Countdown (Australian TV series)
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|Created by||Michael Shrimpton
Ian "Molly" Meldrum
|Directed by||Robbie Weekes|
|Presented by||Ian "Molly" Meldrum|
|Country of origin||Australia|
|No. of seasons||14 seasons|
|No. of episodes||563 episodes|
|Executive producer(s)||Michael Shrimpton|
|Running time||25 min First six episodes
|Picture format||Black-and-white (1974-1975)
|Original release||8 November 1974– 19 July 1987|
Countdown was a long-running popular weekly Australian music television show broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from 8 November 1974 until 19 July 1987. It was created by Executive Producer Michael Shrimpton, producer/director Robbie Weekes and record producer and music journalist Ian "Molly" Meldrum. Countdown was produced at the studios of the ABC in the Melbourne suburb of Ripponlea.
Countdown was the most popular music program in Australian TV history. It was broadcast nationwide on Australia's government-owned broadcaster, the ABC and commanded a huge and loyal audience. It soon exerted a strong influence on radio programmers because of its audience and the amount of Australian content it featured. The first half-hour episode went to air at 6.30pm on Friday, 8 November 1974, but for most of the time it was on air, it also gained double exposure throughout the country by screening a new episode each Sunday evening, and then repeating it the following Saturday evening. The majority of performances on the show were lip synched.
Molly Meldrum, the program's talent co-ordinator, began appearing on-air in 1975, presenting the "Humdrum" music news segment and conducting interviews. Meldrum soon became the "face" of Countdown. He appeared regularly on-air until 1986. Another attraction to the program was the local and international acts who would host an episode - usually performing as well. During the show, Meldrum would interview them (while co-hosting) or have a chat with them before the show went out with the number 1 single of the week. In October 2014, Meldrum published his autobiography, "The Never, Um, Ever Ending Story".
Teen-oriented pop music still enjoyed strong popularity during the 1970s, although much of it was sourced from overseas, and the proportion of Australian acts in the charts had hit an all-time low by 1973. That trend began to change around 1975, and many credit that largely to the advent of Countdown. Much of the show's influence derived from its timeslot (Sundays at 6pm) and the fact that each week's show was repeated the following Saturday at 5pm; the series also undoubtedly benefitted hugely from the long-delayed introduction of PAL colour television system in Australia, which was introduced four months after Countdown premiered. Because of this, Countdown was also one of the first Australian TV series to be made entirely in colour.
Although it is not widely recognised, Countdown also had a strong international influence, because it was one of the first TV shows in the world to promote the regular use of the music video as a major part of its programming. Because of its receptivity to music videos (something of a necessity because of the comparative rarity of tours by overseas acts) Countdown proved to be instrumental in the worldwide success of a number of important overseas acts of the period. Madonna achieved her first hit single in April 1984 when "Holiday" was screened on Countdown. Subsequently "Burning Up" reached the top twenty following repeated showings of the video clip on the show; this second song was not a hit in other countries. Other international artists including Blondie, ABBA, John Mellencamp, Meat Loaf, Boz Scaggs and Cyndi Lauper achieved their first hits in Australia, thanks to their video clips being aired on Countdown, and this in turn led to their records being picked up and becoming hits in America and/or Europe.
Many international acts who would otherwise have gone largely unheard on Australian commercial radio, gained important exposure in Australia on Countdown through their music videos; the list includes many UK "new wave" acts, such as XTC, The Beat, Elvis Costello, The Specials, Lene Lovich, Joe Jackson, and The Cure, and US acts such as The Ramones and The Cars.
Above all, Countdown was crucial to the success of many leading Australian acts, including AC/DC, Olivia Newton-John, INXS, Hush, Kylie Minogue, I'm Talking, John Paul Young, Sherbet, Skyhooks, Marcia Hines, Mark Holden, The Angels, Mondo Rock, Men at Work, Icehouse, Australian Crawl, Mental As Anything, Little River Band, William Shakespeare, Renée Geyer, Wa Wa Nee and Jon English.
The program dominated Australian popular music well into the 1980s, although some critics felt that in later years it tended to concentrate on pop-oriented major-label acts and that it failed to reflect much of the exciting independent scene of the time.
The popularity of Countdown was losing momentum by the mid-1980s. Music videos were often shown, rather than the artists performing live in the studio. It was cheaper to produce with videos and this led to Countdown having no significant difference from any other music video program shown on TV during this time.
The final episode of Countdown aired on 19 July 1987, with The Stems performing their third single "Sad Girl" live from their debut album "At First Sight Violets Are Blue" followed by the Countdown Awards. It was a sad night for many, yet a celebration of musical achievements in '86/'87. Meldrum made his appearance at the end of the show wearing his well known Stetson hat. Meldrum saluted the music industry and fans and then bared his shaved head to the audience. It was well known that his shaved head was a statement to artists like Midnight Oil, who during their career and being one of Australia's favourite bands, never appeared on the show because they often regarded Countdown as too industry/hit driven and appealed only to a young teenage audience.
