercials.





5 thoughts on “Networks, it’s time to go retro

  1. I would like to see a Classic TV Channel on Free To Air it would be similar to MeTV/This TV/Antenna/Cozi TV/Decades in the US with some Australian Content scheduled like MeTV.

    Highlights of shows that would be included:
    Norman Gunston Show
    Kingswood Country
    Paul Hogan Show
    Very Best Of Paul Hogan Show (2009)
    Best of Don Lane Show
    best of Tonight with Bert Newton
    Bert Newton New Faces
    Best of Midday Show With Ray Martin/Derryn Hinch
    Best of Graham Kennedy
    Best of Graham Kennedy News Show/Coast To Coast
    Best And Worst of Red Faces
    Best of Good Morning Australia with Bert Newton
    Best of Hinch (1988-1993)
    Best of A Current Affair/Willesee  (classic 80/90’s)
    Best of 60 Minutes (80s/90s)
    The Book Place
    Fat Cat and Friends
    Simon Townsends Wonder World
    Hey Hey By Request
    Press Your Luck with Ian Turpie
    The Sullivans
    Division 4
    Matlock Police
    The Price is Right with Ian Turpie
    Graham Kennedy’s/Daryl Somers Blankety Blanks
    Graham Kennedy’s Funniest Home Videos Show
    Sale Of The Century 1980-2001
    Hey Hey Its Saturday
    Keynotes 1992-1993
    Family Feud Somers/Brough/Deeks Version
    Wheel Of Fortune Sigley/Burgess Version
    Rex Hunt Fishing Australia/Fishing Adventures
    Fast Forward
    Full Frontal
    Leyland Brothers World
    Mother And Son
    Best of Countdown with Molly Meldrum
    On This Day News – Classic News Stories from on this Day via 7/9/10/ABC News Archives
    Classic Australian Blooper TV Shows
    The Two Ronnies in Australia
    Dave Allen In Australia
    Number 96
    The Mavis Bramston Show
    Holiday Island
    Sons and Daughters
    A Country Practice
    Perfect Match
    The Comedy Company
    Classic Burkes Backyard
    Solo One
    The Best of the Mike Walsh Show
    The Best of NewsWorld with Clive Robertson/World Tonight
    Come and Get It with Peter Russell Clarke
    Classic Huey’s Cooking Adventures
    Bernard King Cooking Shiws
    The Restless Years
    Best of the NRL and AFL Footy Shows (from the archives)
    Best of Tonight Live with Steve Vizard

    That is some of the extensive list of classic Australian TV Shows (with some Best Ofs) that would air on the channel which I would like to see but very unlikely on Free To Air TV.

    There is Classic TV however on Foxtel like FOX Classics.

  2. If the commercial free-to-air stations can’t or won’t put these classic(in some cases, not all) shows to air, then give them over to community TV. A few of these old shows(in colour or b.&.w.) would pad out their schedules nicely and give them some programming ideas I’m sure. The only other thing to do then is make Malcolm Turnbull reverse his dunderheaded decision to kick community TV off the free-to-air channels at the end of this year. Instead of shutting down community TV, why doesn’t he get rid of those TV junkyards, the “info-mercial” stations who try to push total rubbish products onto us at prices so far above their true worth(totally worthless) that no sane person would even want to spend 2 cents on, let alone a couple of hundred dollars!

  3. This is likely the best(or only) place to put this, but an important milestone anniversary looms ahead for Australian TV, this Sunday, 1st March is the 40th anniversary of the commencement of full-time colour broadcasting. Not that the stations have all that much to celebrate, considering their staple is mind-numbing “reality” shows(that are anything but real), game shows(welcome worn out years ago) and crap overseas content.

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