60 Years of QLD TV

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Thursday, January 16, 2020

#WheresTheDoco Lives On?

Why am I writing this?

Shouldn’t the title say it all?

“#WheresTheDoco Lives On?”.

It will live on, but I am hoping to get your support for something that should happen as a result of this.
I stand here, at the beginning of the second score of the 21st century, looking to the future.

Picture in your mind, that it’s September 16, 2026: the 70th birthday of television in this country. Imagine, if Nine gave viewers that night the same treatment 7/9 did for their sixtieth birthday nationally in 2016 (and was duplicated by television stations in Brisbane (BTQ7/QTQ9), Adelaide (NWS 9) and Perth (TVW7) in 2019), and neglected to show our memories, of a now distant past in detail. No Graham Kennedy highlight reel, no best of Don Lane, no Mike Walsh lunchtime highlights, nor highlights of content that kept Aussies tuned in for 70 years, instead showing a movie, or worse: yet another episode of Season 21 of The Block (where the contestants are in Coober Pedy digging in a old opal shaft), while shifting our heritage to the side and not celebrating how far we have come.

Why do you think, I was angry when QTQ-9 and BTQ-7 made their collective sixtieth anniversary commemorations in 2019 on-air, (mind you, Seven in Brisbane tried hard to get people interested in their sixtieth outside the station (inc. a Ekka exhibit, that seriously undermined Nine on the week of their 60th in August), until their Brisbane publicity team was axed in October, while Nine thought it'd be a wise investment to giveaway $60,000: in $1000 increments for three months: only to see 7 copy the promotion, along with developing a 60yrs logo that only got used once) last almost as long as a commercial break: around four minutes, with not even a passing mention at the Logies at the Star Gold Coast back in July of this significant milestone.

Four minutes of on-air mentions, for sixty years of television in Queensland, with nothing at a event QLD fought it’s guts out for, to bring to our state?

No wonder, viewers are switching off free to air for streaming services that don’t carry the domestic television heritage we all crave, and that we all tune in for when it is shown, as it’s often a rare chance to see some content that is otherwise locked away in the TV stations vaults.

And that also means TV networks, crediting people on YouTube and other locations for video these people have (and likely have preserved for years) that stations may not have in their archives anymore. I make it a habit of crediting uploaders on this site (expect to see a credited video from someone in this post somewhere that is not from Youtube, If you find it: go let him know): why aren’t we seeing the same sort of thing from the commercial and non commercial television networks?

This brings me to the first point I want to raise as we approach 2020: Videotape.

It’ll be forty years or so, in 2020 since the first practical VHS and Betamax recorders arrived in Australia, and brought time-shifting content into our loungerooms. Now, we are hearing from places like the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra, that we have only five years left to digitize a major swathe of our television history, before it ends up being impossible to do, due to tapes declining, the lack of operators able to maintain machines, and the lack of equipment to run them on. 

Imagine a Brisbane TV doco in 2029, with nothing about Expo 88 or the Commonwealth Games in 1982? What happens if significant news stories from the early years of electronic news gathering, suddenly become unavailable due to machines that play formats that were predominant in those early days of ENG being unusable by news librarians, who are getting more and more experienced in ingesting digital material into a server, every single night?

That is what we are likely staring down the barrel of, if action isn't taken now, to digitize at a rapid pace.

We still hear the stories about how people in the TV industry (not just in Australia mind you) in the 1960's/1970s didn't realise that they were making decisions about film and early videotape (disposal and wiping), that would today be seen as huge mistakes. This is why today, with hindsight, we are valuing what historical TV footage that exists from that era, for what it is: history, and how this history also explains how the humble television set became our most valued lounge room partner.

And if we don’t get the videotape digitization problem solved, who knows what else we may indeed lose, if the capability no longer exists to restore magnetic tape properly.

The second point I’d love to raise is simply: is television celebrating itself passe in the digital age?

That question was inspired, by the line that Rob McKnight raised when the “Where’s The Doco 9” campaign was in it’s infancy.
Simply: it is “Important to remind viewers why we are so connected to the medium.”

