The year 1988 was one of the best for the Ten Network. Ratings were high on the back of the Olympic Games, Ten News, hit shows Neighbours and The Comedy Company, Sydney rugby league and a strong line-up of movies. It also marked the network’s expansion into Perth, and in Brisbane the conversion from the somewhat troubling Channel 0 frequency to Ten.
When the year ticked over into 1989, although the network had some crisp looking graphics and a glossy station identification, the shine was starting to fade. New shows such as Roseanne, Thirtysomething and new local soap E Street were not grabbing much attention. Its overall popularity was fading in favour of a resurgent Seven Network. Ten was back firmly in third place in the ratings, after spending much of the previous year at first or second place.
Ten’s reaction, by as early in the year as April, was to bring in American television executive Bob Shanks to try and boost its fortunes. Shanks came well recommended — having been executive vice president of America’s ABC for six years and created successes like Good Morning America and 20/20 for the network.
Shanks apparently liked Neighbours and The Comedy Company but thought the rest needed an overhaul. Fledgling soap E Street was taken back to the drawing board for a drastic revamp. Likewise, a similar rework was put in place for the current affairs show Page One, which had been Ten’s pale attempt to take on 60 Minutes. It was to be re-named Public Eye.
There were some new US titles on the way, including The Wonder Years, Quantum Leap, The Bronx Zoo and a sketch comedy series called Bizarre that dated back to 1982.
But most significant was a swag of game shows: revivals of The Price Is Right, Superquiz (the old Pick A Box format) and Candid Camera, plus a new pop culture quiz, The Great TV Game Show. Hosting them were TV legends like Mike Walsh (making a return to Ten after 12 years) and Ian Turpie.
But the pinnacle was to be Family Double Dare — a prime-time version of the afternoon kids game show, hosted by Larry Emdur.
Shanks reportedly wasn’t too enamoured with Ten’s logo — a stylised “X” for the roman numeral 10 — so that was on the way out, too.
Then the teaser promos started, giving little away with mysterious shots of manila folders with bold headings like “drama” and “comedy”, and Ten personalities being over-excited about what’s to come, but not saying anything in particular. There were glimpses of the old “X” logo being painted over.
Shanks and Ten unveiled their new-look network at a flash presentation in early July. Gone would be “X” and in its place a gold-plated “10 TV Australia”. The promos stepped up ahead of the launch date, 23 July 1989.
The new-look Ten was launched at 7.30pm with a four-minute presentation leading into The Comedy Company. It was a promo that probably looked more at home in a boardroom rather than on our living room TVs. It didn’t exactly shout excitement.
Most of what launched under 10 TV Australia was to be short lived. Family Double Dare lasted three weeks. Superquiz, The Price Is Right, Public Eye and The Great TV Game Show barely saw out the year. Candid Camera was the only one of the new commissions to see the next year.
Neighbours and E Street survived despite the falling shows around them. Of the new US shows, The Wonder Years developed a decent following.
Shanks was soon sent back to the US, well short of the three years that he had been contracted for.
In hindsight, while Ten was in third place at the start of the year, its position was not terminal. By the year’s end, it was on the way to receivership, which was to come later in 1990.