TVNZ’s 60th – sort of…

Ten years ago TVNZ ‘celebrated’ its first 50 years.

A Light Entertainment programme  was hosted by Jason Gunn in front of an Auckland rent-a-crowd  at  the the Casino Theatre, and long term Television staff were incensed at what they saw.

No recognition was made of those early technical pioneers who cobbled together four regional channels from old BBC parts, of those early producers whose innovation and creativity brought us programmes like ‘C’Mon’, ‘Night Sky”, ‘Town and Around’, ‘Billy T James’, ‘Studio One/’New Faces’, ‘Close  to home’, and ‘It’s in the Bag’.

Now TVNZ is 60 and today’s audience is confronted with over-edited, over commercialised television. Former TVNZ Director of Programmes, John McCready once said, with breathtaking understatement:

 “It’s a little over-commercialised in terms of the  number of  advertising spots we run… perhaps we should step back and ask whether we are  running too many.”  

But advertising  was just one  symptom of  the malaise in NZ television. In his book Revolution in the Air, Media commentator  Paul Smith,  wrote that ’television was made this way by the considered neglect of the Muldoon era and later by Market forces. These included a celebration of  commerce and a deliberate diminution of the role  of the state and  notions of public service television.’

Sixty years ago  we had  only one channel, one whose programes were water-cooler chit-chat in workplaces.  It was after all it was a reflection of  us (though only  a reflection, not   an exploration). And when choice came it was accompanied by problems, as futurist Alvin Toffler once noted writing:

‘… more choices may not necessarily mean better choices. Choice proliferation has an effect described as The Law of  Raspberry Jam  – the wider any culture is spread, the thinner it gets. Paradoxically, mediocrity can grow like crabgrass in a highly competitive television environment if economics alone can dictate direction’.

Certainly choice with multiple competing channels; reality formats manipulating and exploiting unsuspecting participants; lack of original NZ formats , and most probable the changed social environment in which families no longer look forward to sitting together in the lounge, awaiting with anticipation ‘The Avengers’, The Muppets’, ‘Pot Black’,  ‘Thunderbirds”, and Telethon’.

Now NETFLIX enables viewers to programme  what they like, when they like. TVNZ should ask itself, why are ‘Country Calendar’,  ‘Fair Go’ and ‘Shortland Street’ so popular?

Because they are us – not some overseas format. They inform, educate and entertain us;  they include all the principles of  public broadcasting, but not in the  current de-regulated, profit-driven, State Owned Enterprise of TVNZ.

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Chris Bourn

Chris joined WNTV1 as a Presentation Officer 1964 and became the channel’s first Sports Producer. He went on to become Entertainment Producer and Director and then for 12 years was Head of Presentation, Promotion and Publicity. Other positions included Head of Entertainment, and Director of Opera in the Park, Christmas in the Park and Symphony in the Park for 20 years. Chris retired in 2002, and was awarded the Golden Disc from the NZ Recording Industry for services to Entertainment, and the NBOA Award for service to Television.