At 80’s end did Channel 9,
A brand new drama show decree,
With plots to rival Ramsey Street,
Knock Summer Bay from off its seat,
Atop the ratings tree,
And there was Abigail there, and Rachael Beck,
And Alyce Platt to act did try,
And starlets eyeing record cheques,
To catch the viewing public’s eye…
Back in the year 1990 Australia’s Nine Network was getting a bit miffed about rival TV stations capturing all the ratings with their popular soap operas Neighbours (Channel 10) and Home and Away (Channel 7). So they did the only logical thing and decided to launch their own soap, a saga about rival Anglo and Italian Australian families with a Romeo and Juliet style forbidden romance named Family and Friends.
(Channel 10 also had E Street, but more about that later)
The advertisements for Family and Friends mostly consisted of the cast standing in a white room gurning at the camera, but they managed to capture my attention nonetheless by the simple expedient of playing Kate Ceberano’s Brave over the top, which was – and still is – a fantastic song, as you discover for yourself below.
They did not of course incline me to watch the show, teenaged me having far more interesting things to do with my time, and it seems their effect was similarly poor on the rest of the Australian population as the series turned out to be a ratings disaster, surviving only three months before being axed – its cast dispersing to roles on its rival soaps and leaving the saga of the Rossi and Chandler families forever incomplete.
This impressively stark failure however sparked an idea in my mind, an idea that has lurked in the deepest caverns of my memory for over 30 years. An example of what the young people today would refer to as ‘trolling’ although back in the ancient days of the 90s we would have simply called ‘a prank’, and it is this idea I share with you today.
Create a brand new soap. Hire staff and writers and a cast, get production underway, and start a major advertising campaign about the hottest new drama series to hit the airwaves – possibly using a Kate Ceberano song to catch people’s attention if you think that’ll help.
Premiere the series and let it run with the standard kinds of plots you find on the streets of Erinsborough or the sands of Summer Bay. Build up an audience (hopefully) and get established as a part of the TV landscape.
Then after four or five months, with absolutely no warning, have – in the space of a single episode – World War III break out, the town get nuked and everyone die, followed by an announcement that that was the last ever episode.
Yes, it would be an incredibly expensive prank to pull, and – particularly in our modern age – difficult to keep a lid on before it happened, but can you imagine peoples’ reactions? The viewers’ heads would implode!
Anyway, the reason I mention all of this is because I recently became aware of the final episode of British TV series Byker Grove, a teen drama set in the northern English city of Newcastle, which finished up in 2006.
(I was vaguely aware of Byker Grove prior to this thanks to occasional online references to the startling facial hair of one of the characters, but couldn’t have told you anything else about it. Oh, and it’s apparently the origin of Ant and Dec, who I understand are like a British version of Hamish and Andy, and equally as annoying, for whatever that’s worth.)
Anyway, it seems that someone at the Byker Grove production offices back in 2006 was having thoughts about TV finales similar to my own, as the final episode of the show featured the cast realising that they’re characters on a fictional TV show, an attack by a tyranosaurus rex, a Neverending Story style nothingness consuming the world, and a last ditch “save the youth club from the developers” plot which culminates in said youth club blowing up, killing everyone who hadn’t yet been eaten by the dinosaur or consumed by the void. Now THAT’s television!
I don’t think anything on Australian TV has ever come close to that level of blatant and wonderful insanity, although the final couple of seasons of the aforementioned E Street had their moments (see, I said we’d come back to it). In an attempt to prop up falling ratings the writers introduced such elements as werewolves, angels and a psychic serial killer named “Mr Bad” – which shamefully just isn’t the kind of thing you see in Neighbours these days. I mean what’s Harold up to? Is he even still in the show? Could they bring him back as a Vampire? Now that would get me watching!
And to finish off with here’s the song Wait by Gyan which I include because it came out about the same time as Kate Ceberano’s Brave and I always used to get the two confused, and it’s a great song, and I have no other idea how to end this post.