It was camp, it was cheesy and it wasn’t overly original. But from its first episode, airing on 24 April 1971, Young Talent Time managed to strike a chord with kids and families across Australia. Its success was a welcome pay off for Melbourne’s ATV0, which up until then was struggling to find something to put up against Saturday night football replays on the other three channels.
The program was devised by pop star, songwriter and TV and radio presenter Johnny Young and business partner, recording industry executive Kevin Lewis. Their company Lewis-Young Productions sold the concept to ATV0. It was soon picked up by the wider 0-10 Network and regional stations across Australia.
The first episode aired on 24 April 1971 at 7.00pm, featuring Young as host and his first Young Talent Team: Jane Scali, Debbie Byrne, Vicki Broughton, Philip Gould, Rod Kirkham and Jamie Redfern. The cast of six came from an audition of over 100 hopefuls.
The new show drew comparisons with a similar show, Seven‘s Brian And The Juniors, that had ended a year earlier. And indeed, four of the YTT cast — Scali, Byrne, Broughton and Redfern — had previously appeared on Brian And The Juniors. But Young claimed that YTT was of a more contemporary nature that its predecessor. “When (Young Talent Time) first started, people thought it would be like Brian And The Juniors,” he told TV Week in July 1971. “But Brian And The Juniors had that Shirley Temple look about it. All the little girls were so sweet and coy. Young Talent Time isn’t like that at all.”
Over its 18-year run, YTT featured 40 team members. Among its most famous alumni are Tina Arena, Dannii Minogue, Sally Boyden and Debra Byrne. But its first break-out star was Jamie Redfern. By the end of YTT‘s first year, Redfern had a record deal and had released a top-selling album and charting singles. At the TV Week King Of Pop Awards in October 1971, he won the award for Outstanding Newcomer. It was at the awards that he gained the attention of visiting guest star Liberace, who then took Redfern on tour across the US.
By 1972, the show won a TV Week Logie Award for Best Australian Musical/Variety Show. It went on to win the same category for three consecutive years, from 1974 to 1976, and a special award for sustained excellence in 1982. The show also became a goldmine through record sales and merchandising.
YTT continued through the 1980s, embracing bigger production numbers and the glamour of ’80s TV variety. Plans to franchise the format to the US culminated in a short-run series The New Generation, featuring some of the YTT cast and broadcast on American cable television. But back home, ratings were on the decline by the end of the decade, the culmination of the decision by the Nine Network to slot Hey Hey It’s Saturday in direct competition with YTT in 1985. In 1988, YTT shifted from Saturday to Friday nights but it was to no avail.
YTT made its final appearance in December 1988 before Network Ten quietly pulled the pin over the summer break. The show continued to air in “best of” repeat episodes for the first few months of 1989.
More than a decade after its demise, in 2001 former team member John Bowles interviewed many of the show’s former cast for a nostalgic special, Young Talent Time Tells All. And in 2011, A Current Affair assembled Young and various team members for a special interview coinciding with the show’s 40th anniversary.
YouTube: Tony Pirpiris
Nostalgia for YTT continued with Network Ten launching a 21st century revival of the series, with former Australian Idol contestant Rob Mills taking over the role of host and featuring a new team of young performers. The new show struggled to rate and was not renewed beyond its first season.
To celebrate the show’s 50th anniversary, Johnny Young and members of the Young Talent Team will gather for a live streaming event on 1 May 2021, presented by Epicentre TV. Tickets for the two-hour event, at $14.95, are now on sale.