Mercado on TV: Remembering Olivia Newton-John and her Aussie TV appearances

Olivia Newton-John

‘Olivia would joyfully appear on almost every Aussie talk show and awards ceremony’

Tuesday’s heartbreaking news about Dame Olivia Newton-John saw Seven and Nine dumping their post-reality shows for hastily programmed tributes. Nine won with Grease, a TV perennial that got exactly twice the viewers of Seven’s 2018 mini-series with Delta Goodrem.

Switching over to Foxtel’s movie channels, Grease was also screening there but ad-free and in widescreen. Brilliantly, it was followed by Xanadu, and both movies were trending on Stan too.

Olivia chose Xanadu over Can’t Stop The Music. Valerie Perrine took her place, but both films were notorious box office flops, except for Australia where they became huge hits.

That’s because Olivia Newton-John (and Village People) came to Australia in 1980 to promote their films, most memorably on The Don Lane Show (Nine) and Countdown (ABC). Can’t Stop The Music is now a New Year’s Eve tradition on Nine – perhaps that should now become a double feature with Xanadu.

Olivia Newton-John

Olivia and daughter Chloe guested on Seven’s The Morning Show with Larry and Kylie early in 2021

The rest of Olivia’s movie catalogue is harder to find. Two Of A Kind (1983) re-teamed her with John Travolta but you can’t find it anywhere. Her final movie role in The Excellent Mr Dundee (Amazon Prime) saw her teaming up with Paul Hogan in a hilarious rendition of “You’re The One That I Want”.

Olivia’s career began on Aussie TV in the 1960s on music shows like The Happy Show (Seven), The Go!! Show (10) and Sing Sing Sing (Seven). As she took over the world, Olivia guested on variety shows from Dean Martin, Andy Williams, Cliff Richard and Bob Hope.

Olivia began headlining her own variety specials from 1976, and most of them are on YouTube, apart from the one with Abba. Australia always got a mention, especially Olivia Down Under (1988). Back at home, Olivia would joyfully appear on almost every Aussie talk show and awards ceremony.

Olivia guested on The Talk later in 2021

Two Aussie TV gigs are largely forgotten though. In 1994, Olivia travelled the world to host the animal doco series Wild Life (Nine). Michael Jackson (her Aussie cameraman, not the singer) spoke this week about how Olivia never complained about “bad weather, snakes or leeches – she was definitely part of our crew and did everything with us. Legend!”

Around this time, Olivia also slipped in a cameo for Aussie soap Paradise Beach (Nine). As Matt Latanzi’s character was departing the series, there was Olivia and daughter Chloe climbing the steps to an Ansett jet at Coolangatta Airport. Vale ONJ.

Read more Mercado on TV columns here.

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