25 years since Bob Shanks tried to turn TEN around

2014-07-22_2207They say in television everything is cyclical, not just in content, but in the fortunes of the networks themselves.

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!

Additional sources: Wikipedia, TelevisionAU, MediaSpy, KuttsywoodsCouch,

27 Comments:

  1. that should be Shaun, and that promo looks like a “crappy” send up done by the “The Late Show” crew, it made me p*ss myself laughing, crap-tac-ular!

  2. “it included having custard poured all over families in the name of entertainment” and yet done well, as in Sean Micallef’s Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation and it rated its socks off for a time …

  3. oztvheritage

    Nice article David. Good idea 😉

    Shanks was seen as a failure but Ten would love to be doing 26’s now! Nine and Seven still doing similar figures 25 years later.

    Who says people are not watching TV anymore!

    Good to see Ten becoming competitive again and producing content for the masses like Family Feud…..

    The only way for them to improve.

  4. @Christian: Midday movies replaced Santa Barbara. And The Bold And The Beautiful was bumped from 1.00pm to 3.00pm.

    The daytime line-up became:
    7am Good Morning Australia
    9am ’til Ten
    10am Mulligrubs
    10.30 Eyewitness News
    11am Another World
    12pm Movie
    2pm Donahue
    3pm The Bold And The Beautiful
    3.30 Neighbours (early episodes)

  5. I remember the hype about Shanks coming in and “rescuing” Network TEN. At the time we were told that he was the man who created Happy Days and wrote many of the episodes. I bought the box sets of all series of Happy Days, carefully combed the credits for every episode and Shanks’s name was nowhere to be seen. It seems people were “padding” their CV’s even back then.

  6. Yes, I liked that TV Trivia Game show with Richard and Jane. I had been listening to them in the mornings on 3XY, in the years just prior.

  7. Hi David when ten moved Santa Barbara to 11pm what did they put in its place in daytime midday, I remember in 92 & 93 it was back at midday.
    I wonder what the logic was to move it to 11pm, maybe they thought hospital workers would watch it whilst patients slept at night.
    But then again ten had General Hospital at 5am for about 5 years from 1993 to 1997.. So they have always made bizzare reasons.

  8. Thankfully Ten learn from mistakes and now make smart programming moves like airing “cheese festival” Family Feud against prime time news bulletins….

  9. Thanks for this post David – so much to learn from history, even in this very different broadcast era.
    At least the mistake of wholesale re-branding at Ten hasn’t been repeated during the recent turmoils. Recent results show that content is king and critical to turning around audience fortunes and advertiser confidence.
    I remember all these shows, I was 10 and it was just as my interest in the business side of TV was developing and I thought all these machinations were fabulously entertaining… more so that the shows themselves!!

  10. I remember that shortlived Price is Right revival, but only because last year’s version randomly used footage from it in their tribute to Turps (as opposed to, say, using his Channel 7 series or his cameo with Larry on Channel 9).

  11. I didn’t watch any of those. I was working some shifts, attending the odd lecture and taping taping Northern Exposure, Picket Fences and The Simpsons on my Betamax.

    Two years later Ten’s fortunes had turned around and they had The X Files.

  12. p.s. I did enjoy The Great TV Game Show. It was based on an MTV show but was probably ahead of its time here. Ten putting it up against Hey Hey (which was at its peak in popularity then) did it absolutely no favours.

  13. Secret Squirrel

    Thanks for the laugh. That promo is like a parody, it’s excruciatingly awful.

    I don’t remember either of those gameshows altho’ I watched a bit of the Aus Candid Camera (it wasn’t very good).

    I do remember the FF sketch. I think they nailed it.

    As for hoping that history will never repeat itself, I’m afraid that it already has. Except they tried cheap crappy reality like The Shire, and Bingle, and whatever that dance thing was called. We know how that turned out.

  14. Appreciate the acknowledgement David and I don’t mean to be picky but unfortunately the link goes to the Wikipedia page

    However, here is another YouTube you might be interested in, the actual changeover from ‘X’ to 10 TV Australia as it went to air in Melbourne on 23 July 1989 at 7.30pm (going into The Comedy Company)

    youtu.be/YT1ELXck4dU

  15. Boogie Howser

    Well spotted enzso, that Andy Maher cameo is priceless!

    The Great TV Game Show was ahead of its time (though the fashion and jokes in that clip aren’t doing it any favours). It’s pretty much what the ABC did to music with Spicks and Specks, and what Seven tried to do with TV again on the White Room (only without mentioning other channels… wow I wonder why it didn’t work out).

  16. The ‘Golden Era’ of terrestrial braodcast television is long gone. Nine went broke. Seven has huge debts and falling revenue. TEN would kill for 26.5 share now.

  17. Ahhh awesome memories, I’d just turned 12 the week before and couldn’t believe all the gameshows that were starting, basically every night! Heaven, was very disappointed when they very quickly dropped off one by one

  18. daveinprogress

    I remember the era well. and glad you mentioned the Fast Forward send up, as that is my strongest memory of the times. Their hilarious and merciless pillorying of Ten’s game shows is far more enduring than the shows themselves. It is to Larry Emdur’s credit that he not only survived but thrived after those terrible programs. Not all trips down memory lane are as pleasant as others.

  19. I was a young kid during this era and thank goodness can barely remember it. But funny how history repeats for the networks fortunes.

    I was really struck by the presence of Neighbours in the promo. It’s amazing to think that show has been around so long and lasted through the many eras and is still a good show today even if fewer people watch it.

  20. There was so much going on with Richard Stubbs’ jeans I almost missed the fact that there’s a very young Andy Maher on the panel of the TV quiz.

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