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Countdown was a long-running popular weekly Australian music television show broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corporationmarker 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 Meldrum. Countdown was produced at the studios of the ABC in the Melbournemarker suburb of Ripponleamarker.

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. 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.

The program's talent co-ordinator Ian "Molly" Meldrum began appearing on-air in 1975, presenting the Humdrum music news segment and conducting interviews. He soon became the face of Countdown. He appeared regularly on-air until 1986. Another attraction to the program was the local & international acts who would host an episode - usually performing as well. During the show, Molly 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.

Cultural influence

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 colour television 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 nearly all of the master videotapes from 1974 to 1978 were later erased and recycled during an ill-advised "economy drive" at the ABC. The reason was that 2-inch videotape was expensive, and at upwards of A$300 for a one-hour roll at the time, it was considered economical to re-use the tapes. 100 episodes in total were erased from this period. In recent years, ABC Archives has undertaken an upgrade of the remaining episodes, copying what was left to their 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 their all night music show, Rage, in January, to make up for the lack of new release video clips available to the ABC at that time.

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 AC/DC, Olivia Newton-John, INXS, Kylie Minogue, John Paul Young, Sherbet, Skyhooks, Marcia Hines, Mark Holden, The Angels, Mondo Rock, Men at Work, Icehouse, Australian Crawl, Mental As Anything, Little River Band, William Shakespeare, Renée Geyer, Wa Wa Nee and Jon English.

The program dominated Australian popular music well into the 1980s, although some critics felt that in later years it tended to concentrate on pop-oriented major-label acts and that it failed to reflect much of the exciting independent scene of the time.

The popularity of Countdown was losing momentum by the mid 1980's. 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, followed by the Countdown Awards. It was a sad night for many, yet a celebration of musical achievements in '86/'87. Molly made his appearance at the end of the show wearing his well known, and internationally recognised, Akubra hat. Molly 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.

ABC TV's Rage music program has re-broadcast selected entire episodes of Countdown in January each year since 1993.

In March 2007, pay television channel Foxtel, and its regional affiliate Austar, began screening 100's 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.

Countdown Revolution era

From late 1989 to late 1990, Countdown returned in the guise of Countdown Revolution. Without Molly 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 series was notoriously canned by the ABCmarker after an unauthorised on-air protest by Lacy and Little on 22 June 1990 against the policy of not allowing acts to perform live and insisting they mime to backup tracks.[66927]

The show ran until December 1990; the (in)famous on-air protest on 22 June, 1990 wasn't the final episode, as a lot of people believe.

See also



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