Compulsive Viewing: The Inside Story Of Packer’s Nine Network

Here are some highlights from this 2000 book about Australia’s leading TV network of the time:

* What does it take to become a television star? Performers may look like they are speaking directly to you — their eyes aglow with empathetic smiles and their voices bubbling over with bonhomie — but they’re merely addressing [a camera]. Some on-camera people never manage to get past this mechanical barrier. Though they are highly professional in every other way, they can’t bring themselves to pretend friendship with an unblinking eye. Their hesitancy is quickly detected by the audience radar, leaving viewers, too, feeling unconsciously ill at ease.

TV cameras…impose a distorting filter on human personality. Minor defects that would pass unnoticed in normal conversation are sometimes magnified on the home screen into a major distraction… Even widely admired characteristics are vulnerable to misinterpretation by the time they are electronically pulverised, blasted through space in a swarm of tiny dots… A voice that commands attention from a stage may sound too fruity or contrived in the cosy confines of a living room. Extraordinary intelligence can come across as just plain smugness… Performing on television often requires longish periods of delivering straight to camera, to give the effect of looking directly into the eyes of the person watching.

* Television can’t make individuals do what they would otherwise never dream of doing. But it can cause a very large number of people to express their feelings in a certain way. Similarly, when it comes to social trends, television doesn’t invent them but it certainly has the power to accelerate them.

* [60 Minutes] is living drama dressed up as current affairs, designed to cut through the mystique and jargon of traditional news gathering and uncover the human essence of any issue or event.

* Journalists tend to see the most important accolade as recognition by their peers rather than the public…

* Television doesn’t produce stars as much as personalities. The ultimate star — in the form of a great movie idol — is generally seen as distant and unapproachable, living apart in an enchanted world. TV celebrities, by contrast, draw their popularity from their ability to come across on the home screen as friendly and accessible, people like their viewers but with the special talent to articulate their audience’s expectations.

* All current affair programs seek to make theater out of real life, highlighting the drama, excitement or intrigue so often hidden away in everyday occurrences.

* The secret to capturing a mass audience is to focus on the gut issues that interest almost everybody.

* It didn’t take long after my arrival in Sydney in 1962 to learn the difference between Australians and Americans. My moment of truth dawned during an after-work drinking session with a group of journalists… I was listening to my colleagues complain about almost every aspect of their culture — from its steak-and-eggs provincialism to its she’ll be right unionists and bureaucrats. Americans are brought up to be very patriotic and I was starting to feel increasingly uneasy about the drift of the conversation. This was my new home, where I had chosen to settle as a migrant, and I genuinely loved everything I had seen so far — it seemed a safe, healthy environment populated by friendly, resourceful people you felt you could rely on.

“You know the trouble with you Aussies,” I interrupted, “you’re always knocking your own country.”

The chatter came to a dead stop… Finally, someone snapped, “If you don’t like it mate, why don’t you piss off?”

…Australians [are] more irreverent than most other English-speaking people…

There is something about life in hot, bright sunshine that chases away inner shadows, burns off the dewdrops of nuance. Aussies are known around the world as being refreshingly unsubtle and direct…

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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