Blue Heelers: articles


IT'S over and, to be perfectly blunt, there's no use lamenting the demise of Blue Heelers any more. When the final movie-length episode aired on Channel Seven on Sunday night, 1.5 million Australians tuned in, a figure that was big enough to give the show a win in its timeslot but nowhere near big enough to pay the sort of tribute that this writer believes Heelers deserved after more than 500 episodes.

It is unlikely there will be anything like it again. At almost $500,000 an hour, shows such as Blue Heelers are quickly becoming the dinosaurs of Australian TV. Of the limited amount of weekly Australian drama on our screens this year, only All Saints on Seven and McLeod's Daughters on Nine run through the entire 40 weeks of the official ratings season, or even close to it.

Networks are more often presenting miniseries and telemovies. Why commit to a 40-week series that might be in the ratings doldrums after two weeks (e.g. the abysmal Headland on Seven) when a quick-hit local whodunit will succeed or fail on one Sunday night and then be forgotten, with no continuing financial migraines.

Anyway, Australians do not seem particularly interested in local TV drama any more. Even better news for the networks is that what we seem to want most costs a lot less than Heelers, All Saints, McLeod's Daughters and even an occasional telemovie. Look at last week's ratings. Border Security, Medical Emergency, Thank God You're Here, The Wedge, What's Good For You and Missing Persons Unit out-rated McLeod's Daughters and at a fraction of the cost per episode.

Estimates vary, but Seven's Border Security, for example, is estimated to cost little more than $100,000 a week to produce, film and package. Last week it had 2 million viewers in the five major capitals. McLeod's Daughters, which is said to cost Nine about $485,000 a week, had 1.3 million viewers. Cheap, it seems, is good.

The hit local show of 2006, Ten's Thank God You're Here, is hardly the most expensive looking show. Sometimes it looks as though it might have been filmed inside a charity bin. Ten probably paid a tidy amount for the eight episodes produced so far, but I would hazard a guess that it was nowhere near as much as the price of a weekly hour-long police or medical drama. Yet Thank God had 1.8 million viewers last week around the country. No local drama went anywhere near it.

Probably the most costly of the new shows on our screens in recent weeks is Seven's It Takes Two, in which celebrity novices team up with accomplished singers, learn to belt out a tune and, like Dancing With the Stars, go before a judging panel and the home audience to try to stay in key and get through to the next week. It's enjoyable TV, and host Grant Denyer - usually the weatherman on Sunrise - is made for the job.

But unlike the others, this is not cheap TV. It's "live" from Seven's South Melbourne studios each Sunday. There's a big band, a judging panel and crew that I assume is getting paid more than it would if the show was being taped at 2pm on a Wednesday. But when you're drawing a peak national audience in excess of 2 million, I don't think Seven will be worrying too much.

Which brings me to What's Good For You. Nine boss Eddie McGuire announced more cost-cutting on Tuesday, with another 100 or so positions, mainly in news and current affairs, being made redundant. But it's not only people who are being let go. It's also the question marks. I asked recently why Who Wants To Be a Millionaire does not end with a question mark. Well, What's Good For You, Nine's new Monday night show hosted by Sigrid Thornton and intended to answer all of our trivial questions about health and nutrition, also lacks the correct punctuation. Why no question mark?

Unlike Millionaire, I'm not a fan of this show, so I really don't give a hoot. But it's annoying, much like the show itself. Yet another cheapo Aussie infotainment hour, it's the sort of drivel that makes me very angry about the demise of local TV drama. OK, I'm prepared to accept that, for one reason or another, most Australians want a break from home-grown drama. I cannot accept, however, that What's Good For You is what they want in its place.

Take Monday's episode. More than 1.5 million Australians watched it. That's depressing enough. But what were they watching? Well, there were two highlights. Cricketer Michael Slater set out to establish, once and for all, whether eating chocolate caused you to break out in pimples. But then there was the scientific discovery of the week.

Five women were allowed to sleep for varying lengths of time. The following morning, they were tested to establish whether those who slept the least were more tired than the others. Well, SURPRISE! SURPRISE! If you sleep a solid eight hours a night, you will not feel tired the next morning and are less likely to pose a risk on the roads, for example, than someone who has not slept at all.

I decided, then and there, never to watch the ABC's science show Catalyst ever again. With What's Good For You(?) on Channel Cheapo, who needs it?

By Ross Warneke
June 8, 2006
The Age