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Sunday, November 1, 2009

50 years of Brisbane TV: Part 11-Brisbane's Own: Fifty Years of Channel 7 Brisbane

Dedicated to Tony Gordon 1955-2001.

If one, is to realise the genesis of the Brisbane TV industry and it's "downfall" in recent years, you must take a look at both sides of the commercial coin. Nine may have done some things wrong, but Seven's turkeys are usually singled out. Why singled out? Simply, because of the legacy the station built, from day one as being the creative force in Brisbane's industry.


The Sixties: Theatre Royal's iconic run.
BTQ-7 opened, with just sixty days left in the 1950's, on November 1 1959. It had the honor of the last metro commercial TV station to open for four years (it wasn't till 1964, when ATV-0 in Melbourne opened that new licences were done, and the third commercial licences in Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide (now a 7 station, youngest in the network), and the second commercial licence in Perth were also issued, for opening in 1965). The 1960's shaped Seven Brisbane, and helped create the "local production culture" that existed until the late 1980's. The big stars of the sixties, were mainly local talents, some started their lengthy showbiz careers, and for one, it would rise to unimaginable highs, before a end, for many people, came too soon. Theatre Royal, became Brisbane's most popular program, turning the Friday night slot, into required viewing, even when the commercial market was split three ways, with the introduction of TVQ-0. George Wallace Jr, was the undisputed star of Theatre Royal, and many people thought George was comparable to Graham Kennedy. But the first golden era, of BTQ came to a screeching halt, when George passed away suddenly, aged fifty, in 1968. Other major stars of the era include Nancy Knudsen (who actually gave birth to national production on Mt Coot-tha with her own program, Tiny Time, (a preschool program), being distributed nationally, and just missed out on being the first Queensland TV program to be distributed en-mass overseas.) Brian Tait (the first Queensland Logie winner) as well as Dick McCann (the childrens hour comedian "Beanpole", who also starred as himself on Theatre Royal). By the 1970's however, many of the big names, that shaped BTQ's first golden era, were gone, and the station settled into a lull...

The 70's: Rebuilding and regeneration.
Theatre Royal, the station's great sixties success was gone. As the station raced to colour, the main issues it focused on, were the station's news. A small group of young journalists started out, and eventually became household names to many Queenslanders in the early eighties. That group consisted of Pat Welsh, Mike Higgins, David Fordham and Frank Warrick. Seven's attempts at recapturing the spirit of the 60's, were often shortlived, including specials featuring Jackie McDonald, and Brisbane radio icon Wayne Roberts, but the genesis of the Brisbane industry struck again, when Dina Brown, a star of the late sixties for BTQ, returned home and helped launch Wombat. Wombat, in turn shaped BTQ for the eighties, with the increase in local production, and helped embellish Eric Summons, who had been playing the kids show host "Boris The Black Knight" as a new star. By the end of 1979, the seeds had been sowed, for the turning point, that would usher in a new golden era.

The 1980's: Love You Brisbane, State Affair and statewide reach.
Seven management, had become sick of the slump, caused by Nine and their station programmer Hugh Cornish, (which at one stage saw BTQ rating third out of the commercial stations). It took until the year of the Brisbane Commonwealth Games, and a master pairing of programmer Kel Geddes and Seven Brisbane publicist Gary Linaker, as well as major programming changes (including current affairs program Haydn Sargent's Brisbane evolving into State Affair), that led to the second golden era for Seven. But one slogan sealed the deal, also introduced in 1982, that is... Love You Brisbane. The slogan became popular with Brisbane viewers, so popular, that in the second year of the campaign, it was released as a record, sung by Kim Durant, and achieved radio airplay, which in turn drove sales. 1983 was notable, too as the year Seven finally cracked Nine's dominance, not by imports, but by the core group of Welsh, Higgins and Fordham (Frank Warrick went to Nine in 1983, and read with Don Seccombe, up until Bruce Paige's arrival in 1985), and not just achieved ratings dominance in Brisbane, but achieved the impossible dream, that every regional station in Queensland, and the sole commercial service in Darwin in the Northern Territory was taking BTQ's news, including DDQ-10 which had a partnership with QTQ since the sixties. By the time the station turned twenty five, the station was experiencing a growth pattern, that interested buyers, and by 1985, Fairfax, the then owners of Seven in Sydney bought BTQ. The year the wheels fell off, was in 1987, and it was caused by three factors: 1. being asked to produce a hour news, which saw State Affair axed, 2. changes in media laws, which saw BTQ be sold to Christopher Skase, causing a duopoly issue that was solved when Qintex owned TVQ-0 was sold and 3. being the rise of network content that was produced outside Brisbane. Other minor factors included Mike Higgins leaving BTQ, QTQ breaking through with Bruce Paige, and the rise of TVQ's news hour against Seven's. By the start of 1988, "Love You Brisbane" had gone, a variant would return nearly twenty years later. But the official end of the second golden age, was in late 1989, coinciding with the station's thirtieth birthday.

