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May 09

Happy 20th Anniversary Frontline

Monday May 9, 1994 – the cathode ray tube of your 34 cm colour TV turns on and you fiddle with your rabbit ears antenna to view Channel 2 at 8 o’clock at night.

The reason?

After The Late Show chalked and wrapped up its second season in late 1993, The team that was The D-Generation split to do their own projects: Tony Martin and Mick Molloy did their own thing before venturing into the Austereo offices to form Martin/Molloy in 1995, Jason Stephens went behind the camera on various projects, and Jane Kennedy, Rob Sitch, Tom Gleisner & Santo Cilauro created Working Dog Productions to create a satirical dramedy 26 minute show that focused on behind / during the scenes of creating and developing a 30 minute current affairs show based on commercial TV – Frontline.

So who fronted the fake show?

Martin "Marty" Di Stasio, Brooke Vandenberg, Mike Moore

Martin “Marty” Di Stasio, Brooke Vandenberg, Mike Moore

Mike Moore (played by Rob Sitch): The anchor who is quite self-centred and dim-witted without even realising it. He takes his career seriously, while others make a mockery out of him behind (and sometimes in front) of his back. Moore has the hallmarks of well known anchors of current affairs shows in the 1990s – without stating the obvious hairstyle is based upon – and believes he’s firm and fair. Very lovable.

Brooke Vandenberg (played by Jane Kennedy): A highly popular reporter on Frontline who also is in place for the anchor baton to be passed onto. While hitting the ground hard with investigative journalism, Vandenberg seeks the spotlight as much as possible, while fueling her ego. She finds Moore repulsive and also loves to party. Just not the consequences afterwards.

Martin Di Stasio (played by Tiriel Mora): A senior reporter who while loves his job, sometimes does not give a shit about everything else and is more often laid back and does not hesitate signing a deal. Di Stasio usually goes for the softer, sympathetic tear-jerker stories.

There are so many secondary characters to mention – so here’s a brief list (not all, though):

Emma Ward (Alison Whyte): Line Producer for Frontline.
Kate Preston (Trudy Hellier): Segment Producer for Frontline.
Geoffrey Salter (Santo Cilauro): Weatherman for the TV network and Mike Moore’s best friend.
Brian Thompson (Bruno Lawrence): Frontline Executive Producer in Season 1. Unfortunately Lawrence died of lung cancer between Seasons 1 and 2, so the Thompson character was written out as being ‘fired’ off-screen.
Sam Murphy (Kevin J Wilson): Executive Producer who is hired after Brian is ‘fired’ for Season 2.
Graeme Prowse (Steve Bisley): Executive Producer who is hired after Sam retires for Season 3.
Stu O’Hallaran (Pip Mushin): Frontline’s main cameraman who is always on the road filming Brooke and Marty. Constantly taking the piss out of Mike.

Each episode covered various topics and themes, from handling sensitive taboo topics to how an actual story is put together, coming down to how a reporter show themselves in the episode. The visuals of the episodes were in two different styles: the ‘realism’ part where it seems you’re eavesdropping with the characters were shot with hand-held Hi-8 camcorders, while the actual ‘Frontline‘ in-show episode and segments were shot in broadcast quality.

Various guest stars have ranged from Ugly Dave Gray and Bert Newton playing themselves, to Harry Shearer playing a Consultant to change the image of the show. Even Tony Martin and Mick Molloy made cameos as each other but with roles reversed (Martin as Molloy and Molloy as Martin) as their radio personalities Martin/Molloy in the 90s.

After two successful seasons on the ABC from 1994 to 1995, Channel 7 bought the rights with the third season shown in 1997.

Recently Santo Cilauro expressed his thoughts of the success of the show with the 20 year anniversary.

It really makes us feel old. Especially you still feel young because you’re writing stuff and I still, in a strange way, feel that I’m writing like what I was writing in my university days like in our revues. The platform just gets bigger and bigger. When we’re told, all of a sudden we get this reality check and realise it was a really long time ago. But everyone gets old!

Thoughts on Frontline becoming part of school education curriculum:

Kind of weird. I was kind of surprised. It really shocked me when a friend of mine from Sydney said that their daughter was doing Frontline at school, and I was “Oh, Sydney as well?”. She said “Can my daughter talk to you?” as she was doing some kind of test on it. I said “Sure!”, then she said “Look, the question is about ‘Sexual Politics In The Office Place'” … and I’m sitting there going “When I wrote that – when we wrote that, the thing about gender issues was so not in our minds.” So it’s funny how things take on their own life. You write them in a particular way – The Castle gets seen, written up as some kind of a metaphor for Aboriginal land rights. And I’m thinking ‘I’m glad you think that, but that’s not how it was written!” – so same with Frontline. Sometimes too much gets put on it. It was just intended to be a comedy.

We were going to set it in a radio station, to tell you the truth, when we were first going to write it. That was one possibility. We just thought ‘Let’s set it in Current Affairs!’. So people can think and make of it what they will.

A Frontline Annual which was filled with tidbits and scripts was released, as well as a handful of episodes on VHS. Eventually all three seasons of Frontline made their way on DVD. Sadly, no extra special features. However, on one of the VHS tapes, Behind The Frontline documentary is featured.

Frontline won five Logie Awards:

* Most Outstanding Achievement in Comedy – 1995
* Most Outstanding Achievement in Comedy – 1996
* Most Outstanding Actress – Alison Whyte – 1997
* Most Outstanding Series – 1998
* Most Outstanding Achievement in Comedy – 1998

.. and the team soaked it up…

Congratulations Working Dog on the anniversary!

2 comments

  1. Andrew

    Great review of the show, but are you sure about Channel 7 making the third series? I know Seven bought re-run rights at some stage (though mostly played the episodes outside of prime time – the topic of tacky commercial current affairs was probably a bit too close to home!) but I don’t think they made any new episodes. Pretty sure all 3 series were made for ABC?

    1. Matt F

      I always got the replays confused as I remember watching Season 3 for the first time on Ch 7. I couldn’t find any paperwork while doing research on it, but I’ve been told a few times your similar story. Thanks – updated!

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