I personally believe, any television network who continues to think looking back at their heritage (especially if reminders of the past stirs up feelings in viewers of the days when "on demand viewing" meant a trip to a video library or watching a movie (or even a US series) that had taken ages to land on our screens on the box itself, not at the opening of a app) comes second to today's TV diet of reality TV, and the schedule being dictated increasingly at a national level: especially those networks who blatantly did so in 2019, in our three smallest capital cities without even a passing mention of why TV’s 60th passed with such little fanfare on-air in those markets (Nine especially so, as Nine's stations in Brisbane and Adelaide were the first television stations to open in their respective markets, mind you): deserves all the criticism in the world for the decisions they’ve made.

All this, while I can go onto Youtube, and look back in awe at the way American local stations treated their 70th anniversary of operation: many of which came up in the 2018-19 time period.

-WBZ Channel 4 in Boston (a CBS owned and operated station), made a big hullabaloo about it's 70th birthday in 2018, even keeping stories from that event accessible for all. They even went to the effort of not just running promos marking the milestone, but recreating a image promo from 1980, with their current talent shot for shot, running it side by side with the image promo from 1980.

Recreation of 1980 "One 4 All" promo, for WBZ 70th anniversary (from the station's official Youtube channel)

Behind the scenes piece on the One 4 All remake, with WBZ promotions director, Sean Barnacoat, March 2018 (from the station's official Youtube channel)

-WTVJ Channel 6 in Miami (a NBC owned and operated station), celebrated it's 70th on March 21 2019: with a hourlong doco on the station's history, and constantly reminding viewers of their major milestone.

Extended cut of WTVJ 70th anniversary special, that originally aired on March 21 2019
(from the station's official Youtube channel)

-WXYZ Channel 7 in Detroit (a Scripps-owned ABC affiliate), celebrated it's 70th in October 2018. Station aired a 1/2hr doco for the milestone, along with constant reminders of the milestone highlighted by this fantastic image piece tying the station's 70th, with the great strides Detroit has made as a city in that same timeframe.

WXYZ 70th Anniversary 1:30 image promo (from the station's official Youtube channel)

-WCPO Channel 9 in Cincinnati (A Scripps-owned ABC affiliate, one of two flagship TV stations for the company, the other being WEWS in Cleveland), celebrated it's 70th birthday on July 26 2019: 21 days before QTQ-9 in Brisbane, Australia turned 60. WCPO went to the effort of blanket coverage of it's milestone in the weeks surrounding the 70 year milestone culminating in a one hour doco on the milestone day itself.

WCPO Cincinnati 70th anniversary special, July 26, 2019 (from the station's official Youtube channel)

And you don't even need a milestone to look at heritage in new ways: Just ask WPEC Channel 12, in West Palm Beach Florida (a Sinclair-owned CBS affiliate), who brought their Gari-produced "The One Two Turn To" image campaign from the late eighties, into the 21st century in 2019 with very little modification other than changing the word "two" to the word "to" in the slogan.

WPEC "One To Turn To" Gari image promo modernization, 2019 (from the station promotions team's official Youtube channel)

When I said this tweet below, back on Riverfire night in 2018 (not long after I first saw the WXYZ 70th promo), I did not foresee at that time that Nine in Brisbane would make it’s sixtieth into a millstone:

But yet, they did.

Is television celebrating itself passe? It is not (just ask viewers in America), as long as viewers in Australia continue to put the pressure on networks to commemorate their heritage, even if such a celebration is long overdue.

The third and final point: What is there to celebrate? Is local TV dead, in the eyes of execs?

Note: This point was written, before the announcement on January 24, that 7 would be reversing the axing decision in QLD (due to extreme pressure from both viewers and sponsors) by retaining Creek to Coast and a hybrid QLD Weekender/Great Day Out product, due to debut in Feburary.
This point wouldn’t have even existed, this time two months ago. In fact, this post’s final point would have been the previous point.

That all changed, on Wednesday November 27.

The axing by 7 of Queensland Weekender, Creek to Coast and The Great Day Out (what was once, The Great South East), programs with a combined life of 57yrs (62yrs if Brownie’s Coastwatch: the predecessor to Creek to Coast is added in) on air (22yrs for Great Day Out/Great South East, 20yrs for Creek to Coast and 15yrs for Queensland Weekender) along with huge production teams, attached to those products (who in the last quarter of a century have likely been around QLD innumerable times) will likely be the single biggest program axing event in the QLD industry’s 60yr history in terms of impact.

