31 Jul 2016

Dumb moves on clever TV drama?

From Mediawatch, 9:09 am on 31 July 2016

TVNZ is winding up critics by screening dramas they've panned, and axing ones they rate. Mediawatch looks at a drama that's on TV in Australia, the US and UK, but not here - even though we're paying some of the bills.

Last Monday, TVNZ copped criticism under this overwrought headline in the Dominion Post: Disbelief as classic series Rake sentenced to pay-TV obscurity.

The Australian TV series Rake - all about a boozy, wayward lawyer - has been dropped by TVNZ after two series. Not enough people were watching it, said TVNZ, so fans of the show will now have to pay to see it on a Sky TV premium channel.  

So who’s in 'disbelief' about all this? The paper’s own critic, Jane Bowron, who said it was "a travesty" typical of free-to-air broadcasters' tendency to go for "tepid and watered-down" programming and "play it safe".

Former TVNZ executive Bill Ralston also complained in the paper, but if few people were watching a foreign TV drama - albeit one with some Kiwi actors in it - it’s hardly surprising TVNZ would drop it.

A bigger surprise to Mediawatch is that another TV show from Australia praised by the critics is also nowhere to be seen on TV here. 

Cleverman is a clever series set in near-future dystopian Sydney in which recently-discovered so-called subhumans ("the Hairies") are ghettoised and subjugated.

It stars British actor Iain Glen from smash-hit Game of Thrones and Frances O’Connor, the Emmy-award winning star of The Missing, which recently screened on TV One.  

Cleverman has just finished a prime-time run on the ABC's main channel in Australia. The BBC is about to show it in the UK. The Sundance channel is showing it in the US.  

A second series has already been commissioned across the Tasman, and that's good news for the industry here in New Zealand, because Cleverman is actually a part-Kiwi co-production.

Wellington-based Pukeko Pictures did the special effects and sound and Weta Workshop designed the so-called subhuman creatures for the show. 

When TVNZ bought the rights to show Cleverman last week, the show's Aussie makers said:

“We are thrilled that we are taking Cleverman to its ‘second home’, New Zealand.”

Clive Spink, Pukeko Pictures CEO, was thrilled too:

“We are extremely proud of Cleverman and its premiere success in both Australia and the US. We are very excited about the first season premiere in our homeland of New Zealand on TVNZ.”

But TVNZ doesn’t seemed so thrilled.

Last Monday, all six episodes went up on TVNZ OnDemand and TVNZ said the series would air on TV at a later date only on its channel for blokes - Duke.

That perplexed NZ Screen editor Keith Barclay:

"TVNZ’s (entertainment head) Andrew Shaw described it as a 'unique dramatic proposition … clever, subtle and compelling'.  It makes Duke seem an odd choice of channel."

'Cleverman' on TVNZ OnDemand.

You can only see part-NZ production 'Cleverman' on TVNZ OnDemand. Photo: screenshot

It seems Cleverman will screen on TV in the US and the UK before it does here - even though New Zealand taxpayers have a stake in it.

Cleverman was assisted by the New Zealand government's Screen Production Grant - the public fund which incentivises offshore productions to film here by covering some of the cost.

"To be eligible for the grant, productions must also have significant New Zealand content as determined by a points test and Cleverman met this test," New Zealand Film Commission head of marketing Jasmin McSweeney told Mediawatch.

The grant amount is 40 percent of the money spent in New Zealand on 'Qualifying New Zealand Production Expenditure', which is the sum spent by the production company in New Zealand.

So how much have New Zealand taxpayers kicked in? It's too early to say:

"When production is completed, the producers show what was spent and the sum paid out is added to our funding database which will be updated on our website very soon," the Film Commission told Mediawatch.

While Cleverman went on-demand and under the radar this week, one substantial New Zealand On Air funding announcement got the critics' attention.  

“Critically panned drama Filthy Rich gets another $6.9m in funding for second season,” said stuff.co.nz.

The first series of 20 one-hour episodes got $8.1m of funding last year; given that it ended with a cliffhanger just three months ago, it should be no surprise that the show is back again. 

With $15m of public money sunk into the series, there's no way TVNZ would take Filthy Rich 2 off air even if no-one is watching - or whatever the critics say.