'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: http://www.cultureandrecreation.gov.au/articles/populartelevision/