Today marks 25 years since American television executive Bob Shanks tried to turn around what was then an ailing network.
Shanks arrived at TEN in April 1989, installed as managing director.
Former owners Westfield had sold the network to a consortium led by Charles Curran and former television journalist Steve Cosser.
It was July 23 1989 when Shanks re-branded the network as ’10 TV Australia’ with “You’ve Got a Friend” promos and a string of new shows designed to resurrect the network.
The most brazen was Family Double Dare, a primetime version of TEN’s afternoon kid’s series, hosted by a youthful Larry Emdur. “You will not believe what a family will do to win a fortune in prizes,” said the promo. As those who still can’t shake off the memories will recall, it included having custard poured all over families in the name of entertainment.
It lasted just 3 shows.
Another was The Great TV Game Show, a game show produced by Ian McFadyen about TV trivia hosted by Richard Stubbs and Jane Holmes, screening against Hey Hey.
These days Stubbs and Holmes are on opposing Melbourne radio stations, with Telstra-voice Holmes also a TV commentator for 3AW. I admit to playing along with this show, possibly a sign of an unhealthy interest in pop culture.
The great Ian ‘Turps’ Turpie hosted an hour long version of The Price is Right on Saturdays. The equally-great Mike Walsh hosted a rebooted Superquiz with Deborah Hutton.
Another classic format, Candid Camera On Australia, was hosted by Tony Murphy.
TEN News was re-badged Eyewitness News before becoming TEN Evening News in 1990 (ironically, the network reverted back to TEN Eyewitness News only last year).
Kerry O’Brien hosted a re-worked current affairs show, Page One as Public Eye.
Daytime soap Santa Barbara was boldly moved to 11pm.
Media at the time reported Shanks’ changes were “a total flop”:
In week two of survey six, 10 TV Australia was the least watched commercial channel with a 26.3 per cent share of the viewing audience.
Channel Seven’s strong night-time performance helped it upset regular survey winner Channel Nine. Seven notched 30.5 to nudge out Nine on 30.0. But even the week’s winners were talking about 10 TV Australia’s inability to capture a larger share of the audience, despite its massive promotional campaign.
The man behind the Ten Network changes, managing director Bob Shanks, defended the station’s performance saying he found ‘great encouragement in the results.’ Mr Shanks said the station increased its audience in the 7.30pm to 8.30pm time slot on Tuesdays “by a massive 56.4 percent!”
– Aug 3 1989
Shanks’ reign as boss had been deemed a disaster, with most of the shows axed within six months and Shanks mercilessly parodied in a Fast Forward sketch. It wasn’t long before he departed.
By 1990 the network was in Receivership, losing a reported $2m a week (Seven also went into Receivership in the same year). It rebranded once more as The Entertainment Network and pitched itself at 16-39 year olds. By 1992 it was eventually sold to Canadian conglomerate, Canwest.
Despite his short reign, Shanks carved out a name for himself in Australian television history if not necessarily for the right reasons.
But history teaches us much, including that radical sugar-hits (or is that custard hits?) are no long-term solution when viewers prefer quality and consistency. In recent times TEN has hit ratings and revenue lows once again, but there are glimmers of hope with some well-produced local content and improving numbers.
As TEN turns 50 next week, here’s hoping history will never repeat itself.
You’ll find surprises and people caring,
There’s excitement and lots of daring.
Look, you’ve got a friend on TEN!