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Number 96 – Episode 910 (1975)


In this episode Herb Evans (Ron Shand) is keeping a whopping secret from Dorrie (Pat McDonald), Gary Whittaker (Mike Ferguson) has been stitched up by Liz Feather (Margaret Laurence) and Dudley Butterfield’s (Chard Hayward) dead cousin might not be so dead after all.

Curator’s notes

For four years Number 96 was one of Australia’s most popular TV shows, but during the 1975 season its ratings began to slide. On 5 September, an infamous (and hastily written) bomb blast destroyed the delicatessen and resulted in the loss of five major characters from the show (with scriptwriters quickly regretting killing off too many fan favourites). The explosion generated numerous newspaper front-page headlines, but the jump in ratings was only temporary. By the end of the year, the show was once again desperate to regain its former audience.

This is the last half-hour episode of the series. When the show returned in 1976, it began airing as two one-hour instalments per week, instead of a half-hour episode every weeknight. Producers hoped a lesser commitment might stop the audience freefall. It was also hoped that this year’s cliffhangers, involving every resident in a major catastrophe, would get people talking over the summer Christmas break.

In the episode that immediately preceded this one, Edie (Wendy Blacklock) became a surprise winner in a council election, heroin user Debbie (Dina Mann) was sent to a juvenile detention institution and Vera (Elaine Lee) learned that her love rival (Rowena Wallace) had been paralysed in a surfing accident. Now it was time to give the rest of the characters a similar shock.

Number 96 appears to have unwittingly pioneered the summer cliffhanger which is now a staple of American TV. At the end of its first season in 1972, Number 96 ended with a shock car crash. Every year thereafter, the writers tried upping the ante with crazier cliffhangers (Arnold’s leg getting blown off from a letter bomb, Arnold’s wife being killed by the Pantyhose Strangler). The trend caught on overseas in 1978 thanks to another prime-time soap Dallas (1978–1991) which eventually culminated in their infamous ‘Who Shot JR?’ mystery in 1980.

Number 96 – Episode 910 was first broadcast on the 0 Network (later to become Channel Ten) on 13 December 1976. A late-night repeat aired in Sydney in 1981.