The end of these three products, sometime in 2020, will not just affect production teams and on-air talent based in Brisbane. It will affect many regional Queensland businesses who have enjoyed the support of the three QLD products over the last two decades, to assist in their growth, and encourage tourism to corners of Queensland that otherwise would have struggled to attract visitors. This will especially hit hard in places that have suffered greatly during the current drought, that need the income from tourists, to keep towns alive.

The implications I have mentioned will be duplicated in NSW, Victoria and South Australia as they also lost their weekend local products that were produced by Seven (Sydney Weekender, The Great Weekend and SA Weekender) on the same day as the QLD axings: all these markets have suffered heavily during this summer of bushfire disaster, will have one less outlet for tourist-related businesses on NSW's south coast, Mallacoota in Victoria's far east and Kangaroo Island in SA to tell people that these destinations are coming back after a huge tragedy, and to tell people to return to these centres once danger has passed and the recovery begins to simply keep local economies alive.

This is summed up the most, by a little country bakery in Blackbutt, 150km north of Brisbane, who posted this to Facebook a week after the axing of 7's weekend products.

And, it may just be a mistake Seven may end up rueing: in light of the upcoming stepping down from the news desk of Kay McGrath in just 10 days. The risk that BTQ’s weekend news, for so long the real money maker for the station: thanks to a local lead-in on both Saturday and Sunday, will fall to historic ratings lows once Kay finishes and the local lead-ins disappear in favour of Border Security reruns at 5:30 and a new face onboard at 6 in Katrina Blowers (one very familiar with the effect a scorned Brisbane audience would have: as she was part of thisAfternoon, the national afternoon product Nine launched after Extra’s demise 10 years ago, which didn’t even last 18 days: thanks to poor reception in Queensland) is very very real.

The hope amongst hopes, is that either Nine or 10 pick up the ball and run with it: but these two stations have had troubles trying to develop something that could stick even when it was only just GSE and Creek to Coast:

-Nine: Saturday Extra (launched in 2000, with Samantha Kume in the chair initially, then ended with Melissa Downes (pulling double duty also hosting 9’s Gold Coast Weekend) in 2004, the amalgamation of Saturday Extra and Gold Coast Weekend into “Saturday Afternoon” as a response to the then new, Queensland Weekender in 2005, and finally, as Weekend Extra, in 2008, until Extra’s demise in June 2009.

-10: Click on Ten, launched in the 6pm timeslot on a Saturday night, in October 2000 (the same week 7 launched Local Edition, but with none of the fizz the Peter Ford/Melissa Downes venture had), Lasted a few years, up against stiff competition from 7/9’s Saturday night local news services. Notable, for being a early gig for Georgina Lewis.

The clear issue is most likely budgetary. Nine is expecting to amalgamate MRN’s newsroom into it’s own on Mount Coot-tha in the new year, and is likely to not spend on additional television production in SEQ, even though the lack of local lead-ins for 7 is expected to increase Nine’s ratings, for a weekend news bulletin that since Extra’s demise ten years ago has literally been a revolving door.

Ten could spend heavily on local production in SEQ, potentially as a trigger to attract more people to it’s brand in QLD: it has the crews to support it, thanks to a strong national production slate at Mt Coot-tha, and could potentially transform itself into a local production leader very easily. However 10 lacks the local news presence on weekends, that could benefit heavily from local productions leading in or out of a strong local news product.

Thus, as we came to the end of the decade that was the 2010's, and the end of the last piece this site produced entirely in the 2010's, one where we entered with a rush to digital, and end with the first commercial digital multichannel closure (opposed to the home shopping datacasts) in 7Food Network, after not even twelve months on air. We have two key recommendations.

Recommendation 1: It’s Back, and in Living Colour: SaveQLDTV.
Thirteen days into the decade, that was the 2010’s: Nine made another move, in terms of the QLD industry. The shock axe of The Shak, produced here in Brisbane (along with a whole swathe of childrens production, made by Nine in Brisbane shifting to Sydney) led to the birth of a hashtag, that hung around for a year, and somewhat disappeared not long after the 2011 flood.

