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.