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Popular Australian television

'Good evening and welcome to television.'
Bruce Gyngell, Sydney, 16 September 1956.

These were the first words spoken on Australian television. Since then, Australian television has grown to include: five national free-to-air stations; regional stations; community stations; and countless cable stations. Television - both watching and producing - is a part of Australian culture. Through television, we have been able to witness some of the most memorable and important national and international events of the past 50 years - history in the making.

James Dibble reading the first news bulletin from ABN2 (ABC) in 1956.

James Dibble reading the first news bulletin from ABN2 (ABC) in 1956. Image courtesy of the ABC

History of Australian television

In 1926 in England, John Logie Baird first demonstrated a true television system by electrically transmitting moving pictures. Two years later, television broadcasts first began in America, followed by Britain in 1936. As television transmissions were suspended during the Second World War, it was not until the late 1940s that steps were made to bring television to Australia.

In 1955, the first Australian television licences were issued in Sydney and Melbourne. In July of the following year, TCN9 Sydney (Channel 9) and HSV7 (Channel 7) Melbourne began test transmissions. The government-owned Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) also expanded its radio broadcasting activities to include television broadcasting in Sydney and Melbourne in late 1956.

The 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games was broadcast as a test transmission by all three television stations operating in Melbourne at the time. In 1959, television was introduced to Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia, with Tasmania following in 1960 and the Australian Capital Territory in 1962. Television was not introduced to the Northern Territory until 1971.

During the early days of Australian television, most of the programming consisted of established radio shows, such as Bob Dyer's Pick-a-box, and were simply a broadcast of the radio transmission. Most television hosts of this time, such as Brian Henderson and Graham Kennedy, also came from radio.

By the end of 1956, it is estimated that only 1% of Sydney residents and 5% of Melbourne residents owned a television set, which cost about six to ten weeks' pay for the average worker of the time.

An Australian family watching television, 1959.

An Australian family watching television, 1959. Image courtesy of Picture Australia.

As television became more popular and affordable, broadcasters looked to America and, to a lesser degree, Britain for programs. Local content was mostly limited to chat and variety shows, news and current affairs.

In the mid-1960s, a third commercial station - Channel 0 (now Channel 10) - began broadcasting and Australian audiences began to demand more Australian content. Australian dramas became very popular, although audiences were still watching many American programs as well.

Australian television became much more exciting with the introduction of colour television in 1975. The government at the time also provided generous subsidies for the production of local television, which meant that Australians were producing more television than ever before.

Australian programs shown on commercial television reached a peak in the 1980s. Australian television also went global in the 1980s, with many local shows finding overseas audiences. At the same time, the launch of the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) on October 24 (United Nations Day) 1980, brought a range of foreign-language programs to Australia.

The last 20 years have seen huge changes in our viewing habits, and the introduction of cable and satellite television (Pay TV) in 1992 has expanded our viewing choices. Reality TV - programs that show real people in unscripted, 'real' situations - first came to Australian television as the 1992 program Sylvania Waters. They are now one of the most popular genres among Australian audiences.

Television is now regularly listed as the number one leisure activity of Australians. Digital Television transmission started in Australia on 1 January 2001. In 2004, more than 99% of Australian households owned at least one television set and 23% of households subscribed to Pay TV.

Decade by decade - popular Australian television

1950s

  • TCN9 launches Brian Henderson's Bandstand, a variety music program which lasts for 14 years.
  • TV Week launches its annual TV awards and Graham Kennedy wins the first Gold Award and names the awards the Logies, after John Logie Baird.
  • ABC launches Six O'Clock Rock with Johnny O'Keefe.
  • Australia's first TV serial drama, Autumn Affair, begins a 10-month run on ATN7/GTV9.
  • HSV7's weekly sports program World Of Sport begins and lasts for 28 years.

1960s

  • ABC's acclaimed weekly current affairs program Four Corners premieres.
  • HSV7 screens the first episode of a Melbourne-produced police drama Homicide, which runs for 500 episodes over 12 years.
  • Australia starts to receive daily news reports via satellite.
  • Play School, based on the BBC production of the same name, begins on ABC.
  • Here's Humphrey begins its long run on Nine.
  • ABC's popular evening series, Bellbird, premieres and runs until 1977.
  • Crawford Productions and GTV9 launch Division 4, a police drama.
  • Australian television broadcasts live coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing and GTV9's coverage enters the record books as the longest continuous live broadcast on television.

1970s

The Homicide team in 1968, Les Dayman, George Mallaby, Leonard Teale and (seated) John Fegan.

The Homicide team in 1968, Les Dayman, George Mallaby, Leonard Teale and (seated) John Fegan.
Image courtesy of TV Week.

  • Matlock Police, a weekly police drama from Crawford Productions, starts a five year run.
  • Young Talent Time starts an 18-year run on the 0-10 Network.
    Hey Hey It's Saturday
    begins a 28 year run.
  • A Current Affair with Mike Willesee premieres on Nine.
  • The 0-10 Network screens the first episode of Number 96, which created controversy over its sex and nude scenes.
  • Countdown, with Molly Meldrum, starts a 12-year run on ABC.
  • Grundy's hospital drama The Young Doctors premieres and screens for 1396 episodes.
  • Crawford Productions' World War II drama The Sullivans, begins its seven year run.
  • Against The Wind, the first major mini-series produced for Australian commercial television, is screened on Seven.
  • Nine's weekly current affairs program 60 Minutes premieres.

1980s

  • A quiz show, Sale of the Century, premieres and runs until 2001 - reappearing in 2005.
  • Seven premieres its new evening drama A Country Practice which runs for 12 years.
  • Ten televises the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics live via satellite.
  • Neighbours begins on the Seven Network, is axed after six months then is picked up by Ten, going on to achieve international success.
  • ABC (now the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) launches its overnight music video program Rage.
  • Seven's evening soap Home and Away is launched.
  • The Comedy Company launches on Ten and runs for 2 years, marking a revival of successful Australian comedy on TV.
  • ABC's medical drama, GP, begins an eight-year run.

1990s

  • Healthy Wealthy and Wise begins a seven-year run on Ten.
  • Seven premieres its rural police drama Blue Heelers.
  • The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is televised for the first time on commercial television.
  • SeaChange, ABC's weekly drama, becomes a huge hit and runs for 3 seasons.
  • ABC is the host Australian broadcaster of the international TV event 2000 Today, a 26-hour live telecast of new year celebrations around the world, commencing at 8.30pm (AEDST) on 31 December.

2000s

  • The Sydney Olympics sets new ratings records with the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.
  • Ten's popular Melbourne-based drama The Secret Life Of Us premieres and runs for four years.
  • Kath and Kim, the eight-part 'reality sitcom' premieres and runs for 3 seasons.
  • The Seven, Nine and Ten Networks combine for the first time to televise a 3-hour concert/telethon to raise funds for the relief effort of victims of the Asian tsunami - the appeal raised more than $A20 million.

Useful links

Australian television

Last updated: 27th August 2007
Creators: Big Black Dog Communications Pty Ltd, et al.

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