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Friday, May 15, 2009

50 years of Brisbane TV Part 5: The Gold Coast, Queensland's TV production hub

Dedicated to... Charles "Bud" Tingwell AM, a icon of Australian film and television, who has achieved many honours in his long career, 1923-2009.

This month we have left Brisbane behind again, to this time focus on Queensland's TV production heart, the Gold Coast, and look at it's two distinct roles in the history of the Queensland industry, first being the place where our early stars got away from it all, and second, the film and television sector wanting a piece of "Australia's Hollywood".

The 1960's: GC glitter meets Brisbane television's early stars.
The Gold Coast of the late 1950's, was a different place. The ubiquitous canal system hadn't been developed, most accomodation was in the form of guesthouses, the motel hadn't quite taken over, and there was two places to be on the Coast, either the Surfers Paradise Hotel (where today's Paradise Centre stands) or the newly completed Lennons Broadbeach (sister of the original Brisbane Lennons, standing around where The Oasis Shopping Centre is today), and they were lures for visitors, from Brisbane, as a alternative to the other main attraction to the GC, the beaches. When Brisbane TV started, good signals could be picked up of the three Brisbane commercials (similar to the Brisbane FM stations of today on the GC), and in the mid 1960's some of Brisbane TV's brightest stars, used the Gold Coast as a base. The late George Wallace, had a home down there and commuted up to BTQ-7 to do Theatre Royal, Nancy Knudsen would entertain her GC fans, by waterskiing on the Nerang River, and in one memorable incident, she would end up landing in mud, instead of a standard landing on dry land, and got mud all over her waterskiing costume, specially designed for a waterskiing pageant. QTQ's Brisbane Tonight, did a few live performances on the Coast, which attracted large audiences, and by the mid 1970's, Gold Coast resident, Paul Sharratt starred in QTQ's Studio Nine, as compere, won a few Logies and set his own career path, as a producer, which was the seed for what was to come, but some minor hiccups, hampered the GC's path.


The 1980's-Boom or Bust: The Gold Coast's major TV change.

The first thing that caused this boom or bust era, was the elimination of death duties in Queensland, which saw older people move to the Gold Coast, from the southern states, so they could stop paying a "death tax", which eventually saw the southern states drop death duties, to stop the exodus. The other major contributing factor was highrise development, which also "ended" the era of VHF broadcasting on the Gold Coast, with a decision in 1980, to allow the Brisbane metropolitan stations, to open UHF feeds to the GC. Lismore-based Northern Rivers Television wanted a piece of the GC UHF pie, having also been requested by viewers to upgrade their signal, and in 1983, NRTV was added to the UHF conundrum, and opened their own Gold Coast facilities. In 1985, SBS was launched on the Gold Coast, at the same time as Brisbane viewers, and in 1992, NBN and Prime Television started broadcasting on the Gold Coast as part of the aggregation of NRTV's market with NBN and Prime's. Many highrise buildings started to have UHF antennas, with connections into most rooms, and the next major change would see the Coast's birth as a production hub.

1990's Warner-Roadshow Studios, The beginning of a new era.

In the slipstream of Expo 88, came the construction of a film studio complex, at Oxenford, near a recently opened water park (which became Wet 'n Wild) with soundstages, and eventually one of the best water filming facilities in the world, attracted international acclaim. In 1991, the project was "officially" opened, with the completion of the Warner Bros. Movie World theme park, and the slogan that the park had from day 1, "Hollywood on The Gold Coast" stuck, for the Oxenford/Pacific Pines area, (complete with a locality "Studio Village") expanded rapidly after the park's opening. The keynote event of the Movie World opening, was a live telecast, of Nine's Hey Hey It's Saturday, which was so successful, it was repeated the next year. Before long, Australian viewers saw the attempts at making a sun/surf drama (to sell overseas) on the Gold Coast that failed, like Paradise Beach and Pacific Drive. but the film industry saw paydirt, with the foundation in 1991 of the Pacific Film and Television Commission, which lured productions to Queensland that filled the new studios, and used various Gold Coast landmarks as filming locations. But the next "big" change, was something that the GC fell in love with, the willingness of Network Ten to pour money into the industry, with great results.

The beginning of the 21st century: Big Brother and the reality TV revolution.
In 2001, Network Ten partnered with Southern Star Endemol, to produce, the Australian version of Big Brother, out of a newly completed Dreamworld facility, complete with a purpose-built house, which itself became a drawcard to the park. It not just launched the early 2000's reality TV boom in Australia, it broke the wall down. Many staff have worked in the facility, up until the programs axing in 2008, as well as hundreds of thousands of people who attended evictions, went on off season tours of the house and on-season tours of the studio facility. Ten had made their imprint, as at one stage, their entire childrens line up was done in Queensland, from preschool programs, to Toasted TV (which is still taped at Sea World). But the "stigma" of the 1990's was finally lifted, when noted childrens drama producer, Jonathan Shiff decided to film his third great series for Ten (first being Ocean Girl, then Cybergirl, which was completely shot in Brisbane and launched the careers of the Origlasso twins, aka The Veronicas) H20-Just Add Water, on the Gold Coast, using the city as a backdrop, to a tale about teenage mermaids. It became a runaway hit, selling overseas and even cracking the biggest hurdle, the burgeoning Pay TV market in Australia, by appearing on the Australian Disney Channel, alongside another unrelated product which also used the GC as a backdrop (and also had the earliest TV appearance of Beau "Nitro" Walker) and originally produced for the Nine Network, Mortified, which brings us to 2009.

2009 and beyond... The future.
As we march towards the beginning of a new decade, The Gold Coast has become a film destination, sometimes posing as the most un-Australian locations, like in the 2006 WWE Films release, The Marine, where it posed as South Carolina, other times posing as itself, but always showed its class. 2009 is also a special anniversary, for Gold Coast residents, as it is fifty years since their proclamation as a city, and the term "South Coast" replaced with "Gold Coast", with only two major changes, the first being the merger of the GCCC with the Albert Shire in 1995, and second being the excising of Beenleigh from the now-merged GCCC area in 2008. The saying goes, "all that glitters is gold", Well, the Gold Coast glitters brightly, in many ways, that people will remember for years to come...

A opener for Nine's Gold Coast News:



The opener for The Strip, 2008 drama series filmed on the Gold Coast




Credits: Youtube-aussiebeachut,

Book-On Air, 25 Years of TV in Queensland (my trusty resource about the early days of Brisbane TV) for various references to Brisbane talent and programs, long remembered and not forgotten by older viewers.

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