One of New Zealand television’s longest running series Praise Be hits three decades on our screens on April 10. José Barbosa relives a lifetime of Sunday morning worship as archived on NZ On Screen.
There are many things I find reassuring: ironed clothes, community libraries, that falsetto “eeeh?” sound John Key makes when he’s trying to make an issue seem like not a big deal. All of these are comforting things exactly because they’re ubiquitous elements of human life. Into this group we must also place Praise Be.
The show began in 1986 and as far as I can tell it hasn’t changed much. As a kid searching for cartoons to watch on a Sunday morning, it would register for perhaps 2-3 seconds before I’d move on. It was easy to recognise because it was always the same: rows of elderly people singing what the 10 year-old me could only describe as “oldy time music.” Eventually the camera would track upwards to reveal a sea of white hair in what has become the signature Praise Be visual motif. Seriously, they’re bloody good at it.
There’s a great shot that opens the singing in the Christchurch Cathedral special from 1998. At 01:34 we hear the voices of the congregation, but the camera remains pointed at the roof. It begins to move downwards in what we assume is a standard, AUT Comms level tilt.
As the singing Cantabrians rise into shot, the camera performs a masterful fake-out as it moves gracefully into a combined pedestal lift and tilt down. The camera’s also on a slightly unco angle, but it works. The impression is that the camera itself is being lifted by the rousing voices of the congregation, as they sing a hymn which seems to be about meeting your maker in death.
Admittedly, it’s almost immediately undone by a rather artless zoom in to a lady in the front row. A few rows back you can see a guide dog attacking its genitals like a jackhammer.
It must have been all go in the OB van because they cut away pretty quickly – although there’s never any sense of panic. There’s a gentle dissolve to some school boys, which is presumably the best they could do.
The director of that special and most of Praise Be over the years was – and still is – Ron Pledger. Pledger’s one of the most experienced live TV directors in the country, having orchestrated live broadcasts of everything from This Is Your Life to the funeral of Sir Edmund Hillary. He knows his way around a jib. There’s a career spanning interview with him on NZ On Screen, but he makes a particularly good point about Praise Be at 08:54:
Pledger rightly states that it’s one of the few New Zealand shows that regularly and actively gets into the provinces. After three decades it’s an important archive of congregations and choirs, charting the trends in Christian devotional music.
The show is interdenominational and the presenter Chris Nichol is a Presbyterian minister, but it’s always seemed super Anglican to me. Only in the way that – like most things Anglican- it’s intensely unintimidating. The title sequence features soothing, echoing voices accompanying a CGI stained glass window that assembles in midair like a gentle Voltron. It’s the TV equivalent of someone stroking your hair while pigeons softly coo in a nearby tree.
There’s no indication that Praise Be will ever end. Even in the ashes of the nuclear Armageddon, you’ll be able to catch on the wind the slight squeaking of a camera jib as it cranes over a mutant congregation moaning out traditional psalms.
I’ll be looking out for it this Sunday as I flick around the TV schedule looking for cartoons. I’ll pause as the camera soars over the pews and give it exactly three seconds before moving on. It’ll be enough to know it’s there and that everything is in its right place.
Throwback Thursday is brought to you by the legends at NZ On Screen. They’ve got a swag of Praise Be episodes to watch and enjoy.
Please note that the occasionally troublesome opinions expressed above are not those of our wonderful sponsors at NZ On Screen.