TV fiction now a fact for researcher

Watching television all day every day for six weeks may sound like a holiday to some, but for Anne Pender it's all in the name of academic research.

Professor Pender is taking part in the Scholars in Residence Program at the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra and is looking into what impact actors over the years have had on Australian television culture.

Professor Anne Pender is conducing a study on Australian TV culture.
Professor Anne Pender is conducing a study on Australian TV culture. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Her project - Actors in the Living Room: Australian Television and its Transformations 1958-1988 - which will run for a total of five years, involves delving into the archive's back catalogue of Australian television series and telemovies to chart how actors and actresses of the small screen developed their careers.

While she is enjoying spending her days in front of the TV - an enviable task now that Canberra's winter chill has set in - Professor Pender's research aims to showcase the contribution veteran stars including Max Cullen, Garry McDonald and Kate Fitzpatrick made to the entertainment industry during a time of radical cultural and social change in Australia.

''For a lot of the actors from the 1950s and the 1960s, television was not their first job in the entertainment industry. The vast majority trained and got their start on stage or as broadcasters on radio,'' Professor Pender said.

She said their well-rounded training and experience across various mediums was testament to their professional longevity.

''I am discovering the early television work of actors such as Nick Tate and Jeanie Drynan and coming to understand the kinds of roles offered to them in drama of all kinds, situation comedy and variety shows,'' she said.

''Garry McDonald is a fine example, while he was perfecting his comedic timing as Norman Gunston he was also cast as a shambolic melancholy character in The Picture Show Man. Max Cullen is also still a highly sought-after name for television and stage.

''The experience newcomers to the entertainment industry face today is very different to what these veteran artists went through. Television wasn't even an option for many of them.

''Their sheer talent and diversity, thanks to stints on stage or on radio, stand the test of time. Many of them now are still working, look at Garry McDonald in Offspring,'' she said.

Professor Pender said while new-age reality television series would not build stars who added much cultural value in the traditional sense, she was pleased with the commitment all of the networks were now showing to Australian writing, producing and acting talent through shows such as Underbelly and the ABC's Paper Giants series.