High hopes for new drama

By Chris Schulz

Jono Kenyon from the TV show 'Step Dave'. Photo / supplied
Jono Kenyon from the TV show 'Step Dave'. Photo / supplied

Tuesday night is looming as crunch time for local television with the debut of a new one-hour show that producers admit is "under pressure" to perform well.

Hopes are high that TV2's Step Dave, which airs in the crucial 8.30pm slot, can replace the chasm left by the recent demise of long-running prime time shows Nothing Trivial, The Almighty Johnsons and Go Girls.

Step Dave, a comedy-heavy drama about a young bartender who falls for a 39-year-old mother-of-three, was created by Go Girls writer Kate McDermott and includes veterans Rachel Lang and James Griffin on its writing team.

Television critic Chris Philpott told the Herald the industry was "desperate" for Step Dave to become a long-running success story to "keep the industry afloat".

"If Step Dave is seen as a major ratings failure, then that has a devastating flow on effect: local networks are going to start resisting local scripted content, and we'll stop seeing shows like this on the air at all," Philpott says.

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The 13-part South Pacific Pictures production received $6,672,5000 from New Zealand on Air - $1 million more than the first season of Outrageous Fortune and its biggest funding commitment last year.

Kelly Martin, SPP's CEO, admits there's "a lot of pressure" on Step Dave to do well.

"This is the only market in the world where there's this incredible expectation that every show works," she says.

"No other market has that pressure. Eighty per cent of shows America rolls out fail. We don't have that here - we want every show to be a huge success.

"It does feel like there's a lot of pressure on it ... but that's the nature of the business."

Step Dave is one of the few notable local drama shows hitting our screens this year. Six-part Christchurch earthquake drama Hope & Wire is coming to TV3, TV One has five new Sunday Theatre dramas in production and Prime has commissioned the ambitious four-part, two-hour show Riverstone Mysteries.

In comparison to 2013, TV3's The Blue Rose started in January, cop drama Harry kicked off in May, and TV2's Go Girls and Nothing Trivial, and TV3's The Almighty Johnsons, screened their final seasons.

Plus Jane Campion's Queenstown-based Top of the Lake, a joint production between BBC Two, UKTV and Sundance Channel, went on to win an Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography for a Miniseries or Movie.

New Zealand on Air Television Manager Glenn Usmar admits the local drama industry was "whacked from all directions" in 2013, with long-running shows coming to an end, reality series like MasterChef and The Block taking prime time slots, as well as changing viewer habits like binge and time shifted viewing.

"Last year was a bit of a hiccup in the road ... and gave everyone pause for thought. The scheduling environment was really tough to launch new shows or even for existing shows to come back and do what they did before. All in all it was a difficult year."

Martin agrees networks are struggling to keep up with changing viewer habits.

"There was a weird ratings thing going on where shows that had previously done really well just weren't getting the same numbers. Everyone's struggling with that - it doesn't mean people aren't interested, they're just watching in different ways."

Usmar says there are plenty of new local drama shows in production. "We're still committed to local drama," he says.

However they watch it, Philpott says Step Dave's premise looks promising and, like everyone involved, his fingers are crossed that audiences embrace it.

"Step Dave doesn't look like the most intellectual show ever, but it does look entertaining - and ultimately, that is the most important thing that a television show needs to be."

Step Dave's creator Kate McDermott admits she's suffering nerves ahead of the show's debut.

"I'm pretty terrified. You just never know. It's like you're sending your child off to school for their first day.

Are they going to get bullied or will people like them?"

* Read more on Step Dave in today's TimeOut on D12.

WHERE ARE THEY?

Go Girls (TV2)

Cancelled after five seasons.

Nothing Trivial (TV One)

Cancelled after three seasons.

Almighty Johnsons

Cancelled after three seasons.

The Blue Rose (TV3)

Cancelled after one season.

Harry (TV3)

Second season is up in the air.

COMING SOON

Step Dave (TV2)

Light-hearted comedy about a young barman who falls in love with a 39-year-old mother-of-three.

Hope & Wire (TV3)

Six-part drama from Gaylene Preston set in the aftermath of Christchurch's devastating earthquakes.

Riverstone Mysteries (Prime)

Ambitious four-part murder-mystery set in a small New Zealand town. Scheduled to go into production this year.

Anzac Girls (Prime)

A mini-series about nurses during World War I starring Antonia Prebble made in conjunction with Screentime and ABC.

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