TV’s family values

haaSome 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)
Paul Robinson
Elle Robinson
Lucas Fitzgerald
Donna Freedman
Rebecca Napier
Declan Napier
India Napier

No. 24 (Ramsay House – formerly Harold’s )
Kate Ramsay
Harry Ramsay
Sophie Ramsay

No. 26 (Scully House)
Steph Scully
Charlie Hoyland
Lyn Scully
Lou Carpenter

No 28 (Kennedy House)
Karl Kennedy
Susan Kennedy
Zeke Kinski
Sunny Lee
Ringo Brown

No 30 (Toadie’s House)
Callum Jones
Libby Kennedy-Fitzgerald
Dan Fitzgerald
Ben Fitzgerald

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)

Julie Rafter
Dave Rafter
Nathan Rafter
Rachel Rafter
Sammy Rafter
Ted Taylor

Ben Rafter
Melissa Bannon
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


  1. The only mother-and-father nuclear family in the original season of Neighbours was Max and Maria Ramsay and their kids Shane and Danny (the product of an affair Maria had). And Maria left Max for another man soon after. She was replaced by Max’s divorced sister Madge Ramsay.
    Did they go from the show’s first nuclear family to first blended family in six months?

  2. I’m with Neon Kitten on this (again) … the teenage girls can show clear examples of promiscuous and irresponsible behaviour but the first sign of a lesbian kiss and all hell breaks loose with the christian groups … are they all for bad examples of hetro behaviour and only against homo behaviour? How hypocritical!
    And further more … how many tampon adds and beaver adds and other highly offensive female “business” do we have to be assaulted with at dinner time!!!

  3. Single Unmarried people on Television or people who are divorced.

    Going back to the nineties we had my two wives as an example of that but they weren’t child free more recently we have 2.5 men with Alan and Charlie Harper and the ex wife’s kid Jake.there are probably more than that out there

  4. not quite.

    one only has to look at two and a half men.two men a son and an ex wife

    going back even earlier than that we had my two wives A man two kids their wife and the ex wife living below them in a big home/unit

  5. I think its wrong to expect a totally 2.4 children type family on TV anymore. Family groups are ok as long as they are strong family groups, mum, two kids & step dad for example.

    The Ramsays are all one family however, all 3 siblings at least from the same mother.

  6. That’s always going to happen in a long running soap. It happens in soaps around the world. I recently had a look at Eastenders, after not seeing it for years, and there are some charachers left that used to be surrounded by core family. But they now have new step familys or other extended family, replacing those that have moved on. The only way this wouldn’t happen is if a new actor replaced the one that left. This somejimes can work, but its better after a period of time.

  7. The original Robinsons were a single parent family and Danny Ramsay wasn’t biologically Max’s son. Their other main neighbour was Des, an engaged young professional who ended up marrying the stripper from his Bucks Night party. Neighbours has always been a mix of (usually dysfunctional) families, young couples and singles.

  8. Liam lives with Aden?? I never knew that. I though Aden hated Liam?
    And doesn’t Romeo live with Miles and co? Or isn’t Romeo are regular?
    Or are these upcoming spoilers? Because Kirsty and Ollie haven’t been mentioned either. I know they’re not regulars, but y’know …

  9. Great article, David! As a long time Neighbours viewer I do miss the days of traditional families living in the street, like the Kennedy’s and the Scully’s. But as you said, the definition of family has changed over the years.

    (By the way – you’ve listed Hany Lee the actress instead of Sunny Lee the character. And I think you meant to write Rachel instead of Jessica in the part of your article about the Rafters!) 😉

  10. I demand representation of single, unmarried and child-free people on television. In fact, I’m gonna form a militant neo-Christian organisation just to lobby for it.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.