COMMENT



If I could just have your attention please, I'd just like to say a few words on this solemn occasion. It's a sad day when we have to mark the death of local television drama. The loss of Mercy Peak so soon after the passing of Street Legal and The Strip has left a hole in our hearts, and our schedules, and I know many of you are suffering, especially those within the industry who were so gainfully employed.



Your brethren at Shortland Street feel for you.



I know many of you may be wondering why successful shows that had really begun to establish themselves with strong storylines, sympathetic characters and high production values were so cruelly cut off at the knees.

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I can't answer that, only the Makers know why, although I do suspect that the cruel God of ratings, Tangata Mita, may have been involved.



We also know from our experience with Being Eve, that scheduling can strike nails in coffins. You would have thought that a series which was judged our best drama in 2002 and which won silver and gold Teen Awards in New York, indeed nearly won an International Emmy, would have merited another series, but of course, the Saturday 5pm time slot was a killer.



Similarly, Mercy Peak's time of 8.30pm on a Friday was a harsh call, and the decision not to do any advertising for the programme in its final season was chilling. When it comes to local TV drama as a whole, it's also possible that TVNZ was following its sacred tenet: If it ain't broke, we'll try to fix it anyway.



I would like to take a moment to look back, however. In just 60 episodes, Mercy Peak was a fully realised world in a small town. Sure, there may have been occasional earnestness — the self-castrating paedophile springs to mind — but its strengths were the subtle interplay of characters' lives and themes combined with careful and clever scripts.



In Street Legal we had a genre series with an original premise: the conflict between lawyers and police. It was a series that successfully competed in prime time with the best of the US shows, with all their might and money. It had a good car, too. And what can we say about The Strip? Well, if "saucy" were a series, it was The Strip.



If nothing else, these series showed that we can make quality television. Sadly, the industry now has to start from scratch, creating new worlds, writing new words for new actors and winning over an audience that was comfortable with what it had.



Please spare a thought for the survivor of this tragedy, Shortland Street, which battles on brilliantly in a desolate world of reality shows about houses, animals and planes.



And what of the future? There are some flickering signs of life, although who knows when the patient will be revived. That rare species of Kiwi television has been sighted: comedy. However, it's possible that so unusual is this occurrence, the series Serial Killers will be half-buried in the television schedules so as not to frighten anyone.

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It's also unclear when and where the new drama series The Insiders' Guide to Happiness will appear on the horizon. We live in hope. So ladies and gentlemen, please charge your glasses and be upstanding and let's drink a toast to local television drama. It may be some time before we see the likes of it again.