Cheers to 50 Years

was meant to be TVNZ's grand gesture celebrating being our national broadcaster - in various incarnations dating from the NZBC days - for five decades.

Supposedly, it had a couple of generations' worth of collective small screen memories to draw from.

It had potentially the greatest collection of past and present local stars to recall their version of the good old days.

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After all, it was a two hour show. Plenty of time for someone to open the big book and say: "NZ telly, this is your life ... ."

But no. Obviously, nostalgia isn't what it used to be.

Instead, we got Jason Gunn, hosting what resembled the TVNZ social club's Tuesday night pub quiz crossed with a light entertainment spectacular from a small former Soviet state.

It came with enough canned laughter to feed a small unhappy African nation, two panels of four "stars" and awkward guest appearances by an apparently un-embarrassable Dougal Stevenson and a worried-looking Ginette McDonald.

And so it went for a high-rating two hours. That it was popular wasn't surprising. It had a certain can't-look-away-car-crash quality, especially towards the end as it became increasingly apparent the younger panel members didn't know their Penelope Keith from their Penelope Barr, nor had the wit to make up for it.

But it was probably popular because who doesn't want to spend an evening seeing if they can name all the members of the Waltons, the Brady Bunch and the Partridge Family before the likes of Simon Dallow, Simon Barnett, Lucy Lawless, Jackie Clarke, Dave Fane and the rest? Oh and the

Diff'rent Strokes

family too, Gary Coleman having inconveniently died after this was taped.

But just as it was a rubbish celebration of local TV history full of meaningless montages of past presenters showing the various golden eras of the TVNZ hair and make-up department, it wasn't even a very good quiz show - too many answers were flashed to viewers before they got a chance to participate at home.

The all-star teams format suggested TVNZ had come down with a case of

7 Days

envy and reminded that most of our small screen funny folk are up at TV3.

While Gunn, always a man who seems to be playing a version of himself on television, sounded like he was channelling Rove McManus in his MC role. That's when he wasn't doing impressions of others (say this for him, his Tem Morrison is now better than his Frank Spencer) or plugging yet another sponsor giveaway - this celebration of 50 years of television, it sure felt like a 21st birthday party for informercials too.

Some of the rival network's stars did get a mention, a few in an honour roll for those local TV stars who have passed on, but its inclusion felt like mawkish padding and proof that this particular set had no tone control.

Throughout, the camera kept cutting to the theatre audience which, judging by the array of familiar faces, was where the real starpower and the TV institutional memory lay. Many of them were caught mid-guffaw, but as a Holmes or a Hawkesby came into focus, you had to wonder if the grins came from the dawning realisation: "I'm glad I was too expensive to say yes to this ... ."

It was a show obviously borne out of a need to deliver something, anything to mark the 50th anniversary, preferably cheap and cheerful and sponsor-friendly, especially as the public funding for a proper doco on New Zealand TV's half-century had gone elsewhere.

But as with most unthinking birthday gifts, the standard response applies: "No, really, you shouldn't have."

What did you think of Cheers to 50 Years?