It's been the graveyard genre, but homegrown comedy has won the backing of the state broadcaster. LOUISA CLEAVE reports.

TVNZ is pushing ahead with a $1 million-plus television series which New Zealand On Air twice turned down.

The comedy series, called Willy Nilly, stars Mark Hadlow and Sean Duffy as ageing brothers living in the country with a housekeeper after their mother dies.

Hadlow described the show as a Father Ted-type comedy and said it would move New Zealand comedy on from shows which used political satire or relied on one-line jokes.


TVNZ said that although local comedy might seem a "risky genre" it was putting its money behind seven half-hour programmes to screen next year.

NZ On Air gave Willy Nilly's producers $25,000 for script development, and TVNZ matched the amount before the funding agency turned down an application for $1 million to put the series to air.

The eleventh-hour rejection surprised TVNZ, which was told the final project did not meet the potential of its premise.

Shaun Brown, general manager of TV One, said TVNZ went back to NZ On Air with a second proposal to fund the series but was again turned down.

He said the series had not been altered in any way because opinion at TVNZ was that Willy Nilly had a better chance of success than other recent comedies.

"Trying to find a comedy that hits all the right buttons with New Zealand On Air is difficult," he said.

Jo Tyndall, NZ On Air chief executive, said NZ On Air did not have the resources to fund every project.

TVNZ's decision to fund Willy Nilly out of its own pocket was "wonderful news."

"This is the first time in more than a decade that a high-risk genre, such as comedy, has been funded by a broadcaster."

Brown said the commitment to local programming with shows such as Willy Nilly was a result of the new Government focus for TVNZ.

Local comedy had faced difficult times in recent years but TV One and TV2 were making the development of the genre a priority.

"The message has been very clear that we should improve the levels of New Zealand content."

Hadlow credited the new political climate for the change of heart.

"We're sick and tired of seeing crap on television," said the actor.

"Reality television - please! You're not going to tell me reality television is the answer."

He said that Willy Nilly, with an experienced cast and production team, and given the time to develop, had the potential to deliver a new style of local television comedy.

"I guess it's a slightly more sophisticated style of comedy, which I think New Zealanders like."