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Lift Off (1992 - 1994)

Children's series
39 episodes x 60 minutes

Series synopsis:

Lift Off is a television series for young children aged three to eight. It is an unusual mixture of live action, puppetry, animation and documentary, using storytelling, drama, songs, music, word games, science, technology and fantasy. Each episode of Lift Off can be shown as either one hour or two half hour sections. The two parts have the same theme explored through different storylines. The other segments usually build on the theme, although this is not always the case.

The series revolves around the lives and stories of a group of children aged four to ten, from four diverse families. The core of each episode is a live action story about the children exploring the wonders of new experiences, and the delights and troubles of growing up. Within this real world narrative exist fantasy elements such as EC the children’s imaginative doll, Beverley the one-eyed plant with her documentaries on the natural world, Lotis the talking lift with a penchant for word plays, the children’s talking school bags, and Rocky the lizard anthropologist. Other fantasy elements – the crazy puppet characters from Wakadoo café, for instance – are quite separate and live in another dimension altogether.

Curator’s Notes:

Lift Off was an exciting and ambitious attempt by the ACTF to use television in a major developmental experiment in partnership with parents, early childhood educators and schools. The brainchild of producer Dr Patricia Edgar, it took the ACTF three years to research and develop the program’s innovative philosophical framework. A series of workshops involving more than 100 people drew on a wide range of experts from fields including education, philosophy, science, play, mathematics, movement, music and psychology. These ideas were then translated into characters, concepts and content by writers, artists, musicians, actors, filmmakers, puppeteers and teachers.

With its eclectic mix of formats, Lift Off was designed to both look at, and to show, the world from the child’s perspective, and each segment was carefully designed to challenge or demonstrate children’s ability to think. It also presented a range of characters and a diversity of experience. For the first time in a television program, Professor Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences was used as a philosophical basis, with multiple levels of intellectual activity integrated into the structure and the narrative, with varying degrees of success.

Creating this complex program was a herculean effort. The age range, three to eight-year-olds, was contentious as it targeted both preschool and school-aged audiences in a way which had not been done before. Being narrative based meant that it was also a challenging series to write and shoot, as the stories had to be from a young child’s point of view, and had to incorporate the carefully planned curriculum without being didactic.

Following a first series of 26 episodes in 1992, the second series of Lift Off was produced in 1994. Consisting of 13 episodes, it incorporated some refinements following market research feedback. At this stage, the hope was that Lift Off would continue in development and production in a similar way to the US Sesame Street series, becoming an iconic Australian narrative-based early childhood program, but this was not to be.

In another groundbreaking achievement, the ACTF established a national Lift Off Outreach Program, designed to extend the impact of Lift Off into the whole community. In an unprecedented partnership, Lift Off had the support of the Directors of Education in all Australian states and territories. They backed this support financially with a strong national publishing program with ten video and book teacher packs published by the Curriculum Corporation. In 1995 the Lift Off to Fire Safety teacher pack (sponsored by Ramsay Health Care) was distributed free of charge to every primary school in Australia. This won a Japan Prize, the Hoso Bunka Foundation Award for Excellence in Pre-School Programming in 1995. During 1992 I was the Lift Off Outreach coordinator as part of my role at the ACTF.

Lift Off is also the winner of an AFI award (1992) a United Nations Association of Australia Media Peace Award (1992), and an ATOM Award (2000).

Titles in this series

Lift Off – A Load of Old Rubbish 1992

The theme of this episode is rubbish. It is in two separate 24-minute parts and has the usual Lift Off mix of live action, animation, puppetry music, documentary and fantasy. The main storyline in each part is about the Lift ...

Lift Off – That’s Not Fair – Part A 1992

This is Part A of the episode, That’s Not Fair, following the Lift Off format that mixes live action, animation, puppetry, music, documentary and fantasy. The main storyline is about the Lift Off kids, interspersed with the other elements. Nipper ...

Lift Off – That’s Not Fair – Part B 1992

This is part B of the episode That’s Not Fair, and has the usual Lift Off mix of live action, animation, puppetry, music, documentary and fantasy. The main storyline is about the Lift Off kids, interspersed with the other elements. ...