Originally published on theconversation.com
Australian Children’s Television Foundation
Australian kids’ TV show Round the Twist gained an international following when it was first broadcast in 1989-1990. Broadcast over four seasons up until 2001, young audiences were thrilled by the supernatural adventures of the lighthouse-dwelling Twist family.
As its original fans have grown up, a veritable cottage industry has emerged around Round the Twist nostalgia.
There is an ABC podcast devoted to tracking down the child actor who played Bronson in season one. A recap podcast covers each episode. Buzzfeed is filled with pieces such as “21 Of The Most WTF Moments From Round The Twist”.
In 2016, Netflix promoted one of its most successful Original series, Stranger Things, with a trailer in the style of the Round the Twist title sequence, including the iconic theme song. In creating this mash-up trailer, Netflix acknowledged the intergenerational appeal of these two often creepy dark fantasy shows.
In 2017, the Sydney Story Company staged a special cinema screening of Round the Twist featuring live commentary from two of the three actors who played Bronson. In 2018, the UK’s largest supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s, used the show’s theme song for their Halloween advertisements. The Australian band Tinpan Orange regularly perform a plaintive, haunting version of the song.
Earlier this year, every episode was released on Netflix Australia; and now a stage musical adaptation has been announced.
Horror, but for children
The production house for Round the Twist, the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, had to fight to find a home for this horror-inflected children’s show. According to ACTF founder and the show’s producer Patricia Edgar, one French company who was in discussions to co-finance the show called it “disgusting”.
Round the Twist is remembered as a challenging, subversive show: one that combines horror, dark fantasy and the grotesque. Ghosts make frequent spooky appearances, but ultimately turn out to be friendly spirits needing the family’s help to finish their business and move on.
Skeletons come to life; Santa Claus becomes “Santa Claws”; love spells go wrong; and monsters really do live under the bed.
The show has evidently left a lasting impact on its former child viewers. Horror and dark fantasy for children often leaves an impression: TV tends to be how young viewers first encounter these genres.
New life through nostalgia
Round the Twist is what media scholar Kathleen Loock describes as a “dormant” TV show: shows that continue to be meaningful to the original audience or find new audiences long after they go off the air.
Because Netflix is not dependent on high ratings or constricted by limited airtime, they can afford to license long-cancelled series like Round the Twist. Their hope is previous fans will re-watch the show and post about it on social media, attracting more subscribers.
By hosting these shows, Netflix is able to attract adult viewers who find the nostalgia appealing; but also adults who now have children of their own, and who want to introduce their children to shows they loved as a child.
Round the Twist is joined on the platform by other 1990s shows like Goosebumps and Spellbinder, and other series – like Lost in Space, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and the Baby-Sitters Club – have been rebooted with a 21st century spin, soliciting an intergenerational conversation between existing adult and young new fans.
Nostalgia has also proven a potent tool in launching stage musicals. Simon Phillips, who is slated to direct Round the Twist, also directed the stage musical adaptations of Muriel’s Wedding in 2017, and Priscilla Queen of the Desert in 2006.
Just as Round the Twist’s release on Netflix caused a stir, nostalgia will surely draw in the crowds to the musical: the producers already have the advantage of the beloved theme song to entice fans who first watched the show more than 30 years ago – as well as a whole new generation who have discovered it on streaming.
Our research project, Australian Children’s Television Cultures, aims to find out more about the kids’ TV shows we remember. Let us know which shows from your childhood have stuck in your mind the most. You can also follow us on Twitter.
Jessica Balanzategui receives funding from the Australian Children’s Television Foundation.
Djoymi Baker receives funding from the Australian Children’s Television Foundation (ACTF)
Joanna McIntyre receives funding from The Australian Children’s Television Foundation (ACTF).
Liam Burke receives funding from the Australian Children’s Television Foundation (ACTF)