R.I.P Television: Will you still need me when I’m 64?


How could they kill ‘Fair Go’ for fuck sakes? I haven’t looked at the ratings in decades and won’t start now, but Fair Go is in NZ’s TV hall of fame not just because it’s laudable but because it rates well. Sink your own flagship? Oh Christ why!? The midday and the late news chopped!? Are you kidding me? The whole point in them was to fully extract value from the news resources. It makes the main bulletin relatively more inefficient… and vulnerable to more chop chop. Sinking the flotilla and keeping the aircraft carrier? It’s a desperate massacre that makes sense only to the desperate. Not as obviously suicidal as TV3’s corporate headquartered-directed unilateral and unconditional surrender last week, but a bloody massacre all the same.

If TV3 are not going to be leading with news what the hell are they going to be leading with that will trumpet network credibility: Australian Married at First Sight? If TVNZ are not going to be taking news and current affairs seriously either what prospect do they have and do viewers have? TVNZ have let their competition, TV3, define them since TV3’s inception and little has changed. If the other runner is going to run a ten minute mile then why keep running 4 minutes when 9:59 will be enough to win? We see the opportunism, the ruthless dynamics clearly in all its entropic ingloriousity. It is a collapse like a frontline in a war disintegrating. The barbarians are in a berserk rampage and it seems inevitable they cannot and will not be stopped. The government and the Minister of Broadcasting are by-standers, shrugging. It is a wonder of synchronicity that the former Minister of Broadcasting who opened up the television frequencies and licences to TV3, Jonathan Hunt, should die this week. (I recall that the Labour government had put TV3 through all sorts of rigmarole at huge expense before they, finally, granted them a license and then after a very short time and little expense they granted Sky a license).

It is difficult to lament something you haven’t watched regularly for 14 years (as explained in last week’s column) and psyching oneself into grieving for a place you could never be arsed going to anymore seems rather contrived, if tempting. I don’t have a TV set; I don’t watch any TV programmes unless they are on Youtube. I’m the problem alright – I’m just not interested in their apps or even going to their websites for their on-demand, and I wouldn’t be at all unusual in that, so what hope is there for their model of production and their revenue? If I’m not watching TV who is? I’m one of the reasons why the big in-house shows of the two main networks are being shit-canned – can’t avoid that fact. If they cannot gain or hold my attention then yes, they are doomed.

I videotaped the TVNZ documentary on 30 years of television (hosted by Peter Sinclair) in 1990 and it was one of my favourite videos as a youngin’. Was it A09 in my set? (yes – we used to number our video collections) it was one of the first ones. I liked TV, a lot. A TV set (with the ‘rabbit ears’ arial) was the first expensive thing I ever saved up for with my paper round to buy for myself. My dad told me the first thing he did when he started working (at 15 like most New Zealanders in the 1960s) was a TV set – the first on their street in 1961. He got me a job with him filming the horses for their on-course circuit and was there on the first night (at Alexandra Park) when they went live on Trackside, 1992 it must have been. The controller was so nervous he was pouring with sweat as I can recall distinctly. I started reviewing TV for the Auckland Student magazine Craccum in 1995 and became a television reviewer for the Sunday Star-Times two years later. I worked on a few TV shows and was a panellist on Mr Bradbury’s current affairs show out of Auckland before the GFC crash in 2008 dried up finances and obliterated the channel the following year. The golden days – I recognise that now. To think that in 2024 we are at +64 years of television and it is about to permanently retire. Will I visit every now and again to check in to see what they are up to in their quiet dotage – probably not.

Even in 2020 I could not imagine television – as we know it – disappearing. The last few years however with the major “legacy” media interests like Stuff and TV3 burdened under debt and struggling for eyeballs with social media and their hands out for government money it became possible to think that the major titles and channels were wobbly. But television had a caché that newspapers and radio and the internet could not match… or so I thought having been brought up in the television age which gives you that sort of presumption and certainty. But how would the post-2000 generation know that television is a premium product if they are platform neutral or agnostic and that the big screen in the living room can be used for anything not just the limited amount of channels from Kordia?

