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A Sleeping Giant Begins to Stir: TVNZ’s ‘Episodes 2015’ New Season Launch

The Spinoff editor Duncan Greive went along to TVNZ’s new season launch and left with ringing ears, an LED lanyard and dreams of a reality juggernaut. //

Six million people are stalked every year in the United States. 3.5m New Zealanders view TVNZ weekly. 18,000 paid their condolences to non-existent person Sarah Potts. Kleenex quadrupled sales expectations (?!) in three weeks. Two and a Half Men. Two Broke Girls.

“If the numbers are anything to go by, they’re absolutely loving it,” said Jeremy O’Brien, TVNZ head of sales. He was the opening speaker, beaming and extremely self-assured, gazing out to hundreds of staff and clients. Tonight wasn’t just about numbers for O’Brien, though.

It was about family: “At this event last year I shared with you a story about my son Harrison. He’d given up his dreams of being an All Black in favour of the magician Dynamo.”

It was about food: “Now he loves to cook.”

It was also, weirdly, about guns: “Your most effective advertising shotgun will soon be joined by a rifle.”

Things were getting a little homicidal. So were the audience. We were at ‘Episode 2015’, TVNZ’s new season launch to advertisers, and had been in our seats a half hour watching singing and dancing and eventually speaking. It was TV’s biggest night of the year. But where were the stars?

There’d been a little Ferndale: Honour and Grace Kwan and Kylie at the pre-drinks. Then Roimata palling about with Jacquie Brown on the way in. We were knew there were more here, lurking somewhere.

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Dubsteppy dancers. Maybe krumping? idk.

It stood to reason. If you have the numbers, you have the stars. The drought ended with O’Brien’s salving, wrong but still thrilling words: “Now, here’s New Zealand’s most dynamic TV duo: Mike Hosking and Toni Street!”

Then that voice. Like butter and chloroform. It boomed down from the Royal balcony: “my usual seat,” he said drolly. He was so damn droll!

But y’know what? Hosking might be a horrible badperson, but he’s pretty funny. “Let me do it alone,” he recalled, candidly, about his move to Seven Sharp, “don’t let me have any accoutrements.” It was true. He did ask management to make it Ho(lme)sking. The man. Alone. So Hosking to so breezily reveal it.

Street yucked it up, but somewhere inside she must’ve died a little. Inside her grows a child. Inside Hosking grows only his own garden of self-love. Where some monstrous television talents eventually reveal a quasi-sociopathic ability to replicate human emotion without ever really feeling it, Hosking has a psychopath’s indifference to the pain of others. He’s the anti-John Campbell, who feels too much.

Hosking’s reveals tonight: No one is allowed in his Ferrari while it moves. His favourite show of the year was Vote Compass, possibly seriously. He describes Orange is The New Black as “the one with a lot of boiler suits and lesbians”, sounding legitimately spooked. “I’m not sure that’s appropriate.”

I laughed, and hated myself for it. I was laughing at how well Mike Hosking plays himself. As a pompous ass, contemptuous of the world’s non-Hosking population. What can you do? Mike Hosking is funny in that role! But his self-abusive comedy was also awful in a way that Paul Henry’s “I’m everywhere all the time”-riff at the MediaWorks launch somehow wasn’t.

Because Hosking is the king. Fellow reprobate Henry, despite what might well be a bigger paycheque, is aware on some molecular level that he’s down with us plebs, shooting catapults over The Wall.

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The Wall is TVNZ’s knowledge that they have the ratings, and will have them until every staff member over 50 (AKA Senior Management) is safely out to pasture. That’s the legacy effect of your two channels having been the only channels for precisely half of New Zealand’s 50 year television era.

It’s a real thing: TV3 didn’t launch until 1989. Anyone then under 50 gave it a go, most over 50 never bothered. So at 6pm One News went on. In more progressive families, from the early ‘90s, 7pm allowed a move to TV2’s landmark Shortland St.

Want to know how the disparity of audience looks in one cold fact? The number one comedy on TV this year was Mrs Brown’s Boys. This is definitely akin to the Pauline Kael urban myth about Nixon voters, but seriously – do you know anyone who has ever watched an episode of that show? Who even knew it existed? Super Gold Cardholders is the demo.

Now that era is coming to a close. You could sense it in the energy of MediaWorks’ all-in launch. It’s game time. But you know what? Tonight you could also sense that TVNZ – for so long rich, dumb and flabby to the point of somnambulance – was aware that winter is coming. They’re starting to turn up the heat. And that ultimately bodes very well for us at the other end of the remote.

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It took a while to get there though. Horrible Hosking gave way to the stars of Step Dave, who did this bit about watching The Walking Dead at “Aunt Mavis’ funeral” that made you think she had the good spot in her casket.

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Matt Gibb talks bacon while Tim Wilson inspects his rump.

