Greg Dixon is deputy editor of Canvas.

Happy birthday to TV One


Its nicknames are many and nearly all are less than complimentary.

It has been called the box, the small screen, the boob tube, the idiot box and - courtesy of one its most witty reviewers, Clive James - the crystal bucket.

But there's no doubting the impact of television. Even in the age of the Internet, it continues to be our most dominant medium, communicating and defining how we see ourselves and the world about us.

Yet the television set is also the most frustrating and infuriating contraption to ever grace our living rooms. While it can deliver you the world at the flick of switch, it so often chooses to condescend for the sake of adding "mass" to "media."

It's a predicament which is only confirmed by tonight's two-hour "documentary" celebrating the 40th anniversary of Television in New Zealand.

One Turns 40 (8.30 pm, TV One) is most certainly what it says. It's a large, heavily iced gateau marking the 40th birthday of State Television's flagship channel. Its makers have chosen to ignore all else.

This is television's history seen through one eye. There is no discussion of its stablemate TV2 (surely Shortland Street is a landmark for local television?) and no mention either of the end of the State's grip on the medium, and the births of the third channel, pay-TV, regional television or the ever-growing range of community channels.

Instead, to use the sort of cliches the medium loves, One Turns 40 winds back the clock, opens the family photo album, and pushes on its rose-tinted glasses for a trip down memory lane.

There are interviews with long-dulled stars (remember Craig Scott or Marama Martin?) a chorus line of clips from long-dead entertainments (how many times have we seen Pete Sinclair looking suave on C'Mon?) and a party political broadcast on the importance of TV One news and current affairs.

Politics and analysis is more or less restricted to Robert Muldoon's bullying interviewers and his government's questioning the $1.4 million price-tag of the historical drama, The Governor.

There are a few moments of true bliss: Former continuity announcer Alma Johnson recalls the beginning of commercial "spots" that went something like "the time is eight o'clock. Time for a banana." We step briefly inside the big top to hear local telly's greatest sideshow barker, Selwyn Toogood, demand "the money or the bag?" And of course there's Fred Dagg.

These are hardly enough to sustain interest over two hours.

But then asking television to review television is something like asking the Police Complaints Authority to review the police. Whatever the result, you will always have nagging doubts.

Certainly One Turns 40 producer and director Tessa Tylee knew she had her work cut out for her.

"It was great searching through all the old footage," she says in the show's publicity blurb, "but really hard sorting out what to feature and what to leave out."

In the end, TVNZ has chosen to mark and market four decades of television by leaving out anything that competes with TV One.

The broadcaster would have been better to have celebrated the 40th year of television in New Zealand by rescreening some its past uncut.

Come on TV One, bring on Pukemanu, The Governor and even C'Mon. They're our history too.

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