There were more notable New Zealanders than a Holmes Christmas party on TVNZ 1's Sunday night special I Know This To Be True, a well-meaning but rambling and incoherent collection of meditations on the meaning of life.

Only at the end of the hour-long show was it explained that it was part of a project aimed at raising funds for the Play It Strange foundation - at no point was it mentioned that the other, main part of the project is a book of the same name, which carries the subtitle "Truth, wisdom, beauty and other stuff that matters for sixty New Zealanders in the middle of interesting lives."

Knowing this, the special made a bit more sense. It explains why camera shutters kept clicking throughout everyone's interviews, and why subjects were occasionally shown posing stoically with a meaningful word - "hope", "love", "freedom" - written in marker on their arm. It explains why the whole thing felt like the world's longest book trailer.

Journalist and television producer Ric Salizzo interviewed all 60 New Zealanders involved in the project. The 30 who made it on TV ranged from the usual suspects (Dobbyn, Frizzell, Kirwan) to the less widely-known but reliably more interesting (former City Missioner Dame Diane Robertson, young community leader Fatumata Bah). A pretty diverse bunch, by our standards - only five of the 30 had played for or coached the All Blacks.


All sat in front of a McCahonesque abstract canvas emblazoned with the show's title, which every time you saw it felt hellishly like hearing someone sing the chorus of Spandau Ballet's True with the lyrics slightly wrong. Each section of the show was divided into a different category, titled things like "Things I've Done," "What I Believe" and "New Zealand".

Salizzo introduced each one by saying something profound, inspirational, thought-provoking, something like: "A simple truth is everyone has done something; it's often the things you do that help you learn who you are."

These led into dadaist collages of snippets from all the interviews, sliced together seemingly at random. You got the sense that most of the subjects did have thoughtful, reflective, articulate things to say, but jumbled together with barely any context their words seldom made a skerrick of sense.

We joined Dave Dobbyn halfway through a sentence: "...and then the second song I wrote was Be Mine Tonight, so ... that worked," he laughed uproariously. On the topic of "Where I Find Beauty And Peace" we learned that Tiki Taane finds it in surfing, Al Brown prefers fly fishing, and for Dick Frizzell beauty abounds anywhere he casts his eye, even an old letterbox. "I believe beauty is seen through the eye of the heart," revealed Trelise Cooper.

"I don't believe in failure," declared John Kirwan. "People possibly perceive what I've just done with the Blues as failure - I certainly thought that for a little while - but at the end of the day I had a go. And it didn't work out."

It's a fine line between sincerity and parody, and at times the special's earnest tone almost made you second guess what side of that line it was on. But the subjects at the heart of I Know This To Be True do have plenty of real wisdom to impart, and some of it is probably even worth taking on board.

It is a worthwhile project; hopefully it makes more sense as a book.