Tuesday, June 15, 2010

50 Years of NZTV

Last week I expressed great disappointment at the TV1 show on 50 years of television in New Zealand. A trivial games show did not seem to me to be the right way to celebrate a landmark event. Prime TV made up for it last Sunday evening with the first episode of a series giving a historical summary of this media here.

It began in Auckland. Then in Christchurch – coverage was easier then, but not to parts of Banks Peninsula; trips ‘home’ meant listening to complaints about lack of reception or tales of farmer ingenuity putting up translators on high peaks. Wellington next. Dunedin after that. And gradually the rest of the country. My Hamilton father-in-law even bought a set before reception was available in the area. The first programme I ever saw was at his place, The Flintstones.

Prime covered the drama and the politics of local television. It didn’t dabble in the overseas shows. That’s an international story. Prime’s programme concentrated on the indigenous - squarely home-grown, the exploratory, evangelical exciting nature of those early days. It was very much a masculine world.

Current events back then dealt with big issues. I saw the programme that resolved a post office strike live - Brian Edwards in the chair, Minister and Union Leader on either side. One channel – a unifying factor in a dispersed nation. Holyoake’s pomposity – he was not at ease in this medium.

Norm Kirk was. His leading a young Maori boy by the hand across the Waitangi treaty grounds was great theatre. Watching I felt proud to be a Kiwi. Behind the scenes a more subtle change was beginning to take place. Maori began to claim a rightful place in this medium. Their cause was helped by Billy T James – he could take the mickey in a way a pakeha comedian could not. Anyway, they had John Clarke.

TV decided to get up-to-date so the bosses built the large new studio at Avalon. Enter Muldoon. Lean times. Bad times. A bully. No increase in the fee. Interviewers banned or ridiculed. TV fled to Auckland. Ideas of it as a public service dwindled. Then the 1984 election with that dramatic moment prior to the election when ousted in a studio debate Muldoon muttered ‘we love you David Lange’. In the meanwhile Avalon had became a white elephant.

For a while TV did love Lange. Shots of the Oxford debate reinforced the images. But his government took a further step down the Muldoon line. Prebble turned TV1 into a S.O.E. – its aim, to be commercial. Programmes like Wild South were too expensive to produce. It was over to private producers to prepare shows and programmes. Not that the results have all been bad. Outrageous Fortunes springs to mind. But the genie was out of the bottle. It could not be put back. The early heady days were well and truly over. The way home to giggling games shows was established.

Thank you Prime. A historian’s appreciation for a well-made documentary.

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