In 1977, Reg Grundy and Ian Holmes "put their heads together" and came up with an idea for a TV show about life behind bars. Reg Watson developed the concept and spent the whole of 1978 researching. The result was the series 'Prisoner' which originally went on air in Australia in February 1979. The storylines were said to be based on real-life events. The twice-weekly hour soap, 'Prisoner' was made in Melbourne, won ratings of 34% of viewers on its first night and 31% the next night. 

Scriptwriter Ian Smith told Anna Murdoch of 'Fairfax Media' in 1986, "We realized how powerful the show could be because people were imitating what our prisoners were doing, especially in prison. We were told this by Corrective Services. There was a Governor of one prison who said he was glad the prisoners watched the show because then he knew what was going to happen in his prison during the next week. The minute we found that out, we realized we couldn't do this, we couldn't do that." 

Around 1983, Ian told Anna, "We had to send Maggie Kirkpatrick out to different schools to say: 'Look, kids, we're acting.'" Anna Murdoch reported, "The program was a phenomenon in Australian television. What is strange is that it was the top-rating television program for women over 40 and girls between 10 and 17." Ian continued, "You have to find a way of keeping the stories as strong without being as blatant. It's (television) a powerful medium and you have to be responsible … But we never dropped the entertainment to carry a social message because messages can be damned boring."

Val Lehman played inmate Bea Smith told Janine Perrett of 'TV Week', "When I first started in 'Prisoner' I was worried that people would react violently because Bea is such a violent character. I thought old ladies would throw tins of soup at me in the supermarkets and chase me with their umbrellas. Not so. I only get compliments and nice things said to me."

By 1986, "Although Melbourne viewers, unlike those in Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide, have remained faithful, this was not good enough. Sydney, at least, also had to be interested. Reasons for Melbourne's relative loyalty to this program are hard to define." The difference between Melbourne and Sydney audiences, producer Marie Trevor made known, "I think Sydney goes for the harder line. When we have a riot, or even if it's only implied violence, Sydney reacts very well. Melbourne is much more consistent but if you have a soft story Melbourne people love it. Melbourne must see justice done. Sydney is happy just to see action regardless of whether it is justified or not."

The average American prime-time soap opera costed around $1 million to film for each episode. 'Prisoner' costed about $100,000 a week to produce. Reg Watson observed, "In America, they were knocked out by the standards of 'Prisoner', the acting, production and writing of it. They tried to copy it but it didn't work. If we knew why the ratings had gone down in Sydney we would have rectified it. I think ideas change. It was still getting a very respectable rating."

Paul Junger Witt of 'The Golden Girls' made the observation, "...There's a greater realization about a very simple fact: that television is the most democratic of art forms. If there is something we don't like, we can turn the set off or turn on something else. If enough people turn a show off, it fails and goes away - and that's a reflection of the public sentiment. If enough people watch, it succeeds - and that's an expression of the public sentiment too."

Maggie Kirkpatrick played warden Joan Ferguson. She told the press, "I have never looked at the program from a sociological or feminist point of view but, gratefully, from an actor's point of view. Women's roles just can’t be found anywhere else on television. It ('Prisoner') was so good for the industry because it created so much work. That's the sadness. Not having to rely on glamor and artificial things, but getting through simply on being an actress. For a lot of people in an industry with 85% unemployment at any given time it's going to be a hell of a shock.

"I can't subscribe to the exhausting, emotional theory of the show. It's a soap, it doesn't pretend to be anything else, but at least it offers a range of challenging, gutsy, reasonably complex roles within the soap formula. You look at some of the shows we had before 'Prisoner'. The women were either fluffy vacuous types, glamorous bitches or daffy dills. There's no time to be deep and meaningful in television. It’s called acting. I don't mean to sound flippant, it isn't a piece of cake, but there's no time for the lengthy discussions you're allowed in theater to work out character motivations. You do that yourself. That’s your homework."

Larry Hagman had told Diane Jennings of 'Dallas Morning News', "I like television. I really like it. It's fast. And an actor has a lot of control. They really have to take what you're giving them. If we didn’t have TV, with all these dissatisfied people out there, do you think they'd be sitting in their homes staring at the box? They'd be out kicking ass." On reflection, Larry told Daniel Puzo, "Everybody says, 'What is the purpose of 'Dallas'? The purpose is to entertain. It's for entertainment and we don't do it for any morality plays or anything like that. We're here to entertain people."

Reg Watson remembered, "People thought in the beginning it would not run because it concentrated on women who were isolated. I was worried about the longevity of a format like that because it was contrary to most formats at the time." Larry Hagman earned a reported $100,000 for each episode of 'Dallas'. Maggie told Rosslyn Beebt in 1985, "Nobody makes that sort of money here (in Australia). Nobody has that sort of money to throw away. I'd probably make, on average, as much as a reasonably efficient lawyer. On paper, given the average wage, my take-home pay is probably a hell of a lot more than a tradesman with a family to support would earn. On paper, it looks that way, but tomorrow I could be out of work for 6 months.

"Ours is a pretty insecure profession. Because of my age, my height, my appearance, I was always considered a character actress. I was never an ingénue. In those days (before 'Prisoner') there seemed to be a prevalent belief that only the young and the beautiful could act. People like myself had to wait until we got older to be offered good roles. I went through some pretty lean years during my 20s and 30s. I sold shoes, I worked as a psychiatric nurse and I was a pretty good barmaid."

Larry Hagman made the point in 1980, "Actors just have to hang in there pretty good. That’s why tough fingernails are important. You just hang in there and the cycle comes around again. This is one of my upswings right now." 'Prisoner' production stopped in September 1986 due to falling ratings with the unaired episodes shown in 1987.

In 1987 in the U.S., the A. C. Nielsen Company's people meter service was introduced to measure national ratings after 37 years (dating back to 1950) of handwritten diaries. At stake $2.5 billion worth of commercial time on sale with advertisers paying from $80,000 to $400,000 and more for each 30-second spot. Ratings was said "make or break programs".

In 1991 in Australia, the A.C. Nielsen's electronic people meters system were installed in Australian homes to measure ratings replacing the AGB McNair Anderson manual diary system which had been in used since 1956. It was "the biggest shake-ups in the Australian TV industry" at the time as networks took a "quantum leap in ratings technology." Bill Halliwell of 'Fairfax Media' informed readers in 1989 the "people meters will revolutionize the entire TV industry. People meters will provide accurate 24-hour, 365-day-a-year data on Australia's viewing habits, such as the channel to which a viewer is tuned, the viewing times for each channel. The TV industry is all about market domination. The network that wins the ratings wins the lion’s share of the millions of advertising dollars spent on Australian television each year."

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