What are we losing with the end of television? Having pondered this my view is it will be the end of collective experience. The mass audiences that television used to have when it was two or three channels are not possible anymore. The memes that circulate and live news events are as close to the collective experience as can be got in this age, but it is not the same as what television once generated: movies, mini-series, dramas, comedies that could reach almost the entire population.

One of the most memorable clips in that 30 years of TV documentary was of the ‘C’mon’ show which was also hosted by Peter Sinclair. My mother used to be one of the seamstresses who made the outfits (of the go-go dancers etc) and they featured several musicians in that sequence – some of whom she knew (and oh the tales!). They filmed it at the castle-like Shortland Street studios with the big transmission antenna on top. One of the singers was the very clean cut, well-dressed, sort of corny teen heart-throb Mr. Lee Grant. I heard a story on RNZ a while back that demonstrated the group experience and how influential television was across the nation. At this stage c.1967 there was only one channel so the impact was gigantic. The story goes that for some reason, maybe he was rushed or he simply didn’t know what he was doing, Grant was wearing a suit but he didn’t tie a knot in his tie, he left it done up, but folded over instead of knotted. So it went to air with him doing his number with his tie not properly done up. The following day all the boys in schools where they had ties as part of their uniforms did their ties the same way just folded over – and thought they were so cool, of course. They all did – everywhere.

Even in the early ‘90s with three channels and five Sky channels it was possible to have this sort of national effect from a TV show. That time has passed, well and truly. Sure, memes can proliferate and live news can be viewed on multiple platforms and websites but the collective consciousness in thrall to television is gone. Both networks over the last fortnight have opened their lips to the kiss of death. They are but fading shadows of their former greatness. It is all but over for them. R.I.P TV.

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  1. They removed any traces of culture long time ago.
    Fair go coud hurt advertising revenue, surprised it lasted so long.
    Time slot needed for another so-called reality show “Pure Celebrity Incest in Paradise Island Farm from Hell Weekend Makeover Obese to Anorexic Bride in 6 weeks Trans-formation” franchise.

    • T.V. is a deregulated neoliberal “paradise”. Let’s consider which moguls control television today, by approximate market share:

      • Reed Hastings, Netflix — 27%
      • Bob Iger, Disney Plus/Hulu — 25%
      • Jeff Bezos, Amazon Prime Video — 21%
      • David Zaslav, H.B.O. Max — 10%
      • Shari Redstone, Paramount Plus — 9%
      • Tim Cook, Apple T.V. — 4%
      • Lachlan Murdoch, Fox — <1%
      • Neal Mohan/Sundar Pichai, YouTube T.V. — <1%

  2. Those of you who voted for National, ACT and NZ First have enabled the aforementioned Machiavellian confederates to shepherd us into a dark ally to be slaughtered by the coming invaders.
    Those of you who voted for National, ACT and NZ First ? This is on you. You did this. Shame on you, you dumb, greedy, lazy fools. You careless sell-outs! You fucking traitors!
    But all is not yet lost. We have The Daily Blog and we have Chloe Swarbrick. Imagine if we didn’t? Just think about that for a minute.

  3. Analogue culture was more encompassing–sure, one size fits all–but it did have a strangely unifying effect of “we are all in this together” with the nation’s news readers and interviewers being widely known. Although obviously this country has always been divided along class lines, but culturally most could enjoy Telethons and love or ignore Radio with Pictures and say Brian Edwards and Paul Holmes.

    The digital era is now officially the time of the Rabbit Hole.

    • “The digital era is now officially the time of the Rabbit Hole.”

      Ae. And that’s because we keep allowing muppets, corporate wide boys and neo-lib/3rd way upper muddle management, self-interested specimens to remain in control. While actual journalists are about to lose their jobs (and there are a handful), we have one of the most over-managed, asset stripped, ticket clipping systems in the world both in the private commercial sector, and what we perceive as being PSB.
      ( and by broadcasting, I mean ONE to MANY)

    • Won’t happen on anyone’s watch, will it? Part and parcel of the image Aotearoa/NZ presents to the viewing public, and if its indeed sold overseas, also to the wider world: innovative and sustainable practices. If only big dairy were part of it.


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