A decade of television viewing is almost over. Or did it never really begin? If you last watched free to air television in this country in 2009, when the previous decade was drawing to a close, what was on your screen? Breakfast television had Sunrise on Seven, where David Koch was the co-host, while MasterChef had been a ratings bonanza for Ten in its debut season. On the ABC Q&A and host Tony Jones were about to move to a Monday night slot after two years on Thursday evenings, and Nine was preparing to reboot The Block.
The structure of television and the very way we watch it has evolved so swiftly and significantly over the last decade – streaming platforms, video on demand, niche viewing, diversity in on-air talent, bingeing seasons – that it’s easy to paint a then-and-now picture, as if television a decade ago was some sepia-stained image of an earlier era no longer accessible. For some of us that’s mostly true, but the industry in this country and many viewers readily make a case for the opposite.
Change makes people in television worry: it’s an industry where what has worked is often a fair bet for what could work again, right up until it really doesn’t work and the alarm bells start sounding. The idea of stopping something that is achieving its goals – whether creative or commercial – or even tinkering with it is a deeply suspicious notion. Consider Nine’s breakfast show Today, which is celebrating the end of the decade by recalling Karl Stefanovic, the long-time co-host it finally said goodbye to after much hubris just a year ago.
There are certainly some shows that should be considered foundation stones for Australian television, such as the ABC’s essential Four Corners, but even the best programs cycle through executive producers and creative voices. The more you look at it, Australian television hungers for the familiar. Look at the way networks pick up reality television shows their rivals have discarded and relaunch them. In 2020 Seven will air a new season of Nine’s Farmer Wants a Wife, complete with original host Natalie Gruzlewski.