Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Intelligent TV an oxymoron in the age of the internet

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Paul Little’s column last week, decrying the effectiveness of the Lifewise Big Sleepout, struck a chord with those who attended. Some even hoped Paul would show himself. Photo / Supplied
Paul Little’s column last week, decrying the effectiveness of the Lifewise Big Sleepout, struck a chord with those who attended. Some even hoped Paul would show himself. Photo / Supplied

Some weeks ago, a town meeting in Auckland protested against the closure of TVNZ7, which made its final self-important broadcasts yesterday.

A few hundred people who looked like they had only just come to terms with the introduction of colour television turned out to bemoan, pointlessly, yet another fait accompli, "demand" that TVNZ7 be saved and tacitly congratulate themselves on their superior taste in viewing.

There's no denying we no longer have programmes of the calibre of Stars on Sunday, Pukemanu, The Black and White Minstrel Show and On the Buses.

Those who lament the passing of the good old days of public service television should be condemned to an evening watching it.

Television is not, at heart, an intelligent medium. It does not suit the give and take of debate, nor is it a particularly effective means of conveying information compared to, say, a book.

It must constrain itself within rigid time frames and is always slave to the need to provide images to accompany the words (except in France, about whose population of primetime talking heads the less said the better).

Fortunately, TVNZ7 leaves us at a time when those with elite tastes are better catered for than ever. In reality, viewers have never had it so good.

Broadcast television drama, in particular, is experiencing a golden age, with genre-busting contemporary shows such as Breaking Bad and Boss, the most astute programme on politics ever aired.

Those with so-called elite interests in music, art or literature can go online and sate themselves on a glut of material to which 20 years ago they had no access. The most obscure musical oddities that might have taken decades of scouring second-hand shops to find are now available to everyone.

The elite are not necessarily thrilled by this. At least one cultural commentator of my acquaintance, a specialist in material both obscure and entertaining, which he would share with the masses, has lamented that his niche position in the cultural landscape no longer exists, because everybody can find everything.

Those more commercially motivated will find plenty to satisfy online, such as the regular TED (technology, entertainment and design) talks, at www.ted.com/talks, given by world-leading figures in many areas of business and enterprise. You won't find these on TV.

In a world that offers so much to feed the mind, therefore, I find it hard to grieve for the loss of programmes that seemed frequently to be made by people for their friends to watch, and whose production values and performance levels all too often suggested a primary school class attempting a production of Hamlet.

* * *

A friend, well, I thought he was, recently tried to convince me of the virtues of a paleolithic diet - apparently, our bodies are designed to work best eating what we ate 10,000 years ago. I gather this means subsisting on twigs and pebbles with the occasional berry as a treat. I regard food as one of the best things about being alive and have always made a point of abstaining from prescriptive diets of any kind. Should anyone attempt to convert you to Stone Age meals, feel free to share two of my guidelines for eating.

One is the French maxim that if you have to do something three times a day, you might as well make it a pleasant experience.

The other was a comment made by the food writer and cook Lois Daish, who once said she would happily forgo the finest of fare in favour of a simple sandwich shared with people whose company she enjoyed.

- Herald on Sunday

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