Continuing the history of TEN10, Sydney. Part I can be found here.
The Seventies began with TEN10 still in a precarious financial situation. Profits were small and both the channel and the renamed 0-10 Network were yet to have a break out hit after over five years on air.
The network’s first attempt at serious drama, the Melbourne-based cop series The Long Arm, lasted only three months.
The solution to TEN’s ratings and revenue shortfall could ultimately be summed up in one series — Number 96.
The adults-only sex and sin drama was a gamble played by the 0-10 Network. Production began in TEN10’s North Ryde studios in October 1971 and the series debuted in March 1972, on what became known as ‘the night Australian TV lost its virginity’. With its assortment of storylines including sex, adultery, racism, homosexuality, drugs and rape, combined with casual glimpses of nudity and loads of comedy, Number 96 (cast including Abigail and Joe Hasham, pictured) had an immediate impact on TEN’s ratings and financial position. Within two years TEN10’s full-year profit had skyrocketed from less than $200,000 to $1.55 million. Number 96 went on to top the national ratings in 1973 and 1974 and for the first time the 0-10 Network was seen as a formidable rival to Nine and Seven.
The success of 96 led to the network adopting another adult drama series, the Melbourne-based The Box. While Melbourne productions don’t always fare well in Sydney, The Box debuted on TEN10 to a rating of 46 (per cent of households).
When The Box and Number 96 eventually wound up in 1977, 0-10 launched a new series based around a group of school leavers. The Restless Years was a popular drama from the Reg Grundy Organisation that boosted the careers of a number of young actors, including Peter Phelps (pictured), Jon Blake, Simon Burke, Victoria Nicolls, Penny Cook, Lenore Smith, Julieanne Newbould, Martin Sacks, Zoe Bertram and Tom Burlinson. The series also featured former Queensland television presenter Kerri-Anne Wright (now Kerri-Anne Kennerley) in a minor role. The Restless Years continued for four years.
TEN10 and the Grundy Organisation also produced Chopper Squad — an action drama focused on the helicopter rescue squad patrolling Sydney beaches — starring Eric Oldfield, Dennis Grosvenor and Robert Coleby.
Adopting the Eyewitness News brand for its news bulletin in the early 1970s, TEN10 extended its 6.00pm bulletin to one hour in November 1975. By September 1978, John Bailey had returned to TEN after working in Melbourne. He was joined at the news desk by a female reporter, Katrina Lee. Lee (pictured) would go on to become TEN’s biggest news ratings drawcard, winning four Logies for her popularity with Sydney viewers, and would continue to read the news for the channel on and off for around 15 years.
With Lee joining the newsreading team, the Eyewitness News format was revamped to an American style to include more on-the-road reports, live crosses, a more conversational presentation and the newsreaders getting out to report the news not just reading it from the studio.
Mike Walsh, previously seen on TEN10’s Ten On The Town and 66 And All That, had returned to Sydney in 1973 after working on Melbourne radio and television for a few years, to host The Mike Walsh Show. The afternoon variety show set out to challenge the stereotype that daytime viewers were only interested in knitting patterns and cooking tips, by providing a daytime show combining variety with topical discussions on politics, current affairs and other social issues, The Mike Walsh Show became successful enough that Walsh (pictured below with guest Margaret Whitlam in an early show) took the show across to Nine from 1977, where it would continue for several more years and later evolve into the Midday show.
Following the loss of The Mike Walsh Show to Nine, TEN embarked on replacement shows Adams After Noon in 1977 and The Steve Raymond Show in 1978-79. The station also continued its local morning magazine programs, with The Maggi Eckardt Show and later Good Morning Sydney with Maureen Duval.
But while TEN lost Walsh, the channel and Grundys had huge success with their move to sign up Graham Kennedy for his first major TV comeback since The Graham Kennedy Show on Nine came to an abrupt end — after his controversial “crow call” and other comments made on camera — early in 1975. Blankety Blanks, adapted from the US show The Match Game, debuted in January 1977 and became a prime time ratings hit with its less than subtle innuendo and comic routines from Kennedy and his celebrity panellists (including Carol Raye and Stuart Wagstaff, pictured below with Kennedy).
TEN won a TV Week Logie Award in 1978 for Outstanding Community Service for its special The National Survival Test. The one-off program, featuring Eric Walters, Ken Burslem, Major-General Alan Stretton, Ray Tyson and Bernadette Hughson, was aimed at making Australians more aware of some of the basic facts that will help them survive various dangers including accidents and disasters. The following year TEN won another Logie for the same category for its ‘Have A Go’ advertising campaign — a series of commercials to motivate Australians to take a greater sense of pride in their country. The campaign was later endorsed by then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser as well as state governments.
In 1979, sixteen years after his failed application for the licence to operate Sydney’s third commercial channel, Rupert Murdoch made a successful takeover of United Telecasters Sydney Limited, the licencee of TEN10. The investment was Murdoch’s first stake in establishing himself as a major player in the Australian television industry — previously only having control of TV stations in Adelaide and Wollongong. The purchase of TEN10 and his subsequent investment in Ansett Transport Industries, which owned ATV0 in Melbourne, would give Murdoch access to Australia’s two largest TV markets. This triggered a government inquiry over concerns Murdoch would have an undue influence over the wider 0-10 network and that his TV ownership across both markets would not be in the public interest.
Meanwhile, TEN10’s afternoon variety show, The Steve Raymond Show, was cancelled in 1979 amid plans to refurbish the channel’s main studio for an ambitious new drama series from the producers of Number 96 that was hoped to lead the charge into the Eighties…
Source: The Age, 27 July 1972. Sydney Morning Herald, 16 October 1973. The Age, 26 April 1977. TV Times, 24 February 1973. TV Week, 11 March 1978. Sydney Morning Herald, 3 September 1978. The Australian Women’s Weekly, 2 July 1980.