Neil Diamond's royal performance a gold sovereign in the TV pudding.

For reasons of commerce rather than caring about the poor viewers, television doesn't much like the Christmas-New Year break. It's a gap to stuff with repeats and movies we've all seen twice before.

There's not a thought that, sun-struck and barbecue-stuffed at the end of another summer's day, the average holiday Kiwi might be craving something half-decent to look at from a soft spot on the sofa.

Though maybe there is the odd thought - as I discovered when I set myself the punishing task of watching something every evening on the free-to-air channels instead of watching something I really wanted to see on pay TV.

Jumping right in the deep end, I began my banquet of low expectation with the Queen's Christmas Message (6.50pm, TV One) to find Her Maj still banging on about "the strength of fellowship" and struggling to master the autocue after years of practice, but actually looking faintly happy at the end of a splendid Jubilee and Olympic year.


Faintly happy in the Queen, of course, would be hysterically happy in anyone else. Though she looked a shade happier half an hour later when she popped up again to sit in her box next to her still-lively old Prince for the 100th Royal Variety Performance (7.30pm, TV One).

For once, there were a few things to be happy about on the show, though not the dog act, nor Bruce Forsyth, buckling under his wig and so old he had to do his tap dance sitting down.

Challenged by the presence of Rod Stewart, Placido Domingo and China's Three Tenors, Neil Diamond was still the night's knockout - deathless like Brucie, but still able to stand up and do the business. The Queen certainly looked pleased to meet him backstage.

On Boxing Day, TV One saw fit to launch a local series, Unsung Heroes (7.30pm), corny, good-hearted stories about a selection of good sorts helping the helpless. The dramatic highpoint involved a street person announcing he was self-medicating his ugly leg infection by drinking his own urine.

On Thursday, I turned to Maori TV for Tangaroa With Pio (8pm), a folksy travel show fronted by Pio Terei, a presenter who is a bit of a small boat with a big motor.

He's not a chap you turn to for insight, but he was eager to sell the charms of Viti Levu in Fiji and maybe what made the show at least a little enjoyable was that they were such homely charms, often involving food or the pursuit of it.

On Friday, desperate, I turned to Dallas (8.30pm, TV One), the revival of the legendary '70s US soap opera, but I was defeated by it - the hats, the horses, the health issues, the timid sex scenes.

Saturday, I thought, should be slightly sporting, so I went to Outdoors With Geoff (5pm, TV3), but it was just blokes in a boat somewhere in Vanuatu relentlessly slaughtering fish or grunting "it's only a matter of time" in the fishless moments.

It was ugly and it should have carried some sort of warning - perhaps, "Fish were harmed in the making of this show".

I prefer my fish funny, which made Sunday better viewing because I could catch up with that funny old fish who fronts Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey (7.30pm, TV One), which I find a comfort in trying times.

The times are being made even more trying at the moment thanks to the sudden high profile of the relentlessly perky Jack Tame who has been reading One News.

He so glitters with smiles, hair gel and knowing nudges that I don't hear what he's telling me. The news at six feels like the Tame Report. It might almost be a try-out for something.