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Beyond Broadcast

Logies 2017 – Samuel Johnson wins gold for Molly at a wonderfully daggy ceremony

Sam Johnson won the Gold Logie and Best Actor for his portrayal of Molly Meldrum. AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy

The 59th Annual Logie Awards came with the usual ceremony and criticism. Is this really the best that the Australian television industry can offer? And if it is, why is it, at times, so daggy? Those criticisms forget that all awards ceremonies are (ironically) quite undignified – groups of people who are being celebrated for their day jobs are squeezed into uncomfortable clothes and pitted against each other for a little statue.

Last night’s ceremony showed an industry and public who are coming a little closer together in terms of values, however some gaps clearly remained. When Kerri-Anne Kennerley took the stage to receive her Logies Hall of Fame award (the third woman to do so in nearly 60 years), she also confessed to having been on Australian television, in some way, continuously for the last 50 years despite having never won an award.

“I am very excited to get this, and even more excited not to get it posthumously. Not that there haven’t been a few people who have tried to bury me,” she said with a smile that only a survivor with too much class to name names could muster.

“Working in television has given me so much joy. It’s a privilege, and an education in humanity, compassion … cruelty, and so much more.”

She ultimately thanked her audience, looking right down the barrel of the camera into our lounge rooms like a true professional, thanking the ordinary people she had spoken to as part of her work, “people who came on [television] to get a message out” to the rest of Australia. While network television may no longer have that scope (or at least, it now has social media to give it a run for its money), hers was an important acknowledgement of television’s role in letting ordinary Australia see itself.

The talk of the night was the triumph of the mini-series Molly, the biopic focused on Molly Meldrum’s life. The series created something of an upset given it took up relatively little airtime compared to other series it ran against – a mere couple of hours and two episodes instead of those that go for many weeks and series. The series received Best Drama, and its star Samuel Johnson won the Silver Logie for Best Actor as well as the Gold Logie itself.

While Meldrum was acknowledged by the cameras each time the series won, his place in the pageant was distinctly different each time. When Johnson won Best Actor quite early in the night he didn’t mention Meldrum at all, or himself, but instead talked of his sister Connie’s continued battle with cancer and the “Love Your Sister” campaign to raise money for research. While there were some “tut tuts” on Twitter about the focus, from where I was sitting it was perfectly lovely and showed the sincerity that makes Sam such a compelling person to watch, in any capacity.

When the award for Best Drama was revealed producer and music industry icon Michael Gudinski did the talking. He did mention Meldrum a little (although with a joking dismissal), instead focusing on the “broader team” that worked on the project, including his own Liberation label and their role in the show’s soundtrack. He concluded with another appeal, “let’s celebrate Australian music, television and film – is our government listening?”

As Johnson took the stage to receive the Gold Logie for his portrayal of Meldrum, the cameras deliberately focused away from the real Meldrum as he was assisted up onto the stage. Now in his seventies and still a little worse for wear following his accident in 2011, he interrupted Johnson early on with some mock advice about not mumbling when presenting on television. He also told him never to tell anyone to “Do themselves a fucking favour” – dropping the expletive with the charm that only a drunk national treasure at the end of the Logies can muster.

Finally Johnson spoke a little of himself in a deliciously self-deprecating speech. “I have been insisting that my family address me as your royal Logie-ness”, he said of the leadup to the award. “I found my home here in the arts – a place that encouraged me to be truthful, to work harder, to peruse excellence; I did none of that,” he smiled to great applause. The camera flashed to Meldrum who laughed heartily here too. Clearly embarrassed by the attention, Meldrum took the microphone next to praise Johnson – a speech that wandered as the real Molly, overcome by the occasion, the hour, and perhaps the liquid accolades, swore more and made less and less sense.

He talked about his hesitation that Johnson may have wanted to learn “how to be gay” by observing him – something that made the room uncomfortable, but even through the slurring, was an important point to make. Meldrum, and all people, should be allowed to be seen as multidimensional. Just when it seemed presenter Dave Hughes was about to step in and gently remove him, Meldrum snapped back to present Johnson with a gold “Molly hat”, saying “on behalf of the drama queen of Australia, I would like to crown you with this golden hat”.

The conclusion showed the public’s love of two underdogs. Johnson’s win was not only the result of those couple of hours on the miniseries, but a swell of support for the Love Your Sister campaign which he has tirelessly dedicated himself to. But it was also a win for Meldrum – and not just the Meldrum superglued into 1970s Countdown couch, but the Meldrum who has endured to be himself, in public, but on his own terms. It was all very daggy, yes. But it was wonderfully so.

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