The Good Word invites a panel of celebrity reviewers to discuss the merits and debate the downsides of a book. There's now no place for certain sorts of programmes ... that's terribly damaging.Colin Hogg, producer The Good Word has long been the only local television show touting the merits of, well, something that requires switching off the tele. If it wasn't for the demise of its home channel TVNZ7 in June later this year, the show's producer Colin Hogg would say it had had a good run.
But with the fourth and final series launching last night, Hogg has understandably mixed feelings. Having pitched the show around the networks with no takers, the last Good Word also marks the end of local literary programming.
"It's just not what they are looking for," says Hogg. "If you look through the programming guides, it's screamingly obvious that unless they were obese and naked on a book show there'd really be no place for it."
When it was announced that there would be no home for The Good Word and TVNZ7 shows such as Media 7, Back Benches and Hogg's other talk and live music show Talk Talk, academics and outraged viewers campaigned against what many saw as an end to public service broadcasting in New Zealand. But stymied by our small population, the channel was considered too costly to run at $15 million a year.
Hogg stresses he is not bitter about the Government's decision not to renew TVNZ7's five-year contract, originally put in place by the Labour Government, but worries about the direction national television is taking.
"The thing I'm mourning most isn't the last series, it's actually the situation we've got ourselves in where there's now no place for certain sorts of programmes. And I don't know if people realise that's terribly damaging.
"For instance, when we make docos we go through the archive to demonstrate things. But if you fast-forward 10 years there's actually going to be no traces of material because we're not going to be doing that sort of thing. All you're going to have is some shout-fest on Close Up, but you won't get a documentary or studio-type discussion."
First launched on TV One in 2006 as The Book Show, revamped with an artfully graffitied set when it moved to TVNZ6 (and later 7), The Good Word invites a panel of celebrity book reviewers to discuss the merits and debate the downsides of a book, a bit like a book club on the box. Novelist Emily Perkins asks famous faces about their favourite books and their thoughts on a chosen weekly title.
Journalist Finlay MacDonald investigates, with the help of the author, the backstories of famous New Zealand books in the mini-documentary series Under the Covers.
The Write Space asks Kiwi writers how their environment and writing tools aid the creative process.
A book show has as much right to taxpayer money as another iconic series, Hogg says.
"If you look at something like Country Calendar, it's been running for 40 bloody years and it's about farms, for god's sake ... I'd argue a show about books and reading and something that's a lot more central to our day-to-day lives than farming should have an ongoing run."
In time for NZ Book Month, this year Hogg's company 3rd Party Productions is also introducing The Good Word Junior, following the success of a similar one-off special last year. It's also an alternative to another regular one-off series, The Good Word Debate.
The four-part series will feature well-read panellists from Ponsonby Intermediate: Sophie Parke, Murdoch Keene and Connie Gregory. Each week they will review lesser-known Kiwi kids' classics such as Elsie Locke's The Runaway Settlers and Maurice Gee's The Halfmen of O.
Teen reporter Frank Talbot will investigate, with a little comedic resistance, the world of libraries, comics and poetry. Guests include Midnight Youth singer Jeremy Redmore and TV presenter and comedian Rose Matafeo.
The last season of The Good Word sees Perkins and panellists Steve Braunias, Gordon McLauchlan, Jennifer Ward Lealand, Carol Hirschfeld, Miriama Kamo, Te Radar and Bill Hastings return to the reviewers' panel. Guests on the final series include publishing consultant and book reviewer Graham Beattie, actor Robyn Malcolm, Metro editor Simon Wilson, painter Jacqueline Fahey - "she's a hoot", says Hogg - photographer Jane Ussher, musician Julia Deans, film producer and distributor Ant Timpson, TV personality and writer Jim Mora and thespian Michael Hurst.
"Michael chose The Golden Ass by Apuleius, translated by Robert Graves and written in 70AD or something," Hogg says. "And I thought, 'Oh, you tosser', but he was hilarious about it and really great. Kevin Milne has chosen Richard Bird in the Bush by Molly Miller Atkinson, that children's book written in the 40s. Jon Toogood [Shihad frontman] naturally chose a fantasy series."
What do you think of the impending lack of television coverage of the arts and books in New Zealand? Should TVNZ and TV3 take up the responsibility? Let us know via email@example.com and we'll print your views in the arts pages next week.
What: The Good Word, the final series
Where and when: TVNZ7, Fridays at 9.05pm; replays Saturdays at 9.05am and 1.05pm; Tuesdays, 9.30pm; Wednesdays, 9.30am and 1.30pm.
What: The Good Word Jr
Where and when: Saturdays at 7.05pm; replays Sundays, 4.05pm, Wednesdays at 6.30pm; Thursdays at 12.30pm.
CORRECTION: This feature, which also appeared in the Weekend Herald's arts section, originally quoted viewer figures for TVNZ7 that were based on an incorrect figure (207,000 a week) provided last year by the office of former Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman. According to Nielsen, TVNZ7 attracted an average monthly cumulative audience of 1.1 million last year. In December, it achieved a record 1.47 million viewers.