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Pass the remote

‘Give me the remote. You’ve made me miss Mythbusters, you young expletive.’
‘In a minute.’
‘You are flicking between hip-hop hoes and the ninth repeat of Seinfeld. Come on, be fair.’
‘Well, what about the Osbournes marathon on MTV?’
‘Only if you don’t flick to Family Guy in the ads.’
‘You’re such a TV nazi, Mum.’
There just isn’t enough angst in modern domestics. Aeschylus would have known how to put it. Dissension in the home was his thing. How might he have framed such conflict?

Enter Clytemnestra, mightily fed up.

Clytemnestra: Orestes, by the Fates, where is the Zeus-damn remote?
Orestes: Chill out, Mum. I’m watching South Park.
Clytem: Not that crypto-fascist neo-con misogynistic bullshit again! By Hera, it must be the 17th repeat. And you’ve been swigging milk from the amphora again instead of using a goblet.
Orest: Aw, Mum, don’t keep going on and on.
Clytem: Just wait till your father gets home. It’s nearly time for Oprah. And have you been pinching my fags again?

Enter Agamemnon, pursued by a Fury.

Agamemnon: Gimme that remote, oh son of my loins. I want to watch The Footy Show.

Chorus: Oh rash words, Agamemnon! The house of Atreus needeth not footy, but Oprah, and possibly even Dr Phil in such perilous times. Restore to thy spouse her rightful remote for she doth get right narky about it.
Clytem: Shut up you lot. Oi, Fury—hand me that axe.

Tastes differ: ask anyone you know what their favourite TV program is, and you will probably strain the relationship. No, you say, scandalised. You’re not telling me you actually watch The Apprentice? Well, says your ex-friend, you did watch Big Br—

I know, I know. Gawd, do I ever have to live that one down! But surely there has to be a bottom line, a measure of quality that goes beyond brutal self-interest and solipsism. What have you really got in common with someone who prefers The Don Lane Show to Four Corners and scores Graham Kennedy’s obscure, forgotten Coast to Coast higher than Media Watch? These were the measured judgments of the pundits at Nine who made a league table of Australia’s ‘best 50 programs’ over the 50 years that TV has been in Australia. And as they carefully pointed out, it was not the current Media Watch that gained their accolade.

No, indeed: they praised mightily the erudition of its past glories under Stuart Littlemore, that excellent pedant. With David Marr and Liz Jackson the program has been far more than the scourge of the slack subby. Those two splendid journalists have from time to time pulled down the mighty from their seats and made them answer a few hard questions. Which is possibly why the powers at Nine who made the list felt more comfortable with the older, less spiky format.

There were some curious choices in Nine’s honour roll of the 50 top Australian programs: it was done by some process that wasn’t made plain to me.

It was not really a trip into nostalgia; the really old excerpts were far too short. There was real gold in the tiny snippets of B & W early programs—bits and pieces of Pick-A Box, Bobby Limb’s Sound of Music, Delo and Daly. These didn’t count in the list, but they left me wanting more: I missed Swami Sarasvati, The Tarax Show, The Magic Circle Club. I would have loved to see some original runs of New Faces just to show the Australian Idol fans that nothing is new.

They left out some really good programs: Australia, You’re Standing in it! was intelligent, stylish, perceptive and utterly ignored. Alas, the ABC had dumped it long ago in favour of the more slapstick D-Generation that then made it into the 50 gems list as the wooden-spooner. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the D-Generation but was sad that its success came at the expense of Australia, You’re Standing in it! The D-Gen cast became famous, developed and matured and went on to make wonderful programs and films (Kath & Kim; Big Girls’ Blouse; The Castle; Frontline, to name a few). The Comedy Company didn’t get a mention either; nor did The Big Gig, Good News Week or Kingswood Country. At least they mentioned My Name’s McGooley, What’s Yours? (it was 24th). But to put it ahead of Norman Gunston (27th) and Mother and Son (33rd) looked capricious to me.

And that was just in the comedy department: Phoenix and Embassy were omitted, as were Changi and The Games. They put 60 Minutes (not really an Australian program, being based firmly on an American template) at number eight, while placing Foreign Correspondent at 48, just above Playschool. They left out Humphrey B. Bear and The 7.30 Report.

But what can you expect from the kind of mind that puts Paul Hogan at second place? I’m not knocking it; Hogan was great in the days when he still remembered his working-class roots, before he went all rich and facelifted. But league tables force you into this ridiculous hierarchical format, and paint you into meaningless corners where you say Number 96 (ninth!) was better than Blue Murder (35th) or Aunty Jack (45th) or indeed, and it bears repeating, Media Watch, Four Corners, Foreign Correspondent, or even Neighbours (43rd, 18th, 48th, 47th respectively).

And what won? Graham Kennedy’s IMT, of course. Fair enough, it can be argued for respectably. But Blankety Blanks (20th!) higher than Countdown? (40th!!!) Come on. Pass the remote.               

Juliette Hughes is a freelance writer.



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