TV crisis or changing times? Veteran actors debate impact of reality TV

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Mike Munro, Benita Collings and Grant Denyer have shared their views on TV. Source: Getty.

Australian TV has undergone some dramatic changes over the last few decades, as classic dramas and sitcoms are replaced by reality TV shows, and classic broadcast gets taken over by internet streaming sites.

Watching these changes first-hand have been some of the country’s most-loved actors and actresses, who have been there every step of the way on some of their biggest and most popular TV shows in history, from A Country Practice and Play School, right through to A Current Affair, Family Feud and Home and Away.

While some have shared their fears of a TV crisis on the horizon – with one even branding reality shows “morally corrupt” – others insist it’s time to embrace a change.

Here they share their fears, memories and hopes for the future with Starts at 60:

Mike Munro, 65, has enjoyed decades on Australian screens, taking lead roles in everything from A Current Affair and 60 Minutes, to Nine News and Sunday Night – all some of the biggest news and current affairs programs on screen.

However, as news demand began to change in recent years, he claims shows began to focus less on long-running investigations and political scandals, and more on fast-paced news. He particularly noticed a new appetite for reality TV shows – which he believes are “morally corrupt”.

“I became very disillusioned with it all, I said ‘I don’t cook, sing, dance, I don’t want to be married to someone I’ve never met before, I can’t hit a nail’, so I was prepared to walk away,” he admitted in an exclusive chat.

Munro now thinks there’s too many reality TV shows and not enough hard-hitting shows: “Yes. SBS is doing a little, but really the ABC is only the reputable, credible organisation doing any hard-hitting current affairs.”

He added: “I do also think there are too many of these reality shows, and I think a lot of them are morally corrupt. Marrying someone you’ve never seen before, or the last resort having a couple who want to be on TV but also want to save their marriage. Even the cooking shows have gone confrontational and aggressive. I hardly watch any free to air anymore.”

Meanwhile, Shane Withington became a household name for Aussie families when he played Brendan in A Country Practice. Now, he’s best known for playing John Palmer on Home and Away. Having seen the industry change through the years, he admitted it’s a shame that dramas are now being overshadowed by reality TV – even describing it as a “TV crisis”.

“The industry has changed dramatically”, he explained. “There is a lot more reality TV which I think is a deep shame. Our dramas are in crisis, children’s TV is in crisis because people want to make cheap TV, cheap reality shows that don’t cost a lot. I always feel a bit out of place at the Logie’s because I’m an actor, not a builder or a vet.

“It has changed hugely. Also, everything is going online to be streamed so broadcast TV will come to an end. I’ll see the end in my career I think. It will all be narrow cast. Our show will survive if it goes online, a bit like Netflix. But there’s just something romantic about the term ‘going to air’.”

Elsewhere, Grant Denyer agrees that the more nostalgic, older-feel shows are important and must continue to be made – as they not only focus on ‘real’ people, but they actually bring families together. In fact, he credits them with bringing different demographics closer like no other TV show can.

“Everybody has a search for nostalgia,” he explained. “The problem is, as a presenter, you can’t always live up to people’s memories of a show.

“As the world gets scarier and angrier and darker, I think these kinds of shows have more importance than ever. They take your mind off your troubles and put a smile on your face.”

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Seeing both sides of the debate is Aussie actress Benita Collings, who enjoyed a long-running stint as the main presenter of hit show Play School. Like Withington, she has continued to work in the industry throughout the years following her show, and while she focuses more on theatre now – she has no plans to retreat from the TV spotlight.

She said there needs to be more opportunities for older actors and actresses to ensure every demographic tunes in to the shows the whole family continue to love – but she’s hopeful it’s starting to happen.

“I know our union over the last few years has been very prominent in saying to the writers ‘please, write for women and write for older women’. They have put it out there. I think it is slowly changing,” she said.

Not everyone agrees that the changes are bad however, and Gold Logie nominee and Selling Houses Australia star Andrew Winter has embraced a move towards none free-to-air TV and internet streaming sites.

“The days of having to spend $100 plus to get a box and have access to Foxtel are gone,” he explained. “You can still get one for the all singing, all dancing stuff, but now you can also get the app version that’s under $20 a month.

“This is a whole new brave world and ratings are up 15 per cent. I do think it’s for its accessibility.”

He added: “It’s like trying to say ‘we’re going to stop social media now’, but it’s a brave new world and things have changed. If you’re just going to be concerned about it being ‘so sad’, then look, time’s moving on and things have changed.

“To be honest, only about a year ago I was very worried how things were moving on, but to see Foxtel adapting, it makes me thing they’ll be a strong player.”

Do you like the changes to Aussie TV in recent years? Or do you miss the old ways?

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