In March 2007, pay television channel Foxtel, and its regional affiliate Austar, began screening hundreds of studio performances from the Countdown era. Themed Countdown specials have become very popular and lost performances by John Farnham, drag queen Divine, a-ha, Pseudo Echo and the Countdown Dancers performing the Flashdance medley highlight the great music of the period.
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Most of the master videotapes from 1974 to 1978 were later erased and recycled during a management initiated "economy drive" at the ABC. The reason was that 2-inch videotape was expensive (upwards of A$300 for a one-hour roll at the time) and it was considered economically sensible to re-use the tapes. A culture of preservation for posterity did not exist in Australian television at the time, and 100 episodes in total were erased from this period of the show's history.
In the book Glad All Over Michael Shrimpton says at that time the ABC were "run by financial types [who] suddenly discovered that the increase in the purchase of video tapes had roared up 200 percent in 12 months". He said they didn't stop to consider that the video tape "was the cheapest link in the chain". An order came through to erase a whole wall of tapes. The name of the person who ordered the tapes erased was Bill Pritchard, a middle-manager who is alleged to have held ambitions for a higher job and wanted to prove himself, and that by saving the company money on the expense of videotape he would be seen as a good candidate for upper management.
500 12" reels were pulled out which affected at least 100 episodes. Ted Emery and Paul Drane heard about the order and surreptitiously removed as many reels as they could during the middle of the night and hid them in their cars. According to Ted Emery, when the order came to erase the episodes he used stalling tactics such as moving the tapes around. He said: "I kept thinking fifteen years down the track this stuff will be important." The producers tried stalling further by handing in trims and pre-assemblies rather than the master copies. "But it wasn't enough," Emery said. "I didn't have enough to give him so they took the masters as well". Had it not been for Ted Emery and Paul Drane, the few episodes from the 1974-78 period that remained would have been erased. This includes the first episode broadcast in colour.
The period from 1975 to 1978 was erased except for 30 episodes. Only 2 episodes exist from 1976 now. The main casualties were from the 1975-1977 period, but there are others that are either missing or too damaged to put to air and are held only for research purposes.
Many tapes were unravelled and used as "tape streamers" in the foyer of the ABC as part of a display at the time. The "streamers" were then later subsequently thrown out. It is possible some of the lost episodes of Countdown were amongst them.
According to Ted Emery it was not just episodes of Countdown that were effected by the purge. A range of Australian Rules Grand Finals along with episodes of Bellbird and Certain Women were also erased.
In recent years, ABC Archives has undertaken an upgrade of the remaining episodes, copying what was left to their two on-air playback formats Betacam SP and Digital Betacam. It is the copying of the programs onto this format that has allowed the ABC to re-broadcast episodes of Countdown during their all night music show, Rage, in January, to make up for the lack of new release video clips available to the ABC at that time.
Countdown Revolution era
From 3 July 1989 to December 1990, Countdown returned in the guise of Countdown Revolution. Without Meldrum, who had since gone on to Hey Hey It's Saturday, it featured a group of young hosts including Tania Lacy and Mark Little. The duo were fired by the ABC after an unauthorised on-air protest on 22 June 1990 against the policy of not allowing acts to perform live and insisting they mime to backup tracks. The show continued until its cancellation in December 1990.
The program aired 6:30 weeknights for 30 mins. On Friday nights, the Top 10 biggest selling songs in Australia was counted down (using information from the ARIA Chart). Video clips were generally shown, but memorable appearances live on stage included Poison ("Nothin' but a Good Time"), Kylie Minogue ("Hand on Your Heart" and "Never Too Late"), Jason Donovan ("Sealed with a Kiss"), Collette ("All I Wanna Do Is Dance" and "That's What I Like About You"), Brother Beyond ("He Ain't No Competition"), Indecent Obsession ("Say Goodbye"), Martika ("I Feel The Earth Move"), James Freud ("One Fine Day") and many more.
The hour long Batdance competition was a high rating show in November 1989 where Molly Meldrum aided in the judging of the talent from the state finalists.
The ABC's late night continuous music show rage replayed old episodes of Countdown Revolution in January 2012, and again in January 2015 - including episode #1.
The Countdown Magazine continued to be published during the run of Countdown Revolution.
- List of Australian music television shows
- List of Australian television series
- List of Australian Broadcasting Corporation programs
- The Countdown Years 1974-1987 Glad All Over by Peter Wilmouth, Penguin Books, 1993 pp 217-18 ISBN 0-86914-293-3
- Official Countdown site (now defunct)
- Countdown at the Internet Movie Database
- Countdown at TV.com
- Countdown at the National Film and Sound Archive