Thursday, February 16, 2006

Whining Old Fogeys

There's a bit of a dust up at the moment over TV New Zealand, following the walk out by their Chief Executive last year and a very public stoush over presenter salaries (nothing like the $20 - 30 MILLION paid to some presenters in the US). So, Parliament is having a bit of a public enquiry into those things, and the various Opposition parties is having a go at the way that TVNZ has sold out to commercial pressures.

A public letter has been written by some 31 very prominent and self-confessedly old citizens (a former Vice Chancellor of Victoria, two former Governors-General, Ian Johnstone, Sir Edmund Hillary, James McNeish) saying that TV is not as good as it was in the 1970's, with few programmes of worth, no decent documentaries and little that reflects life in New Zealand. I wonder of they mean life as they remember it, which probably has very little to do with, say, Shortland Street. They want a full scale adoption of a non-commercial, properly "public" television network, not driven by ratings.

I wonder how many share in this demand. The fuss it has caused in the local newspaper has made me think of what I expect from TV and how well my expectations are met. Overall, I'm not actually too unhappy. I think I seriously would be if the calls for a public broadcaster were met: I remember when I moved to the UK and encountered the BBC (on which the malcontents want TVNZ to be modelled) - I was bored out of my tree with the interminable documentaries about Icelandic rainforests and the mating habits of the Tokelaun newt. I do accept that there probably is room for one decent documentary a week, something a bit more demanding than someone having a stomach stapling opportunity. But when I think back over the past couple of years, there has been a nice range of decent local documentaries which have done a nice job of reflecting New Zealand. Most recently was the one about the making of The World's Fastest Indian. No - scratch that: on Sunday, there was a fly on the wall documentary about the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra going overseas. We had the marvellous shows in which Peter Elliot retraced the steps of Colenso, Captain Cook and Brunner. We had Marcus doing trains. We had all sorts doing Intrepid Journeys. We had the Mercury Lane programmes...

I think that any public broadcaster is necessarily going to be a mixed bag, meaning that there will be times that an individual will turn it on and find something "not worth watching". It would be unreasonable to expect it to be watchable at all times by everyone. It would be equally unreasonable for a particular group to hijack a public TV station and make it the way they want it - more McPhail and Gadsby, apparently. There is also the question of just how much TV is to be watched anyway. There are enjoyments to be had other than TV. So, the way I figure it, if there is on average, one compelling programme per day, a programme I find I must watch, either as it happens or on video, that's about as much as I can expect. If there are others which are OK to watch, then that's a bonus.

Sunday is doing OK at the moment, because I do so love Doc Martin. There have been some dull patches, however - there was some silly costume drama epic on before it, but it was the traditional summer slowdown period. I am really really hoping that TVNZ will obtain the BBC Bleak House for this slot, and continue with the notion of Masterpiece Theatre. As bonuses, we have repeats of Intrepid Journeys, Sunday is sometimes watchable, Frontseat (I'd really like to see a determined effort to have more book-related programming, either in this programme or in a dedicated one - every so often, they try and then give up) and Fifth Gear. Every so often, TV2 trots out a decent movie as well and, of course, until the beginning of last summer, there was the Gilmore Girls.

Mondays - West Wing! Sure, its the wind up for the fifth and final series, so it will be interesting to see what takes its place, but even in its waning moments, it has been great, seeing the kind of politicians we might hope for, rather than those who are in place. Gray's Anatomy is kind of hovering there between compulsory and bonus, but that's made up for by Desperate Housewives also being a nice bonus. Plus, there are late night repeats of Last Man Standing.

Tuesday has been doing nicely, by having a repeat of Mercy Peak, one of our better local dramas, in which they quite often get things just right. There have also been Eating Media Lunch and Outrageous Fortune. Of course, TV 3 is stealing the limelight at the moment, by putting the unmissable House on, with Boston Legal as a bonus: when I watch it, I wonder if I even like it. From about midnight, TV 2 takes a walk into weirdness - I find both Trailer Park Boys and Significant Others to be compelling, in a trainwreck sort of way. The former is as the title suggests, about a couple of guys who live in a trailer park, growing dope. It has a kind of fly on the wall doco vibe to it, like the Office, but is fiction. First time I saw it - one of the guys became besotted with this chick who was getting him interested in religion. While they were on a date, her bible-selling accomplice stole their dope. The second programme is about these three couples, all doing couple therapy; it is semi-improvised comedy, which gives it some freshness. In one couple, Eleanour has just found out she's pregnant: her husband's response when he found out was "Do you think I need new shoes". With the help of therapy, he's getting used to the idea. In another couple, the husband was a complete slob, a major issue for his wife. She thinks the therapy is helping, when in reality it is his sister-in-law: she came over to give him a bollocking about his slovenliness and they ended up shagging. Now he's all clean and nice.

Deserving of a paragraph all to itself: Northern Exposure is back on our screens, albeit at 2:30 a.m. I know it did eventually wane, especially when Joel left (and there are about a million other takes on when it jumped the shark but its still in a pretty fertile patch at the moment: Bubble Boy (played by a very young looking Anthony Edwards - who I remember not liking at all when he first came on the scene, because he was getting in the way of Maggie and Fleischman) has just arrived, and last night was the Mummenchantz (performance artists) episode, also the one where Ed finds a ring in a fish and keeps hallucinating, imagining Fellini is in town (Episode 6 of Series 4, apparently. Oh MY God - there is something called a Moosefest, which meets annually in Roslyn (the actual place of shooting N.E.)

Wednesday night is a bit lacking - I haven't watched Fair Go for years and have never got into Cold Case or Lost - I figure that I'll rent the DVD for a weekend and watch it all at once. So, unless you count the second episode for the week of Northern Exposure or the nightly repeat (soon to end) of Gilmore Girls, TV3 is my only source of televisual entertainment. They have Bones, and I am in love with this programme, now that they have settled down a bit: the opening episode it seemed there was far too much pressure to get Temperance and Booth together, when really it is far more interesting and less cliched if they stay apart and reveal their differences. Although there wasn't enough interest for the Television Without Pity people to keep re-capping ("either too different or not different enough"), I'm really enjoying this programme - but then, Temperance Brennan is my kind of woman.

Thursday - I watched the first episode of Commander in Chief last week, and kind of enjoyed it, will definitely give it a few more shows to decide my take. But my programme to watch is Blue Heelers - yep, it can be a bit hokey, and their guest actors can be relied upon to be truly bad, as if they've been plucked from the street and asked if they want to pretend to be a criminal, or victim, but I enjoy the gentle humour and low key police work. I should, out of fairness, count Six Feet Under - a programme so good I stopped watching and started collecting the DVD's to watch at my leisure.

Friday - here TV One has been insance, putting hugely wonderful shows on, like Carnivale, at 11:00 - I missed so many, I had to give up. I don't know much about whatever is on on Friday nights, so TVNZ can have the night off.

That leaves Saturday - where TV One goes a bit overboard with police shows; Taggart, Waking the Dead and the BBC's predecessor to Bones, Wire in the Blood.


Blogger Jessie said...

I'm working my way through season one of Lost at the moment - it's utterly addictive!

11:59 AM  

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