Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Close to Homer

Nostalgia may be tinting my sunnies, but state television isn't what it used to be. I hated Close to Home. The theme music grated in much the same way as Coronation Street's still does. Thankfully, there was plenty of other local content to keep me happy. Who can forget the fantastic Natural History Unit which produced such gems as Landmarks, or the kid-news Video Despatch. McPhail & Gadsby introduced some treasured NZ colloquialisms. Before Billy T James went solo, he performed as part of the ensemble of Radio Times. For the tone deaf and tasteless, there was That's Country.

The loathing of Close to Home has been replaced by the equally loathesome Shortland Street. Instead of Landmarks, we have Frontier of Dreams. Dragonball Z has replaced Video Despatch as market research shows that children don't give a shit about the world around them. Eating Media Lunch has superceded McP&G, Dancing with the Stars instead of Radio Times. Nothing could replace That's Country, thank Dagg. Speaking of whom, characters such as John Clarke's Dagg have been eclipsed by celebrities such as... well, none are worthy to be compared with Fred Dagg.

I have some sympathy for the likes of Dame Cath, Sir Ed, et al, and their letter to Steve Maharey stating that an excessive zeal for advertising revenue has ripped the guts out of public broadcasting. They are largely correct. While we have greater width of NZ content than almost ever before, the depth is sadly lacking. For every nugget of meaty goodness such as EML or Beginners' Guide, there are a dozen cheap and nasty reality programmes that require no writer to imagine, no director to steer, no brain to engage.

Investigative reporting and in-depth analysis on current affairs are anathema to advertisers. How many toothpaste salesmen want the audience so enlightened by thinking during a program, they dicuss the import of discussion and rebuttal during the ad break and ignore their pearly whiteners? None, if they wish to continue employment. Braindead viewers are uncritical sponges with money. Little wonder we have presidential election campaigns like the Yanks. Television programming has been subsumed into the US TV format, a Milky Way bar of wanky packaging and appearance, of little substance or sustenance.

TVNZ is bleeding out its arse so badly, it makes South Park's Bloody Mary look like light spotting. For almost ten years, a series of clusterfucks by various partisan cronies has reduced a once-sellable and highly successful company to a postmodern parody of The Larry Sanders Show. Digital TV, the only realistic long-term survival option, was sold off with the Sky TV shares. The glorious TV Charter, that hormunculus of wishful thinking, lies stillborn on the floor. All the wrong people are in the headlines. And there's no sign of light at the end of this tunnel. It looks set to go on and on and on...

So where to from here? This is a chance for Labour V to do the Vision Thing. In her speech from the throne earlier this week, Helen Clark has shown a willingness to adopt a Big Picture on the Telecom broadband thing. I'm hoping she has the guts to do the same to TVNZ. After all, she is the Minister of Arts & Culture. Here's a few starter ideas:
  1. Dump the Charter in a way that allows Labour to save face. NZ on Air has proved it can handle the jandal. Focus funding on this and this only. Partition a set percentage of TVNZ revenue and direct it straight to NZ on Air.
  2. Promote the Maori TV model to introduce seat of the pants production in much the same way as South Pacific Television did back in the late '70s.
  3. Headhunt down at the art centres, the theatres, the comedy lounges. Hell, even the universities might have some ideas. Take risks, or at least delegate the risks to someone who has an eye for this stuff.
  4. Introduce more online NZ material through the Film Archive, in a similar way that British Pathe has open sourced its archives. Context is everything.
Like the broadband thing, the TVNZ mess is not going to go away of its own accord. NZ music has been going ballistic. Given the right encouragement, the same can happen with TVNZ. I mean, it couldn't get worse could it?