Questions are being asked by TV insiders about why NZ On Air's Platinum Television Fund - a special $15 million contestable fund that "supports programmes with something important to say about New Zealand" - has subsidised a primetime TV cop show starring Sam Neill and a series about a drug dealer.
Harry, a six-part drama produced by Desert Road and starring Sam Neill and Oscar Kightley, wrapped up filming last week. The series will screen on TV3 next year.
NZ On Air chief executive Jane Wrightson has come under fire from rival TV producers and big wigs for awarding more than $3.5 million in taxpayer money to the show.
Harry is the story of a fictional detective and a fictional double-homicide set in Auckland.
Eyebrows have been raised, not only because the TV show received the biggest funding in the latest Platinum Fund round, but because it also competed against newsworthy current affairs shows Q+A and The Nation, and television dramas depicting real-life Kiwi events, such as the Jan Molenaar siege, the Kate Sheppard suffrage movement and the Kiwi-born WWII hero Nancy Wake.
When the Platinum Fund was launched in 2009, the Broadcasting Minister at the time, Jonathan Coleman, said: "We want this funding to really make a difference to what we see on our television screens, not just to fund more of the same content we are already getting."
Producer Stephen O'Meagher told The Diary Harry is different and worthy of public funding.
"It is entirely fictional because we wanted complete creative freedom, but it is inspired by a whole lot of crime stories - like The Sopranos is based on the Mafia."
O'Meagher says former Detective Senior Sergeant Neil Grimstone worked as a technical consultant on the show and shared a lot of stories about his years in the police.
"The show is a fusion of creativity based on criminal stories and cultural procedures. Oscar, as a Samoan-New Zealander, brings his own insights to the role."
Kightley stars as Detective Harry Anglesea and Neill as his boss, Detective Senior Sergeant Jim "Stocks" Stockton. Kightley plays a solo dad living in Ponsonby. The lead role was written for him and he was involved in the writing process.
"The show is a contemporary view about what it's like to be a Samoan," O'Meagher adds.
It's no surprise Harry would qualify for production funding from NZ On Air, but should that cash come from our limited and ring-fenced Platinum Fund budget?
O'Meagher said it's not up to him. "We just made an application and [NZ on Air] decides."
He suggests Harry's selection allows it to fit into a new criterion - "a drama with cultural overtones". A primetime politically correct drama, in other words.
O'Meagher implies the fact that the lead character is brown may have had some bearing on its funding success. NZ On Air would not be drawn on the issue of race as a factor in the decision-making process.
Underbelly NZ - part of the Australian Underbelly franchise - was also awarded millions in public cash from the Platinum Fund purse - $3.9 million, to be exact.
The Screentime television drama followed the story of Kiwi drug dealer Marty Johnstone - but it didn't capture the viewers' attention, and ratings didn't live up to expectations.
Will Harry follow the same fate? We hope not. A local TV show starring some of our most famous faces sounds like an exciting proposition - but is it the role of the Platinum Fund to pay for it?
NEWS MEDIA TEAM OUT-MUSCLE MPs
Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye offered her vocal support from the safety of the sideline, but it wasn't enough to inspire her parliamentary colleagues to a win on Saturday. The journos and broadcasters trounced the politicians 22-14 in a hard-fought rugby match at Orakei Domain. Bragging rights now go to the Fourth Estate.
Sky TV's Melodie Robinson - a former Black Fern - refereed the match and told The Diary she wasn't surprised the media team won. "They were stacked with young, big Samoan guys. The poor old guys from Parliament didn't have a chance. Damien O'Connor [MP for West Coast-Tasman] didn't play in the end, and he is good."
Robinson said the player of the day honours had to go to former All Black Glen Osborne - now a presenter at Maori Television. "Ossie has still got it. But he was restrained and respectful on the field, too."
Others weren't so self-possessed. "There were two brawls and a sinbin," she laughed. "And the tight-head prop from the MPs team was giving me lip."
That was Sam Lotu-Iiga, the MP for Maungakiekie in Auckland.
But organiser Julian Wilcox, from Maori Television, said the National MP wasn't the only one expressing his views on the field. "Even though it was a social game, it's fair to say things got a bit heated," Wilcox laughed.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, the patron of the match, made a rousing speech at the post-game function. He told The Diary the media team were just too strong.
"We [the MPs] were brimming with confidence, optimism and enthusiasm - unfortunately we just left it off the field."
WORLD DESIGNER PUTS ON A SHOW
Auckland's glitterati will be out in force tomorrow night at World's exclusive fashion show at The Langham. Champers and canapes will be served to those fashion types not nibbling large gulps of air.
The fashion house has chosen not to be part of Fashion Week this year, but promises punters will be blown away by the runway show and the tongue-in-cheek short film that precedes it.
"Garth Badger has made a movie ... in which I make my acting debut. It's Oscar material," giggled Denise L'Estrange-Corbet. "Let's just say mild amnesia is the star."