THIS DAY TONIGHT
The first nightly national current affairs program on Australian television, This Day Tonight was the brainchild of Ken Watts, federal director of ABC Television, who believed a live and lively current affairs show in peak viewing time could have an impact on the ABC’s dismal ratings.
The first edition of This Day Tonight appeared on 10 April 1967. It was over-prepared, and full of lame jokes and stunts—many of them performed by Bill Peach, the first presenter. The second program was everything the first wasn’t—lively, topical, fast-moving and offensive to the great and powerful. It included a bombshell prediction: that the government was going to drop the chairman of the ABC, Dr James Darling. The story angered the Holt Coalition government and infuriated the ABC’s management, which had never permitted any discussion of Aunty’s own affairs.
This Day Tonight was engaged in the first of many battles it would wage against authority. The program was not afraid to confront or uncover anything it deemed unfair or shady, including a procession of con artists. It was also willing to ask the hard questions of politicians and other figures of authority.
The public became interested in this unpredictable newcomer, whose name they quickly shortened to TDT. At the end of 1967, Sydney people rated TDT their favourite show, and the program continued to win a large share of the audience for its first five years. The commercial television networks then emulated TDT by starting their own prime-time current affairs programs. Although it officially ended in 1978, TDT lives on at ABC Television as 7.30.
TDT was an important training ground for some of Australian television’s leading current affairs reporters, presenters and producers, among them Gerald Stone (who would go on to produce 60 Minutes), Mike Willesee, Stuart Littlemore, George Negus, Caroline Jones, Mike Carlton and Richard Carleton.
TDT contained many strands that later evolved into programs like Media Watch and The Chaser. If there was an underlying theme, it was the public’s right to hear multiple points of view on any topic. TDT was also willing to bring an irreverent and witty approach to stories. And if a prominent figure declined to appear on the show, the presenter did not hesitate to say so—with the camera sometimes panning to an empty chair to reinforce the fact.
If TDT changed the face of Australian television, it also changed Australian attitudes—its 1971 debate about the controversial Vietnam War is one example, with the show interviewing draft resisters in the studio while police waited outside to arrest them. Critics said it was subversive and illegal; admirers said it was free speech in action.
During its time on air, TDT won numerous awards, including three Logies. A glow of nostalgia surrounds the program today. It was a defining program for a generation of baby boomers, and set a high standard for current ￼affairs on television—one that continues on the ABC right up to the present day.
REFs: K.S. Inglis, This is the ABC (1983); B. Peach, This Day Tonight (1992).