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|
|Production location(s)||Ripponlea, Victoria|
25 min First six episodes|
|Original release||8 November 1974- 19 July 1987|
Countdown was a 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. It was screened every night at 6:30 to 7:30.
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 John Farnham, AC/DC, Olivia Newton-John, INXS, Dragon, Hush, Kylie Minogue, I'm Talking, John Paul Young, Sherbet, Skyhooks, Ted Mulry Gang (TMG), Jimmy and the Boys, Marcia Hines, Mark Holden, The Angels, Mondo Rock, Men at Work, Icehouse, Australian Crawl, Mental As Anything, Little River Band, William Shakespeare, The Choirboys, Renée Geyer, Wa Wa Nee and Jon English.
The program dominated Australian popular music well into the 1980s. The popularity of Countdown started to lose 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. Meldrum co-hosted with, and interviewed, Carol Hitchcock and Jim Keays. It was followed by the last Countdown Awards ceremony. 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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A well known segment of the show's run is an atypical studio interview Meldrum conducted with Prince Charles. Meldrum was extremely nervous about interviewing the prince and botched a great many takes during the interview by flubbing his lines and even committing several royal protocol blunders. Members of his production crew gave him constant encouragement between takes and eventually Prince Charles politely asked Meldrum if he could get a teleprompter to assist him with the interview, to which Meldrum replied that there was not one available.
The interview, or rather, the numerous botched takes from it, has become a staple of blooper shows in Australia. Meldrum has since said of the interview, "It's not a regret, but I definitely stuffed that up."
A large number of master videotapes recorded between 1974 and 1978 were later erased and recycled during a management-initiated "economy drive" at the ABC, an action which Meldrum later criticised and said was "unforgivable". Given the costs at the time of recording on videotape, most tapes were wiped and re-used. At least 100 episodes in total were erased from this period of the show's history.
In the book Glad All Over Michael Shrimpton said 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 from middle-management Bill Pritchard to erase a whole wall of tapes.
500 12-inch reels were pulled out which affected at least 100 episodes. Ted Emery and Paul Drane heard about the order, surreptitiously removing as many reels as they could during the middle of the night and hiding 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 Emery and Drane, the few episodes from the 1974-78 period that remained would have been erased. That includes the first episode broadcast in colour.
With the exception of 30 episodes, all programs aired between 1975 and 1978 were erased; only two episodes which aired in 1976 are known to exist. Most of the episodes erased originally aired from 1975 to 1977, but there are other episodes either missing or too damaged for future airing, the latter of which are most likely held only for research purposes.
According to Ted Emery, it was not just episodes of Countdown that were affected by the purge. A number of Australian Rules Football Grand Final games, 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 its 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 its all-night music show, Rage in place of video clips which would normally air during that timeslot.
Missing episode enthusiast, Troy Walters, has a website Turning Back Time: The Hunt For ABC's Countdown, which discusses what has been lost and found.
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. It also played once a month in Sydney at the Artransa Studios in Frenchs Forest.
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 the first episode from 1989.
The Countdown Magazine continued to be published during the run of Countdown Revolution'.
Countdown, the show that epitomised the pop music scene in Australia for over a decade, celebrated the 40th anniversary of its debut with the release of an anthology album in 2014. A two-part 40th Anniversary TV special, "Countdown: Do Yourself A Favour", was broadcast on Sunday 16 November 2014. Hosted by Julia Zemiro and including a guest appearance by HRH Prince Charles. At the ARIA Music Awards of 2014 in November both Countdown and Meldrum were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame - the first time a non-performing artist was inducted.
A two-part documentary-drama about the life of Meldrum and his experiences with Countdown was created by Channel 7 in 2016. Episode one aired on 7 February 2016 and episode two on 14 February 2016. Australian actor Samuel Johnson starred as Meldrum, with Tom O'Sullivan as Shrimpton and T.J. Power as Weekes. It tells of the rise and fall of Countdown, its production struggles and various other tales about the music groups that went on it. The show received predominantly positive ratings.
The show lived up to its name when it angered devoted viewers by slashing its top 50 in mid-2006 and playing videos freeform. But nearly a decade after that controversial decision, a new segment called "The Chart" hit the silver screen.Rage now regularly plays chart hits with a 'Countdown' of the most popular videos from the ARIA singles[better source needed]
On 17 September 2017 the ABC commenced airing a retrospective of the show, comprising 13 one hour episodes. Each episode focused on one year from 1975 to 1987, showcasing live performances from the show, interviews and Molly's Humdrum. Voice over narration is supplied by recording artists who appeared on the show. The show was programmed to air in Countdown's original Sunday 6pm slot.
For the 2017 Sydney New Year's Eve live show and broadcast on the ABC, there was a countdown to midnight and the fireworks, the show was themed like the Countdown show, with lots of live artists including Casey Donovan, Jimmy Barnes, Isiah Firebrace and more. The show had the Countdown theme song and some of the same graphics. Ian "Molly" Meldrum did not return to host. The stage also had the Countdown logo.