Greg Dixon is deputy editor of Canvas.

Powerpoint: No intelligent life

By GREG DIXON

Chris Templar didn't expect to see them. But then, neither did I. He was using a "recognised divining method" to look for "natural energy fields" in the sand dunes near the Waikato seaside town of Kawhia when he was surprised by them.

I, on the other hand, was searching for something remotely resembling intelligent television using another recognised divining method — a TV remote — when I, too, had the displeasure of coming across them.

What am I talking about? Aliens, that's what.

There they were — creatures from outer space, extraterrestrials, little green men — in the middle of my living room on what is supposed to be TV3's premiere local documentary, Inside New Zealand.

This series should be a weekly highlight for those longing for sound New Zealand stories that aren't plain news or over-dressed current affairs.

We are, after all, an interesting little country — everybody says so. But you could be excused for thinking differently last week. Inside New Zealand gave us Alien Investigations with Templar and a host of other ET groupies talking up their half-baked theories over (and surely this is an ET doco cliche to end cliches) a soundtrack of X Files-style muzak.

There was even word from the Outer Rim courtesy of members (and I still can't believe New Zealanders could be taken in by such preposterous nonsense) of that aliens-and-cloned-babies cult, the Raelians.

Having the word "investigations" in the title ought to have suggested to the makers that investigation be part of their documentary.

But no. The fruitcakes were allowed to witter on without anything approaching scrutiny of their wild claims.

Instead Alien Investigations tried to balance what, to a rational mind, was a catalogue of complete and utter hogwash with very brief comment from two dissenters, a staffer from the Auckland Observatory (never seen a UFO) and a member of New Zealand Skeptics (aliens are the new witches, apparently).

But the real investigation should be into how such a crummy idea for a documentary not only managed to get TV3's support but be given our money from New Zealand On Air.

What next? A doco on fairies at the bottom of the garden? It's probably being made now.

Last Thursday was an extremely bad evening for "documentary" on TV3. The network stayed with the outer space theme for another hour with the utterly tedious and unnecessarily graphic Cockstars, this time with aliens auditioning and then being trained to become members of Australian entertainment's vilest export, Puppetry of the Penis.

But it's not just TV3 and its increasingly sludgy schedule that's attempting to pass off downmarket cheapo lifestyle programming as documentary.

Prime, while screening good series such as How To Build A Human, has got its Plastic Mac Tuesday line-up sleazy doco series Vice: The Sex Trade and Manhattan On The Beach.

TV One — which also screens good documentaries occasionally — last week filled its usually interesting Reel Life slot with a so-called expose of Hollywood. And on Friday, in the middle of prime time, One showed Brief Encounters, an alleged documentary on the evolution of underwear.

TV3 — no big surprise — is set to go even further down this path on tonight's Inside New Zealand with yet another crummy, downmarket idea dressed up as documentary: The Naked Bum.

The advance publicity says it's a "a fascinating and in-depth documentary". I doubt it. These days, providing fascinating and in-depth documentary on anything, let alone bums, appears an alien concept to our networks.

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