Kiwis rule, bro
The trans-Tasman TV invasion that has some Aussies up in arms. Colin Vickery reports
KIWI invasion! Kiwi invasion! If you believe the screaming headlines in recent weeks, you’d swear there was a full-on threat to Australia’s television industry from our neighbours across the Tasman.
According to reports, cheap New Zealand-made programs are set to flood our TV screens.
Screen Producers Association of Australia executive director Geoff Brown is leading the anti-Kiwi charge, saying that addressing the flow of Kiwi shows is a matter of urgency.
Current regulations allow Australian networks to count New Zealand shows towards their Australian-content quota requirement, and that’s not making him happy.
He says it’s all a ploy to cut costs by the networks. He wants the government to change the local content rules so that New Zealand shows can’t be counted in the quota.
‘‘Remember, for every hour of New Zealand programming going to air, that’s an hour of Australian programming that doesn’t get up. They are treating Australian viewers as second-class citizens,’’ Brown has said.
Sure, the summer period has seen an increase in the number of New Zealand productions on our screens — observational series Wild Vets and Coastwatch on Seven, soapie Orange Roughies on Ten, and factual series Police Ten 7 on Nine.
The thing is, Aussie viewers enjoyed them. Police Ten 7 was especially popular, with about a million viewers a week — excellent ratings for a summer show.
Nine Melbourne program director Len Downs says the quota doesn’t come into the network’s thinking for Police Ten 7 or one of the first New Zealand reality shows on Nine, Motorway Patrol.
Instead, he says, the shows are immediately compelling because their New Zealand producers have much more co-operation from local police and other authorities (including filming permission and the use of official footage) compared with what’s available to Australian producers.
‘‘It (the decision to screen the shows) is based on whether we feel they have audience potential,’’ Downs says.
‘‘They ( Motorway Patrol producers) were able to have more access (to police footage) than we get. We figured that made it watchable and coupled with (UK reality series) Airline fulfilled a slot to get a passable audience.’’
It has to be said that New Zealand, for whatever reason, does reality television very well. It’s SCU: Serious Crash Unit was the blueprint for Aussie series Crash Investigation Unit, hosted by Damian WalsheHowling.
Beyond the Dark- lands, where forensic psychologist Nigel Latta profiles notorious murderers, has also been given an Aussie makeover and is set to screen on Seven in coming months.
Popstars was a New Zealand concept. First screened there in 1999, it led to an Aussie version but, more importantly, was the inspiration for Simon Fuller’s Pop Idol franchise that would ultimately lead to American Idol and Australian Idol.
Less than 10 years after its conception, it’s one of the most successful TV formats of all time — sold to more than 50 countries.
New Zealand reality concept Dream Home, a renovation program that gave two couples $100,000 and the services of an interior designer and a builder to transform old houses, also spawned an Australian version.
David Barbour, who worked on Australian Dream Home, subsequently teamed with Julian Cress to create ratings hit The Block.
New Zealand television producer John McEwen, the man behind Dream Home, was so incensed when he saw The Block in 2003 that he threatened legal action.
‘‘Looking at their show there is no question The Block is derived from Dream Home,’’ he said at the time.
Nine started proceedings in the Federal Court in December 2004 on the basis that McEwen’s claims were groundless, and won.
Other New Zealand formats to have gained world sales include Treasure Island (a precursor to Survivor that also had an Australian version) and The Chair, a quiz show where contestants are hitched up to heart monitors. A US version of The Chair is hosted by tennis legend John McEnroe.
Not all New Zealand formats have been that successful, of course.
We do have to blame the Kiwis for foisting The Resort on us. The local version, hosted by rocker Jon Stevens and centred on a group of hopefuls given 13 weeks to transform a Fijian resort, was a shocker that was quickly axed.
The other thing to remember in this debate is that the number of New Zealand shows on Aussie TV is a trickle compared with the number of our shows on Kiwi TV (New Zealand doesn’t have a local-content quota system).
A quick scan of the New Zealand TV guide shows that their screens are filled with everything from The Chopping Block to McLeod’s Daughters, Neighbours, City Homicide, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and Rove.
‘‘We’ve had Home and Away up the wazoo for more than a decade,’’ says leading New Zealand actor Robyn Malcolm, who stars in crime comedy Outrageous Fortune (currently showing on Foxtel).
‘‘If we can pay you back in some way (by screening some New Zealand shows in Australia) then there’s nothing wrong with that as far as I’m concerned.’’
No New Zealand would also mean no Rebecca Gibney, no Amazing Race’s Phil Keoghan and no Spicks and Specks team captain Alan Brough — all big stars on Aussie screens at the moment.
Jane Wrightson, the chief executive of Kiwi TV and radio-funding body New Zealand on Air, thinks complaining Aussie TV producers have got it wrong.
‘‘We have a very good industry here just as Australia has and it’s not a kind of warfare zone,’’ she says.
‘‘I think both countries face the same issue that almost all countries other than India, China, and America have, which is how to maintain an adequate level of local content.’’
Downs agrees and says any show ultimately stands or falls by whether people want to watch it or not.
‘‘Whether it comes from New Zealand, the UK or America is beside the point. If the thing ( Police Ten 7) hadn’t have worked, we wouldn’t have continued to play it,’’ he says.