Seeing a Yank on Australian television is nothing new — countless American TV shows fill the airwaves. However, in 1965 Australia was introduced to a man that, while being an American, would be 100-per cent Australian. That man was Don Lane.
Don Lane, real name Morton Donald Isaacson, first came to Australia as a fill-in host for Irish comedian Dave Allen after he was sacked from his popular Sydney late night talk show. It was apparent after a few episodes that the Nine network had found something special, and he became the official host of Sydney Tonight otherwise known as The Tonight Show because of it’s striking resemblance to the United States The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
The show was a hit, and Don would perform music, comedy sketches and would help break technological ground when he and In Melbourne Tonight host Graham Kennedy would perform via split screen together over coaxial cable from their respective studios in Melbourne and Sydney. It was during one of these split screens that Graham held up a sign that said, “Go home, Yank” that sent Don into hysterics.
After the first show had been cancelled, Don returned to the US for a bit before returning to Australia to host a benefit. During his time here popular TV show host Ernie Sigley publicly criticised his boss Kerry Packer. Kerry flew Don to Melbourne, fired Ernie and hired Don to replace him in the same afternoon.
Don became the host of In Melbourne Tonight and chose Bert Newton has his sidekick, and TV history was made. The show was renamed The Don Lane Show and gave Australian TV some of it’s most memorable moments.
These moments included comedian Robin Williams’ first TV talk show interview and ‘that’ moment when Don lost his cool at magician James Randi after Don took offence to comments James made about show regular Doris Stokes.
From 1975 to 1983 Don Lane was the top dog of Australian television with his amazing singing ability to start and end each program, as well as some of the memorable guests on TV. It came to an end when new management at Nine wanted to cut expenses. Don ended a massive two-hour tribute show with one of the most amazing, and emotional, renditions of Peter Allen’s Once Before I Go.
To this day there still hasn’t been a show that could out entertain The Don Lane Show and there probably never will be.