Key Points:

The humble sausage on a stick, dipped in that bright red, fake-looking tomato sauce, is my most vivid memory of Top Town.

For those who don't remember, Top Town was a television show in the 70s and 80s where teams from towns around New Zealand competed against each other over a series of crazy obstacle courses.

Think a less challenging Wipeout and with car tyres and slippery slides instead of big balls and treadmills.

It was great, grass roots entertainment and travelled the length and breadth of the country.

I remember watching it live at Rugby Park in New Plymouth one year in the early 80s, sitting on the concrete terraces, Mum with her floral head scarf, Dad with his bushy side-burns, and my sister and I eating far too many hot dogs. I must've eaten more than her because I had to be taken home, even before the winner was found, after losing my lunch on the terraces for all to see.

I blame the heat, and all the gut-busting excitement of ordinary men and women huffing and puffing their way around the various obstacles with buckets full of water on their heads.

Like It's In the Bag, Top Town was a journey into the New Zealand Heartland, where the best sausages on sticks are found.

However, it seems in the new incarnation of Top Town on TV2 in December the producers of the show and TVNZ are forgetting the essence of what this competition was about.

You see, they will not be travelling to places like Greymouth, Whangarei and Timaru. The 15 teams selected as finalists were chosen through an application process rather than a physical challenge and will travel to "host city" Christchurch for the event.

As a selfish aside, what's the story with New Plymouth not being one of the finalists? A certain magazine named it town of the year recently and this week my hometown took first place (for cities with a population up to 75,000) in the International Awards for Liveable Communities, held in China. Now there's a top town.

Anyway, back to Top Town. Greymouth will be there, which seems only right since they were the last winners in 1990. Then there are places like Otorohanga, Gore, and Motueka, and more high-profile centres such as Queenstown, Gisborne, and Whangarei.

Just imagine the impact a day-long Top Town extravaganza would have on a community like Otorohanga, the small Waikato town best known for its kiwi house.

Kahu Sutherland, a member of the 1976 Whangarei team, the innaugural winners of the competition, has fond memories of the travelling road show, which in '76 went from Tauranga to Christchurch and on to Wellington for the final.

"You had to run up this giant ramp covered with soap and slippery stuff and shoot a ball into a clown's mouth at the top," he told Whangarei's Northern Advocate newspaper. "I went first and fell down on purpose, but on the way down I wiped up all the grease, so it was easier for everyone else."

Yes, the one-stop "host city" format has a lot to do with budget constraints but when you're dealing with an iconic event like this, then do it properly. As one colleague said, if you're going to do retro, do it right and don't muck around - he actually used stronger language - with the past.

And in this day and age where TV is obsessed with live crosses from the heart of the action - like Hong Kong before an All Blacks game, or a rooftop barbecue for the election with your host, Pippa Wetzell - you'd think it wouldn't be so hard to go to Greymouth, or Otorohanga and take Top Town back to the heart of the heartland.