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TVNZ message from the future looks to the past

TVNZ did the honours this week, introducing next year’s programming. Hopefully the network won’t have the rug pulled from under it as happened to TV3 when Mr McManus announced that it was all over, Rove-r, a month after TV3’s glossies went out to advertisers and the media announcing it as a returning series for 2010.

TV One’s new acquisition tentpole series comes from the Spielberg-led team that brought you Band of Brothers. This time they deliver The Pacific, for a mere $15 million an episode. So, that’s more than the cost of a whole series of Outrageous Fortune for one episode. Kind of makes you proud that Kiwis are capable of delivering bloody good television on a reasonable budget.

Much of the other new material announced in Auckland on Monday is Brit-sourced; although Billy Connolly: Journey to the Edge of the World and Making Over America with Trinny and Susannah don’t exactly feel new, both being based on tried and tested formats.

In contrast, My Holiday Hostage Hell ventures onto new alliterative ground, reliving hostage situations with the hostages themselves.

Masterchef is the NZ version of the format show, albeit one seen here previously. It is, therefore, only new in the sense that we’ll get to see if Kiwis can provide the same mix of dysfunctional personality-types that seem so keen to put themselves forward for reality competition shows the world over.

Applications for contestants opened a little while back and, on the bright side, nobody yet seems to have been tempted to pretend to float their offspring across the Hauraki plain in a balloon to promote their cause.

According to the press release for Real Life: Are You My Tribe?, “something’s been bugging” Mikey Havoc. (This is something other than the fact that he’s suddenly single and trying to work off several thousand dollars worth of parking fines.) He’ll nose around the country, spending time with three iwi, learning “where he fits in as a white New Zealander in New Zealand”.

Leigh Hart’s Mysterious Planet matches a quirky presenter with a some bizarre material, in this case the legends of Big Foot, El Dorado and the Loch Ness Monster, then points and shoots.

TV2 also goes for the point and shoot presenter abroad approach, with a return of Matthew and Marc’s Rocky Road, this time heading for India.

The only locally-commissioned shows announced are This Is Not My Life and Spies and Lies, which is perhaps a sign of the times, albeit not a welcome one. Whether or not ratings for The Cult pick up sufficiently to tempt TVNZ and NZ On Air into a second series remains to be seen.

Several imported dramas lean towards the ‘speculative fiction’ genre. Satisfying the blood-lust zeitgeist is novel adaptation The Vampire Diaries, scooted into production by US network the CW to capitalise on the success of other novel adaptations Twilight and HBO’s True Blood.

FlashForward, in which everybody can see the future, was dubbed in the US “a companion show to Lost”, which should polarise audiences before it even starts to screen.

Drop Dead Diva ventures even further into the future, specifically the afterlife, of “a vapid, wannabe model”, while Cougar Town reverses the trend by having ex-Friend Courtney Cox’s character try to recapture her youth, reportedly mostly in the shape of young male bedmates.

The network’s returning series include 20/20, The Amazing Race, American Idol, America’s Funniest Home Videos, Beyond the Darklands, The Big Bang Theory, Border Patrol, Brothers & Sisters, Cold Case, Criminal Minds, Desperate Housewives, Go Girls, Grey’s Anatomy, The Inspectors, Lost, Neighbours At War, Packed to the Rafters, Police Ten 7, Private Practice, Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, Two and a Half Men and The Zoo.

The Sunday night movie slot returns with titles including 10,000 BC, Be Kind Rewind, Beowulf, Body Of Lies, The Bucket List, The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian, The Dark Knight, Fool’s Gold, Fred Claus, Hancock, High School Musical 3, I Am Legend, The Invasion, Made Of Honour, National Treasure: Book Of Secrets, Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End, P.S. I Love You, Rambo, Rock’n’rolla, Sex And The City, Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants 2, Wall-E and You Don’t Mess With The Zohan.

It would be easy to snipe at the lineup but, given the financial struggles the network has faced over the last year, there’s plenty to welcome and not the massive drop in the amount of local commissioning that was feared earlier in the year.

The big question, much debated at the SPADA conference last week in the wake of Julie Christie’s address, is whether or not the advertising market will recover sufficiently to allow the networks to continue to support high-quality local commissions in the longer term.

In the short term, the picture isn’t encouraging. At the finance and expenditure select committee, TVNZ chief executive Rick Ellis spoke about advertising spend, saying, “We seem about to post a year on year growth of about $1000 – that’s how small the increase is.

“Forward billings for the new year are a long way short of normal patterns. And a long way short of where they were the same time last year.”

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