Friday, July 24, 2009

Gather round the box

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

With those six words, the landscape of Australian lounge rooms changed forever.

In 1954, the Australian Government announced the introduction of a government-funded television broadcasting service and two commercial services in Sydney and Melbourne. The 1956 Summer Olympics (which were hosted in Melbourne) were fast-approaching and were a motivation to introduce television to Australia.

TCN-9 Sydney began test transmissions on 16 September of 1956 (with Bruce Gyngell's words above), and officially commenced broadcasting on 27 October. GTV-9 broadcast to Melbourne viewers on 27 September. By the 1956 Melbourne Summer Olympics opening ceremony on 22 November 1956, five stations in Melbourne and Sydney were operational.

It was 1959 before residents of Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia enjoyed the joys of television, with Tasmania following in 1960 and the Australian Capital Territory in 1962. The Northern Territory remained a TV-free zone until 1971.

By the end of 1956, it is estimated that only 1 per cent of Sydney residents and 5 per cent of Melbourne residents owned a television set. The cost of a television set was about six to ten weeks' pay for the average worker of the time.* However, over the following decades television rapidly became more popular and affordable.

Before our time, a home would contain just one television set in the lounge room and viewing of the television was a family affair. Shows such as Bandstand, Pick-a-Box and In Melbourne Tonight drew the family to the lounge room.

One of my own earliest memories is of watching Young Talent Time on a black and white TV with my parents when I was around three or four years old.

Nowadays, many homes have multiple television sets, and pay-TV options which offer niche channels to suit every taste at any time of day. Sport can be on in the lounge room, Disney Channel in the playroom, Lifestyle Channel in the sewing room. We are spoiled for choice, and have to the opportunity to exercise that choice at any time.

However, over the past few months I watched with interest the effect of the show Masterchef (Australia) on the viewing habits of family and friends. Here was a show that appealed to all age groups. It drew families together to watch amateur cooks invent dishes from set ingredients, concoct dishes from mystery boxes, attempt to replicate the signature dishes of Australia's top chefs and hone their tasting, plating and cooking skills in general.

It was good, clean family fun. There was none of the bitchiness of some reality shows. The judges were constructive and fair in their criticism. The contestants were retained or eliminated on the merits of their cooking by experts, rather than on the whims of an SMS-ing public caught-up in their personalities rather than their talent.

And the effect on family culture was phenomenal. Five year olds were discussing profiteroles in the playground. Smart-mouthed tweens were asking their parents as they prepared dinner, "Now Mum, what are you worried could go wrong?" Children were competing at the dinner table to identify the ingredients in that night's dinner. Adults were downloading recipes from the website and trying them out at home. Families started to call scraping up ingredients from the fridge to make dinner: "cooking with a mystery box".

Families have a shared language and conversation about this show that extends beyond the actual viewing time.

In my home, we were late to join the Masterchef bandwagon, but once we did we were hooked. There are a few TV shows that we watch together as a family, and what they seem to have in common is that a group of talented people compete to be the last one standing - e.g So You Think You Can Dance and Project Runway.

However, I know that this format doesn't appeal to all families.

What shows draw all the members of your household into the one room together?

* Source:


Stacey said...

Masterchef was huge in our house and I think it is the only show that has been mandatory viewing for all members of the household.
The only other show that comes close is Funniest Home Videos. The boys love the videos and myself and their Dad love watching their reactions to each clip.

Frogdancer said...

Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

We have the boxed set.

weenie_elise said...

Joss Whedon's Dollhouse... awesome - but then we don't have any kids so it's just us...

on a side note, my mother was the first family in her street to get a tv in '56. Everyone came round to watch the Olympics in their sitting room. My nana refused to belive that tv would take off so wouldn't buy a table for the tv so it sat on a fruit box.

it's strange to think just how far we're all come where t'v is part of our everyday existence

M said...

MasterChef was popular with 3/4 members of the household. However there are some programs that are enjoyed by all like Merlin and Avatar. Which just goes to show we are all big kids.

As a child there were not many child specific programs that beamed to our country home so we sat with our parents to watch The Goodies, Doctor Who and Are You Being Served.

Ronnie said...

We watch mostly Austar up here.

I remember YTT. I even had a letter read on air and some god awful drawing that I had done.

Favourites for me are dexter and True Blood.

I could quite easily live without TV. Pity the family don't agree.

We were one of the first families to get a colour TV in our town.

trashalou said...

We are still that house which just has ONE television and it lives in the living room. While it is a focal point the room is deliberately arranged for conversation rather than telly watching. That said I am not an evil parent and my kids are allowed to turn the tv on. Saturday morning cartoons are their best but together we love to watch - Dr.Who,Robin Hood, Harry Hill's TV Burp, Strictly Come Dancing (the original of your dance programme), The Dog Whisperer, Hole in the Wall, Time Team, ScrapHeap Challenge, You've Been Framed. Most of these are Saturday/Sunday night shows during the week my children go to bed by 7:30 (that is a whole different post , right?).

Nanu said...

Not having young children in the house any more, I cannot claim any programme that would draw several of us together never mind not knowing many of the programmes previously mentioned. I was 16 when we had our first television and then there was only 1 channel. I cannot say that I ever watched much. Teenagers then had other preferable attractions like "going out." By the time, children were around, we were all such individuals with several televisions and us adults working full time that the main communal activity, believe it or not was dinner-time conversation. We did usually manage to find a film on Christmas Day that the children wanted to watch and we could bear as it was Christmas Day otherwise television was an individual or small group affair. Other activities came into the "family category". Having said that, I love television and think it is a wonderful thing too much to wax lyrical about here as are many other things like books and music etc..

peppermintpatcher said...

it is very difficult to select a show that my Pete will watch too. He's not really 'normal' in his selections of TV shows, like the rest of us in the family are.

We love SYTYCD and the Amazing Race. On DVD we watch box sets of Buffy , That 70s Show and the Gilmore Girls. (actually my Pete does like Gilmore Girls, but is likely to deny this in a public setting.)

Stomper Girl said...

Masterchef was big at ours too, and has had the bonus side-effect of making the 8yo keen on cooking. They would like to watch SYTYCD with me but it is on too late.

We all enjoy watching The Goodies (on DVD)

Rositta said...

We emigrated to Canada in 1956 and didn't have T.V. The first time I law one was in 1957 when our landlord let us watch his T.V. once a week. The first show I ever saw was The Ed Sullivan Show...ciao

neighbour of mof said...

I have just looked at the cartoon introducing the Welcome to TV etc., you had better delete the remote control that came much later!