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Beyond Broadcast

Why we should care more about the Logies

Waleed Aly’s 2016 Gold Logie win tells us that the audience has been more appreciative of Australian television’s diversity than the industry. Joe Castro/AAP

This is the time of year when many of the nation’s good little boys and girls start making wish lists. It’s also when many of the good boys and girls of Australian television start asking their audiences to vote for them at the Logies.

You could, perhaps, dismiss each as an overly and unnecessarily commercial ritual – or you could look at the latter, at least, as a rare occasion where the audience gets to have a say about who represents them on television. No channel or potential nominee is immune at the moment; even SBS and Aunty are shamelessly plugging voting outlets and partitioning for support.

There is one notable exception – Lee Lin Chin. But she’s so wonderful the award is barely worthy of being bestowed on her, anyway.

The Logies is a fantastically daggy institution. For nearly 60 years the awards have been typically held in a ballroom/hotel/casino space, punctuated by a shipped-in international (read: American) celebrity, where Australian television is celebrated in all its often low-budget glory.

At its best, the tension between these elements has simply been stared down and sent up. Take Shaun Micallef’s 2010 acceptance speech. Not wanting to appear “cocky” by writing a speech, nor wanting to waste time writing notes in case he didn’t win, he just downloaded a speech from the internet. Upon winning, he followed through with his plan, reading out Sir Laurence Olivier’s 1977 Academy Award winner’s speech, which – as he put it – “seems only appropriate” for the occasion.

Importantly, the Logies provide space to compare public and industry definitions of achievement. And often the public and the industry make very different choices about what they want to celebrate in the Australian television industry.

As TV Week explains on its website, “popular” (labelled as “best”) awards are voted by the public, while “outstanding” awards are voted by the TV industry. These categories and their descriptions are curious – implying that the public can assess what might be worthy of surface attention (“best”); while the industry determines what is lasting and of broader significance (“outstanding”).

You could assume, then, that different types of shows and artists win the audience and industry nominated categories. You might also even assume, particularly given recent political trends towards conservatism, that the audience awards would tend to favour traditional stereotypes of Australianness: male performers of a certain age and type with the right mix of camera-loving Crocodile enthusiasm and loveable roguishness.

It follows then, to assume that the industry awards might reflect artists that are a bit more diverse than this – perhaps more women, perhaps artists who are culturally and ethnically diverse, perhaps people of different ages and with a traditionally less prominent place in dominant Australian media culture.

However, if we compare the two big ticket industry and audience awards – the Hall of Fame (industry) and the Gold Logie (audience) – some interesting patterns emerge, breaking these assumption models. The Hall of Fame has only existed since 1984 so I compared both from there, drawing data from the Logies website.

A quick comparison of these award winners shows the remarkably different way the audience and the industry recognises Australian television achievement. The Hall of Fame shows a place where the “old boys club” dominates, as does a very strong representation of Channel 9 and 7 alumni. It also shows a relatively mono-cultural view of Australian television.

In 2016, Noni Hazelhurst was added as the second woman in The Hall of Fame. In her acceptance speech she called the establishment’s slow acknowledgement of diversity as “glacial”, but also dug back, saying “the thing about glaciers though, is that if you’re not on them, you go under.”

The Gold Logie results tell us that the audience has been comparatively much more appreciative of Australian television’s diversity than the industry. This includes almost an equal gender split (14 Gold Logie wins for women; 19 for men – including multiple award winners of both genders), but also performers representing different types of television programming and cultural identities.

Soap operas were acknowledged much earlier and more regularly in the audience rather than in the industry category, as has been young performers during their early careers. The Gold Logie voters seemed to know, much earlier than the industry did, that Kylie Minogue would go on to have a great and varied career: the sparks that Charlene the Ramsay Street mechanic set off were to be lasting.

The audience also seemed to value a different type of male presence on television – with the early 1990s domination of Ray Martin showing the importance of the broadcaster’s careful, considered approach – a quality that had previously gone underappreciated when compared to the flashiness of the Hogans and Newtons and Kennedys. The industry did eventually catch up and on to this, and of course, they kept on employing him, but why has it taken a while to celebrate these alternatives?

To me the most telling, and perhaps most inspiring, was the Gold Logie win of Waleed Aly last year. An academic, a proud Muslim man, a commentator with a “funny approach” who isn’t necessarily a comedian, he is also someone who sits right there in the commercial mainstream talking to a prime time, general audience. Notably, too, he’s not part of the commercial powerhouses of the Channel 9/Channel 7 boardrooms, or the (hopefully still) protected territories of diversity with the public service broadcasters ABC and SBS.

If you compare Aly’s profile to the rest of what the industry has seemed to value, it would have been easy to assume he didn’t have a chance. (Indeed, the industry reasserted those values when he was first nominated.) But there he was. The golden boy, as voted by ordinary, commercial TV watching, Australia. Their “best” and most “popular”.

The difference between the industry and audience awards at the Logies shows us why we should care about the event. The audience vote for variety, while the industry lags, shows where the real Australian “fair go” attitude actually lies. The difference in value systems between the audience and industry also serves as a stark warning.

If the industry is meant to be representing the audience, presenting their stories, entertainment and news, then they need to take seriously what the audience says they value. And what’s great about the audience is that their values clearly change over time. Just look at the journey from Bert to Jana, from Ray to Rove, and on to Asher and Waleed – I can’t wait to see who emerges in this round of nominations.

The Logies are awarded in April 2017, and voting closes December 18.

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