That hashtag, was #SaveQLDTV.

Nine, saw their senses in 2016, after realising the value QTQ had, in light of diminishing owned studio space (with QTQ post-2020 set to become the only station in the network with it’s own large format studio (due to TCN vacating it’s Willoughby home for North Sydney, in smaller facilities, forcing any large productions to rent space elsewhere) and returned a wider spectrum of childrens production to QLD.
However, the trigger for #SaveQLDTV’s return, the week that 7 cut it’s local slate, was bubbling, since Seven made a even more radical announcement, than axing Queensland Weekender, Creek to Coast and The Great Day Out in one foul swoop with a boardroom pen.
On the 2nd of October: Seven axed it’s entire marketing and publicity backbone in Queensland: a marketing manager, a marketing team of three, and Brisbane publicity chief of fifteen years, Debbie Turner. I personally had the chance of meeting Debbie at a event, at Victoria Park Golf Club, in 2013: and discovered, that she had a great mind for the business: dating back as far as Expo 88, working for TVQ, in the era of Mike “Big Bird” Lattin’s iron hold on the publicity wheel (something 10 Brisbane lacks sadly, today).

The success that is Lost TVQ on Facebook, Moving Up The Dial and Shaking Up The Dial (two pieces this very site did to commemorate TVQ’s fiftieth in 2013/14) would have never even happened, if the conversation between me and Debbie had never taken place that night at the #Molkies.

A talent, especially someone with the track record that Debbie Turner has: needs to be utilized somewhere in our industry in Queensland.

And, the return of the hashtag (and revival of a FB group long thought of as dead), was assured with this tweet, on November 28.

“Everything’s Changed (everywhere),
Nothing’s Different (anywhere).”

And, that is the spirit that has brought back, #SaveQLDTV, for a new generation: and as a reminder, to our commercial stations, that cutting out the local image, in markets outside Sydney and Melbourne is a poor decision. Local content relevant, to the markets they serve (especially those outside Sydney and Melbourne) is something Netflix and Stan will not get the point of, but only commercial television can get the point of: especially in the wake of the move by successive federal governments to kill off terrestrial community television in the last decade.

And we hope, you can join in the ride to help restore local production, outside news with us.
Recommendation 2: Adequately funding NFSA, and other institutions to preserve our audiovisual heritage.

We need to fund Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive, and other institutions (such as Queensland’s State Library) properly, to help accelerate preservation of videotape and film, for future generations to access. But we cannot rely alone, on government and large corporate donors to get a task this massive complete: QLD’s State Library alone has over 4000 films and tapes. The National Film and Sound Archive: has 60,000 television programs on videotape alone: and that’s without any major donation (e.g. potential for TCN 9 sending in Willoughby archive, once the move to North Sydney occurs, Crawfords archive being donated by Bruce Gordon, etc.) to put a spanner in the works.

I personally, believe we need to hold a national television event in 2020 (that’s right, 2020) that will bring people’s eyes to what we could potentially lose, and get people to give what they can, so we can achieve a lofty goal, and at the same time potentially secure the future for our videotape memories.

This country, has held telethons, for so many varied causes in the 60yr history of the television medium: from children’s hospitals and other health-related causes to responding to disaster, and two events in 1984 and 1988, to send our Olympians off to compete in Los Angeles and Seoul.

And there has been some unusual telethons: such as the night 30yrs ago, Nissan lined up a stack of their various local dealers from around the country, in a callroom, try and sell cars in movie ad-breaks, and was anchored by Greg Evans.

Nissan Telethon video, 1990 (from FlemishDog at archive.org)

This television event, I sarcastically teased, as a response to Nine spending more time and focus on a preshow for their telethon for the QLD Children's Hospital, in November 2019, than they did in it’s entirety for their 60th birthday, back in August 2019.

Maybe, we should be holding a three day telethon (not a three hour affair) littered with the stars of the medium, from the past all uniting for one cause, our audio-visual heritage, interspliced with some of TV’s greatest moments and spots showing viewers how the archival process works: particularly transferring content from magnetic tape to digital, to help viewers realize the gravity of the situation, places like the NFSA are facing as we approach the point where it may indeed be too late to save our TV within a few short years.