The 1990's: Brisbane learns to love networking...
The recession of 1990, saw the 7 Network go into receivership. The Brisbane station was critical to the recovery, with national production increased, including a strong children's slate ranging from six days a week of breakfast programming Agro's Cartoon Connection and Saturday Disney, to the ubiquitous 90's kids products, A*Mazing, Time Masters and Wipeout. By 1995, Seven coined the term "The Great South East" in reference to it's home base, South East Queensland, as well as being the home, to the original series of Australian Gladiators, done out of the Brisbane Entertainment Centre, but with all this success, the news was flailing. Even though Seven's news lineup was stable throughout the 90's, including a local Today Tonight, ratings weren't enough, for Nine had chewed through the 5:30 slot, like a doggy toy. By 1997, the first signs of action were happening, with Seven moving Agro to Sydney, followed by Saturday Disney, while the latter seasons of Time Masters and A*Mazing were taped in Perth and suddenly, Brisbane had felt the touch of networking, for the first time. By the time the end of 1999 rolled around, Seven were looking forward to the 2000 Olympics, but the Sydney Olympic year would give a challenge that no-one would predict...

The 2000's: The road to the "Networked Third Golden Age"
It started with a bang, with the Olympic Torch bound for Sydney, spending twenty days in Queensland, including visits to Mt Coot-tha, and Seven personalities carrying the torch as well as a special daily program produced, documenting the torch's journey throughout Queensland. But Seven's biggest project was post-Olympics. Seven had gotten fed up with Extra beating Wheel, and launched a balls and all attempt at local programming, with a hour-long program, Local Edition. While it was Seven's biggest turkey for years, when it was axed, they promised a replacement, but the station never followed through. What did happen, was the culling of production, staff, and slowly but surely, the "Brisbane" was being sucked out. 2001, saw Frank Warrick leave, 2002 saw the hiatus, later axing of the local Today Tonight, By 2005, Brisbane was not even attached to Seven, as people started to see Brisbane's station, as Nine, with the colossial failure of networked gameshow, Deal or No Deal against Extra being the sticking point. But however, times were to change. Seven's news made gains interstate, Brisbane remained stagnant. Then, Seven pulled a masterstroke, and signed John Schluter in 2007, and suddenly the twenty year donkey was broken. But as 2009, unfolded, Seven gained in news, but the Deal hoodoo, struck deeper with a predicted initial post-Extra winning streak (that would have killed Hot Seat), that descended into a stabbing blow for 5:30, with Deal going from respectable figures (160-170,000 viewers), to at one stage, only 84,000 viewers watching one episode. Thus the wheel has turned, once more with Seven needing the investment, to revive the news lead-in, (a seemingly impossible task, not aided by the Gold Coast, sticking to their local news), to revamp their image, while older members of the BTQ family, like the Brisbane-based Austext service were terminated, without being given the credit they were due, or replacements sourced. The future for BTQ-7, as we go into the 2010's, is simply, a need to remind viewers, where they come from, and a need to rebirth itself, with the same spirit that gave birth to Theatre Royal, Wombat and LYB. It's time... for a reinvention.

2 comments:

  1. I appeared in a Panto with Dick McCann called Jack and The Beanstalk at Rialto Theatre West End Brisbane which also featured The Bee Gees.

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  2. That's great cheryl! You are a lucky lady even though they were kids at the time. Could you tell more about it? What was your role and what was the brothers part?

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