Some years ago when he was Treasurer, Peter Costello suggested Australian families should have one baby for mum, one for dad and one for the country. Maybe he should have thrown in one for television too.
The traditional, nuclear family is disappearing from primetime television. Yet TV families are amongst our most popular genres.
If you step into the fictional suburb of Erinsborough today you will find great change from its origins. Under the roofs of Ramsay Street there is an array of family groupings: married couples, children, brothers and sisters, friends, step-parents, grandparents. Not one house is home to the traditional married parents with children from direct lineage –all are blended, step-families or single-parent families. We’re a long way from Robinsons and Ramsays.
Much of this is the result of soap characters which come and go. But the disappearing nuclear family doesn’t end there.
Over in Summer Bay, where the premise was built around foster families, it too has many blended families. In the house that was once home to the sprawling Fletcher family are Miles, his foster son Jai, teenager Nicole and the perennial Alf Stewart.
In the home of Australia’s favourite drama, the Rafters, there are young adults returned to live with their parents. Julie and Dave Rafter do have a nuclear family with son Nathan and daughter Rachel but as the title suggests their family extends to grandfather Ted and daughter in law Sammy. Next door live more young adults in a shared household.
Showcase’s new local drama Tangle burns the flame for nuclear families. The Kovac family consists of mother (Justine Clarke), father (Ben Mendelsohn), son (Lincoln Younes) and daughter (Eva Lazzaro) plus visiting relatives and friends portrayed by Kat Stewart and Matt Day. Another household has father (Joel Tobeck), son (Max Williams) and step-mother (Catherine McClements).
Our other primetime dramas are not so family-based: Rush, City Homicide, Rescue: Special Ops, All Saints. They are joined this week by East West 101. All are based on police, emergency and medical operations.
Foxtel is readying the third series of Satisfaction and developing a new drama, Spirited with Claudia Karvan. ABC, which has just concluded East of Everything also has Bed of Roses returning soon.
The popularity of Australian families on our screen is well documented.
The Sullivans was a long-running primetime drama. Love My Way was easily Pay TV’s best. Other TV families were present on Sons and Daughters, Seachange, Bellbird, Carsons Law, and soaps including The Restless Years, E Street and Chances. Even our hit sitcoms were family based: Hey Dad, Mother & Son, All Together Now, Kingswood Country, The Last of the Australians.
The Australian Family Association is frequently quoted in media articles protesting about issues relating to language, sex and classification. Rarely does it raise the question of representation of families on our screens.
Clearly the definition of ‘what is family?’ has changed over the years to be inclusive of blended, single and extended families. Same-sex families are thin in representation. Children’s dramas are also very strong in depicting families.
But while our networks continue develop dramas with characters dressed in a uniform, they could do well to look to our homes for a source of drama that resonates with viewers.
Here is a breakdown of current television family households in our primetime dramas:
No. 22 (Robinson House)
No. 24 (Ramsay House – formerly Harold’s )
No. 26 (Scully House)
No 28 (Kennedy House)
No 30 (Toadie’s House)
HOME AND AWAY
Rachel and Tony / baby son Harry
Leah, single parent with son VJ (teenage) – also in the same house is Charlie/ Ruby (teenage daughter)
Irene (fosters children) Annie and Geoff (teenage) live with Irene (not officially fostered by her)
Miles / foster son Jai (teenage) / Nicole (teenage) / Alf Stewart
Martha and Hugo (relationship) with Hugo’s younger brother Xavier (teenager)
Aden and Liam (early 20’s housemates)
PACKED TO THE RAFTERS
Nick ‘Carbo’ Karandonis
Justine Clarke – Ally Kovac
Ben Mendelsohn – Vince Kovac
Lincoln Younes – Romeo Kovac
Eva Lazzaro – Gigi Kovac
Kat Stewart – Nat Manning
Matt Day – Gabriel Lucas
Catherine McClements – Christine Williams
Joel Tobeck – Tim Williams
Blake Davis – Max Williams
Georgia Flood – Charlotte Barker
Lucia Mastrantone – Em Barker