Forgotten Local TV Shows
By Tim Wee
August 6, 2013
Contrary to our parents’ belief that television is nothing but an idiot box, we choose to believe that television doesn’t have to play the role of the lesser brother to movies. While Channel 5 had its shaky beginnings, it has now become a major player in the global television content arena.
Being the first generation of local television viewers, we grew up with locally produced English programmes and have come to considered unforgettable characters such as VR Man and Tan Ah Teck as our childhood companions.
So as we celebrate the tumultuous news that local English sitcom Under One Roof have now penetrated the French and Canadian television market, let us turn back the years and relive our favourite local television shows!
The Ra Ra Show
Essentially the first English language skit show, this 1993 local production featured the comedic styling of actors Andrew Lim, Koh Chieng Mun, Melvyn Chew, Melissa Bun, Margaret Chan and Kumar. Considered to be a localised version of Saturday Night Live, the local show was just as eclectic as its American counterpart.
Ra Ra Show Actors: Kumar, Koh Chieng Mun and Andrew Lim
Photos courtesy of lifestyle.omy.sg, havenoworries.blogspot.com and entertainment.xin.msn.com
We remembered laughing our guts out to kooky characters such as bimbotic Miss La La (played by Koh Chieng Mun). Not a show to hold back the punches, it wasn’t afraid to showcase edgy comedic material that pushed the envelope.
Although it was later canned by Singapore Broadcast Corporation (SBC) [now known as Mediacorp] for risqué content, it certainly helped to hone up-and-coming stars such as Andrew Lim, Koh Chieng Mun, Margaret Chan and Kumar!
Photos courtesy of smong.net and asiaone.com
Debuting in 1994, Gurmit’s World was local artist Gurmit Singh’s very first breakout show. As the host and star of his very own sketch show, it gave the promising comedian an opportunity to explore his repertoire of wacky personas.
Although the first season was largely forgettable, the show finally found its feet in its second season. The audience seemed to warm up to Gurmit’s side-splitting portrayal of his imaginary ‘relatives’. This marked the birth of his most iconic character, the yellow boot wearing contractor Phua Chu Kang! The character was such a hit that it eventually got its own spin-off sitcom in 1996.
Photos courtesy of evi.com and crunchyroll.com
The rest as they say is history. Phua Chu Kang not only made Gurmit into a recognisable local icon, but a regional star! And just like the character’s iconic line, Gurmit has become the “Best in Singapore, JB (Johor Bahru) and some say Batam”.
Masters of the Sea
Photos courtesy of asiaone.com and smong.net
As our nation’s first English drama production, Masters of the Sea focuses on the internal conflicts which occurred within a family shipping business. As the flagship production by the rebranded Television Corporation of Singapore (TCS), the 1994 series was largely written off as a flop as it lasted only two seasons.
Starring the first generation of English actors such as Wong Li-Lin, Ng Chin Han and Margaret Chan, the inaccurate wardrobe details were heavily criticised by viewers. Furthermore, the writing left much to be desired with cheesy one liner such as “I will crush you, like a cockroach”.
However, it did build the careers of those involved. It was the stepping stone for Li-Lin and Margaret who would go on to be mainstay in the local acting circle. In addition, actor Chin Han went on to land the memorable role as mob accountant, Lau in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight opposite Hollywood actors Christian Bale and Heath Ledger!
Photos courtesy of todayonline.com and news.watchprosite.com
Photos courtesy of toggle.sg and hardwarezone.com.sg
If you were a 90s’ child, you would have definitely heard of the police drama, Triple Nine. Running from 1995 to 1999, the thrilling series revolved round the officers of the Criminal Investigation Department. Who could forget the unforgettable opening title sequence which introduced Inspector Mike Chin (James Lye), Inspector Elaine Tay (Wong Li-Lin) and Sergeant Alan Leong (Lim Yu Beng). Special shout out to their commanding officer ASP Pang, who seemed to maintain the same stern expression throughout the entire series!
Photos courtesy of hardwarezone.com.sg
There was a shakeup in the third season with the addition of several new characters namely Inspector Sean Han (Robin Leong), Inspector Herbert de Souza (Mark Richmond) and Sergeant Yeo Lay Kim (Chong Chia Suan). The cast was also rounded off by Sergeant Sarah Chan (Annabelle Francis) in the last season.
The series was so successful that it was dubbed into Mandarin and aired on Channel 8.
Under One Roof
Photos courtesy of overseassingaporean.sg and nationmaster.com
As the first ever locally-produced English sitcom, Under One Roof lived up to the tagline “Singapore’s Funniest Family”. The series won a slew of Asian Television Awards and was even a finalist in the International Emmy Awards. Under One Roof also holds the distinction of being the first local series to be aired in Australia, Canada and even France!
With a run of six seasons, Singaporeans shared the joys and sorrows of the Tan family. We listened intently to patriarch Tan Ah Teck (Moses Lim)’s long winded moral fables along with his family. God bless his wife Dolly (Koh Chieng Mun) and his kids Paul (Andrew Lim), Ronnie (Nicholas Lee) and Denise (Vernetta Lopez) as they sat through Ah Teck’s lectures which begun with his trademark phrase, “Long before your time, in the southern province of China…”. The multi-racial cast was rounded off by their neighbours Yusof (Zaibo), Rosnah (Norleena Salim) and Daisy (Daisy Irani).
The show did return briefly for a seventh season in 2003 in conjunction with Channel 5’s 40th anniversary. It was so popular that KL-based actor Zaibo was often offered free cab rides during his weekly filming commute!
Photos courtesy of remembersingapore.wordpress.com and youtube.com
It seemed that the family theme ran strong during the formative year of local television as Singaporeans warmed up to the trans-generational family drama, Growing Up. Viewers experienced the trials and tribulations of the Tay family which was set in post-independent Singapore.
Screened between 1996 and 2001, Growing Up was helmed by veteran actor Lim Kay Tong as the head of the Tay family. He was joined by Wee Soon Hui, Andrew Seow, Steven Lim, Irin Gan and a young Jaime Yeo who completed the cast of the Tay family.
We certainly remembered Andrew Seow’s retro shirts and his trademark comb with which he was always combing his slicked back hair!
Photos courtesy of youtube.com and last.fm
Photos courtesy of hardwarezone.com.sg and asiaone.com
As Singapore’s first ever attempt at a live action superhero drama, VR Man is a memorable 1998 production which still divides viewers to this day. The short-lived 13 episode series saw ex-Triple Nine actors James Lye and Mark Richmond reunited once again.
Taking inspiration from the comic book hero Green Lantern, James Lye played computer engineer Alex Foo who gained superhuman powers after a fatal lab procedure administered by crazed renegade scientist Click Click Man (Mark Richmond). Armed with the ability to materialise any imagined object, Alex adopted the persona VR Man.
VR Man’s primary power was affectionately known as “Virping” powers (Virtual Reality Projection). In addition, he also possessed superhuman strength, durability and speed thanks to a device called the Solidifier.
Photos courtesy of smong.net and vr-zone.com
While the show had a strong concept, the limited show resources meant that it was inadequately translated onscreen. The camp VR Man outfit was a constant source of mockery which drew comparisons to the 1960s’ campy Batman television series. And seriously, have you ever heard of a superhero whose kryptonite is a flashing strobe light?