Matt Gibb and Tim Wilson were up next. They’re two of the sharpest of TVNZ’s on air talents, so naturally are selling us product integration. This is good, important work – increasingly the fuel of modern network television and the modern media environment. They nail the comedy shilling. But give these dudes some leading roles over the bit parts they’re filling right now.

The on-air stars, long held back, then become a torrent. Jesse Mulligan and Wilson have fun sending a Go-Pro into the crowd, and Wilson makes a good joke about Mulligan and Seven Sharp and a beneath-him one about his legs (he’s wearing shorts) being “a bit like the other network. Promising very little, but delivering even less”.

No one ever gets near Hosking’s candlepower. Simon Dallow comes closest – a young Don Brash: frothy, frisky and self-confident. Jack Tame is over from “Spanish Harlem” (a McRoberts-esque humblebrag) and riffing with Breakfast Sam about his own beautiful face and Sam’s “ripe grapefruit” guns. It works.

Vinnie Kruse and Nicole Miller come out and play with the network’s gleaming diamond Shortland St (aside: watch out for our cool tribute ‘Street Week’, coming on The Spinoff from December 8th). Their stagey back-and-forth is fun, but too short.

Everything’s too short. But the event itself is too long. It’s relentless. Where MediaWorks lingered over their coming franchises, TVNZ were lacking in internal self-confidence. They couldn’t pick their winners so sold us everything.

Did we need to know crappy-looking superhero shows like The Flash and Arrow are coming? How about the return of The Voice Australia and My Kitchen Rules Australia? A show with David Duchovny swearing?

The local content rushed by in a blur. Nigel Latta Blows Things Up sounds like a good joke but is a real thing. I’m very into it but what the hell is he up to? 800 Words, from SPP and ‘the makers of Outrageous Fortune’, was nothing but a stylised title and a picture of an old man. My bet’s on it being a biopic of James Griffin’s endless Canvas columning.

Kiwi Living was even more opaque. Title Case arial in white on black, with an ‘in production’ sash across the top left. A big box retail thing for sales to sell. Maybe no one knows what it is?

By then we were close to an hour in. It had been loud, splashy, a little too chaotic.

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Baller lanyard.

I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t enjoy the production values and the flashing lights and the pass-it-round Go Pro and the moment our lanyards came to life (“like a Colplay concert,” I heard more than once). And many of the shows are gonna be great. More Orange Is The New Black. More Broadchurch. Great, great. But there was something missing.

It was the shock of the new.

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That finally came during the most fulfilling section of the night. The factual lineup started strong. TVNZ’s banker classics are coming around again you guys! Neighbours at War, Highway Patrol and Police 10:7, those endless pen portraits of New Zealanders at leisure – they’ll all be back and bleeping in 2015.

They were expected, though. Where TV3 has franchises, TVNZ has startups. Namely Bogans and I Am Innocent and Our First Home.

All three look great. Bogans vibed like a series-length documentary about Hamilton, with a blissed out young woman talking about her love of burnouts and “sinking piss”. She was awesome. We saw too little, but sign me up, obviously.

I Am Innocent showed glimpses of intensely harrowing footage featuring a guy claiming that he shouldn’t be in prison. For rape. He looked like the ’00s-era McConnaughey from True Detective, which is to say like our stereotypical rapist. But amongst the flash and boom the conviction in his voice caught in the throat. The show looks legit.

The night’s big win, though, was Our First Home. Admittedly it’s a goddamn legobox of a title, a trio of sellwords clumped together in the hope of honey trapping those advertisers shut out of The Block. But hear them out. Because the premise is incredible.

Our First Home is about three young couples buying a house and trying to flick it on in an attempt to raise money for their first home deposit. The twist? They’re doing it all with their parents!

Money? Their parents. Builders? Them and their parents. Living in the dust-coated shithole? Them and their parents!

Have you ever tried doing anything with your parents? Or your children? Imagine doing it for months on end. It’s The Block meets Big Brother meets The Apprentice! It’s going to be on around 15 hours a week, according to my munter guesstimates, but if anything that’s too little. Because it’s a triangulation of three ultra-stressful situations, and regardless of the outcome it guarantees a social media lightning storm of hatred toward Aucklanders, middle class people, capitalism and fiat currency.

Our First Home is an original concept from TVNZ. It deserved more play, over the good-but-who-really-cares American space fillers. As a presentation it lacked for a coherence. But the gleaming light of the new original reality programming – particularly the inter-generational televisual apocalypse in-waiting Our First Home – more than made up for it.

The show is the first sign in a while that our old publicly-owned warhorse TVNZ is aware it’s in a fight. The first shot in anger at the impending The BachelorMasterChefThe BlockGrand Designs franchise hydra that’s coming their way. That it contains antagonistic multitudes shows what creative talent remains at TVNZ, chilling behind their endless win streak.

It portends a multi-front reality war, coming in 2015.

Bring it on.

This post is a sequel to our review of the similarly OTT MediaWorks equivalent, covered here a couple of weeks back.