They’re Off And Racing – But Who’ll Win Gold – Sunday Age (06/02/94)

They’re Off And Racing _ But Who’ll Win Gold?
Agenda; Television
Debi Enker
06 February 1994
Sunday Age

TONIGHT Jana Wendt returns to `60 Minutes’ as both anchorwoman and reporter on a story about the escalating support for neo-fascist groups in Europe. Tomorrow, Derryn Hinch steps out for the first time on Nine as the new host of `The Midday Show’.

On Tuesday, the Seven Network begins the third riveting chapter in the adventures of DCI Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren), `Prime Suspect 3′.

Over at the ABC, the week promises the returns of `Lateline’, `Mother and Son’ and the irascible Horace Rumpole. In addition, there are documentaries on Ruth Cracknell and Oskar Schindler. On Ten, where `NYPD Blue’, `Level 23′ and `Alan Jones Live’ have been afforded some handy settling-in time, this week sees the debut of `The X Files’.

Clearly, there’s movement at the stations. Something is goin’ on and that something is the annual opening of the official ratings season _ the TV equivalent to the firing of a starting pistol at the beginning of a big race. And that shot rings out today.

As is the custom prior to any important, high-stakes and high-profile contest, there are nerves and there is tension. There are proud declarations of strengths from one camp followed by dire predictions about the opposition’s weaknesses.

As has become the custom in recent years, the clash of the titans substantially involves Nine and Seven. And, as with last year, Seven has taken the initiative with a range of new shows: the rural drama, `Blue Heelers’, the game show `Man O Man’, and the amateur video forum, `I Witness Video’. Persistent speculation continues about the format and frequency of Andrew Denton’s new show for the network.

While Seven has continued its concerted drive to introduce a swag of locally produced programs in order to topple its arch-rival, Nine is generally continuing with its strategy of steady-as-she-goes, or, “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”. For years Nine has successfully relied on a stalwart group of enduring performers: its nightly news-`A Current Affair’ combo, `Hey, Hey It’s Saturday’, `Burke’s Backyard, `60 Minutes’, etc. This year, the impression from Nine is not of new initiatives but of a refinement designed to give old shows facelifts and the sense of a fresh start without actually risking change.

The reshuffle has meant a fundamental alteration to the format of `60 Minutes’ _ perhaps in recognition of the drawing power of Jana Wendt and that the current reporting team has not captured the public interest as effectively as some of its predecessors. The musical chairs have afforded `Current Affair’ and `Midday’ new hosts and therefore fresh images.

The immensely successful, if belated, infotainment push of last year, with `Our House’ and `Money’, will now be expanded to include `Love Rules’, produced by `Money’s Tim Clucas and focusing on relationships.

Nine’s regular program push will not really swing into gear until after the Winter Olympics (running from 13 to 28 February) but its range of new comedies looks particularly promising. The local sitcom, `Bob Morrison’, featuring a dog’s eye view of family life, premieres on 22 February. Among the imported sitcoms are the hit `Cheers’ spin- off, `Frasier’, and three comedies which have beaten the odds to survive and prosper in the US: `Dave’s World’, `The John Laroquette Show’ and `Phenom’.

The Ten Network, still occupying the wooden spoon position among the commercials, as always has some fine imported shows on offer, with new series of `Northern Exposure’, `LA Law’, `Picket Fences’ and `Law & Order’ scheduled for later in the year. It has `Roseanne’ too, still sparkling in its sixth season, as well as the `Roseanne’-inspired `Grace Under Fire’, starring comedienne Brett Butler as a smart- mouthed single mum who cracks wise at her kids.

Among Ten’s new local programs will be the revamped `A Country Practice’ and `Heartbreak High’, a classroom drama which promises to be tougher than `90210′ (a claim that could reasonably be made by fairy floss manufacturers).

Program schedules at the ABC no doubt saw some frantic action following the production upheavals on the 13-part Melbourne drama, `The Damnation of Harvey McHugh’, originally scheduled for February but now due to appear before mid-year. In the meantime, though, the ABC has the 13-part drama series, `Heartland’, set in a coastal town and starring the multi-talented Ernie Dingo. `GP’ will return for its sixth season and also returning in new series will be `The House of Eliott’, `Heartbeat’, `Minder’ and `The Bill’.

On SBS, the action really begins in earnest next week. High hopes are attached to the 12-part `Under the Skin’, a selection of half-hour dramas intending to probe beneath the surface of Australian life. The series aims to give promising young film-makers an opportunity to express their ideas and to do so with the advantage of seasoned actors including Noni Hazlehurst, Nadine Garner, Anna-Maria Monticelli, Norman Kaye, Sean Scully and Kerry Walker.

As well, SBS is launching a number of new series. News anchor Mary Kostakidis will front `The Talk Show’, a half-hour interview and discussion program intending to cover a broad range of issues.

`Imagine’ will focus on all aspects of design, asking painters, performers, musicians, architects and interior designers about their ideas. On `Front Up’, journalist Andrew L. Urban will conduct impromptu interviews “with ordinary Australians going about their daily lives”.

On your marks, steady, go! Let the ratings begin …

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