This telethon for videotape, would fittingly be called:
“Where’s The Doco: Give, So Our Memories Live.”

And, when will it happen? It should happen, if the right people get the message: around the same time ACMI in Melbourne re-opens after it’s renovations in mid-2020, where they will be taking their restoration facilities out into the public eye for the first time.

Simply, we all need to unite, to make sure, that our TV past is not sent to the garbage can, without a second look, and for us to remember, that the mistakes made by Nine and Seven nationally on September 16, 2016, Nine in Brisbane on August 16, 2019, Nine in Adelaide on September 5, 2019, Seven in Perth on October 16, 2019 and Seven in Brisbane on November 1, 2019: in not celebrating the 60 years of television milestone on-air at the standard people have come to expect (a well produced doco on-air, especially in the smaller markets) deserve to be called out, get a respectable answer on why the move to not celebrate a important milestone such as a station’s 60th birthday at a high standard on-air was made (not constant silence, hoping the issue will die, like Nine in Brisbane has done since #WheresTheDoco9's birth) and hopefully is rectified in a reasonable fashion.

But until that answer is given however, #WheresTheDoco will indeed continue to exist.

Where’s The Doco? (AKA A Requiem For Looking Back On Yourself)

Do you remember the golden days of TV?
Where every household was tuning in religiously,
To programs, we remember, and those we want to forget,
The successes, the turkeys and those that live on,
Yet, today, we cannot look back on our past and wonder where the years have gone.
No wonder, viewers are going elsewhere, but there is something plain wrong…

Where’s the doco? I want to look back on the past.
Where’s the doco? I want to remember the moments that last.
Where’s the doco? Why is it a mystery.
Where’s the doco? Why aren’t you looking back at your history.

There’s more to TV’s past than Graham Kennedy and IMT,
Our three smallest markets are rich in their own TV history,
Yet in 2019, for sixty years of TV, we literally got a two minute news story.
I look at the US, where stations like WBZ, WTVJ and WXYZ, turned 70 with ease,
Where even markets like Cincinnati filled one hour with their storied heritage.

Where are the apologies from the networks, to viewers in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth?

Even though they know that giving in, to viewers will do wonders for those stations health.

Where’s the doco? I want to look back on the past.

Where’s the doco? I want to remember the moments that last.

Where’s the doco? Why is it a mystery.
Where’s the doco? Why aren’t you looking back at your history.

I fear for September 16, 2026, TV’s 70th birthday in this country.
If we don’t stand up now and act, nobody then will have anything to see,
I openly implore you to give a donation to NFSA, ACMI or your state library,
Because preserving and digitizing videotape, is preserving your history,
It’s the last great chance, we may have to turn the tide,
It'll be a national tragedy, if we can't get everything on magnetic tape digitized,
We still hear of the stories of tapes and films from the 50's to the 70's that simply got tossed out,
Not valuing the past for today and tomorrow, is simply a shocking crime, and act now, we must.
So, when the time comes…
We ask you…
to give, so our memories live.
to give, so our memories live.

To. Give. So. Our. Memories. Live.

Where’s the doco? I want to look back on the past.
Where’s the doco? I want to remember the moments that last.
Where’s the doco? Why is it a mystery.
Where’s the doco? Why aren’t you looking back at your history.

One more time!

Where’s the doco? I want to look back on the past.
Where’s the doco? I want to remember the moments that last.
Where’s the doco? Why is it a mystery.
Where’s the doco? Why aren’t you looking back at your history.

Donate now, in the name of #WheresTheDoco.
-National Film and Sound Archive (Deadline: 2025, magnetic tape digitization project) https://everydayhero.com.au/event/nfsa-deadline2025

-Queensland Library Foundation (QLD State Library, Reel Rescue moving image digitization project) https://www.slq.qld.gov.au/donate
(Remember to tick Reel Rescue when submitting the form on the SLQ website)

-Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne (Re/new campaign leading up to reopening)https://ticketing.acmi.net.au/donate/

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