No culling of subeditorial staff, no mass redundancies of newsroom personnel, has grieved me quite as much as the latest casualty of Lachlan Murdoch’s Channel Ten purges: Video Hits.
The venerable music video program, which airs on Saturday and Sunday mornings and was first seen in February 1987, is the second longest running music TV show in the world; the longest running is the Eurovision Song Contest. (Rage premiered in April 1987.)
I was among the many Australians whose childhoods it shaped — not to mention my teenage years and my hungover early adulthood. I’d ritualistically ensconce myself on the couch with a cup of tea, commentating on the chart parade with family, friends and housemates. Being a Stock, Aitken and Waterman loyalist, I remember feeling enraged when Tracy Chapman’s terrible dirge Fast Car and Crowded House’s sooky Better Be Home Soon overtook Kylie Minogue in the charts.
More recently, I recall the rich comedy of Australian pop videos, which spanned Shannon Noll’s 1982 rural panto Drive, the nutty backing dancers in Christine Anu’s Party, Human Nature’s “little man, big hair” N*SYNC clone He Don’t Love You, and Guy Sebastian as the world’s least convincing playa in Out With My Baby.
Video Hitshas been criticised for broadcasting obscene or misogynist lyrics and scantily clad women mechanically gyrating and pouting to signal s-xual availability. When a Gold Coast property developer was criticised this February for using bikini models in an advertising video, its agents defended themselves by saying: ”My kids can get up and watch far worse on Video Hits every weekend.”
However, unlike Rage, or pay-TV’s Channel V and MTV, Video Hits actually edits its videos in line with its PG rating. In 2009 the show was forced to ban Lady Gaga’s Love Game video (that’s the one about taking a ride on her disco stick); it also didn’t screen My Humps by the Black Eyed Peas.
Historically, Video Hits was also one of the limited ways kids could explore their musical tastes in the pre-internet era. Unless you had an older sibling or hip friend, or dared parley with the intimidating punks staffing local record shops, you learned about music from Video Hits, as well as Rage, Smash Hits and TV Hits magazines, and commercial radio top 40 countdowns including Barry Bissell’s Take 40 Australia and Shadoe Stevens’s American Top 40.
And according to Ten’s director of programming, David Mott, that’s precisely the reason Video Hits has to go now. “Music and how people listen to it, watch it and enjoy it has changed dramatically in last few years and now is the perfect time for the institution that is Video Hits to sign off,” Mott said in a statement.
But for me, Video Hits took a fatal wrong turn when it tried to evolve. Unlike Rage, which has never erred from just playing the damn clips, Video Hits tried to diversify — producing compilation albums, live gigs, tours and interviews. In 2004 it instituted hosts — Australian Idol rejects Axle Whitehead and Kelly Cavuoto — which basically ruined everything. It was excruciating to watch them attempt to ingratiate themselves with a parade of obviously ill at ease touring acts.
Both Whitehead and Cavuoto were sacked after ill-judged behaviour at awards shows. Cavuoto got her marching orders in 2005 after rude, drunken comments about Guy Sebastian at the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, while Whitehead was booted in 2006 after exposing himself onstage at the ARIA Awards.
Crikey wonders if the much more professional Faustina “Fuzzy” Agolley, who stepped into Whitehead’s role, sensed the impending axing. In an interview with The Saturday Age published last week, she said: “I have a strong desire to go overseas … I would like to produce and work in documentaries. I’ve had a couple of offers.”
Her co-host, Dylan Lewis, has experience being axed from weekend music television, having fronted the ABC’s Recovery in the ’90s. Many people who fondly recall that show’s anarchic moments, such as the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion rampaging through the studio, have called for Lewis to revive Recovery.
But let’s face it, you guys. That moment is gone. Lewis used to have spiky hair and piercings, and perform in a funk band called the Brown Hornet. Now he wears little wire-rimmed glasses, and the yoofful energy that used to go into Recovery is now being channelled into Triple J’s array of inoffensively cheeky and suspiciously venerable presenters.
The final Video Hits will air on August 6. Thankfully, Rage continues. RAAA-AGE! Rage.