A trivia-style programme to commemorate 50 years of TVNZ has been panned by viewers - but the station says that ratings never lie.

More than 760,000 people tuned in to watch Cheers for 50 Years on Tuesday, making it the sixth-highest rating programme of the year.

Ratings supplied by TVNZ showed most viewers stayed watching for the full two hours.

But the gameshow format and light style of the Jason Gunn-hosted programme angered some who would have liked to see 50 years' commemorated in weightier style. Media websites and talkback radio ran hot with criticism yesterday.

"Thanks TVNZ for making a show that is the equivalent of offering some chips and a litre of orange juice at someone's 50th anniversary on the job," said one contributor on the web forum Public Address, adding: "Running the long history of public broadcasting through a gameshow format hosted by Jason Gunn - says it all."

Descriptions of the show on Kiwiblog included "crap" and "a pile of dog turds".

TVNZ spokeswoman Andi Brotherston said the channel received mixed feedback yesterday but what was important was the excellent ratings.

She said staff thought carefully about the format and decided a trivia show would be more entertaining than a chronological trawl though old clips - many of which were slow-paced by today's standards.

"If it was poor, people wouldn't have stayed with it. People don't stay watching terrible television,"

The show pitted two teams of four television personalities against each other by posing a series of questions about television shows. Many of the shows featured were overseas offerings, such as 1970s American sitcom Mork and Mindy.

Geoff Lealand, an associate professor at Waikato University's school of screen and media studies, was one of those who complained to TVNZ.

"To put on a trivia game show to celebrate such a significant anniversary really was a missed opportunity."

Dr Lealand said it was ironic that Prime, which is owned by pay television company Sky, was putting on a seven-part documentary series later this month celebrating 50 years of television when the state broadcaster had celebrated it so poorly.

"Nowhere did you get the voice of the viewer. It was like a club of insiders all busily rubbing each other's backs," he said.

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