Fed up with free-to-air TV? Try a new online service, says Nick Grant.

Such is the dearth of new free-to-air shows this week that for several seconds I semi-seriously entertained the idea covering the latest Aussie iteration of The Block, starting tomorrow on TV3. Subtitled Sky High, it involves turning each floor of a rundown hotel into a luxury apartment. Then I remembered I'd rather hire my head out as a hammer than willingly watch yet another competitive home reno show.

Given this has been allotted the insalubrious slot of 4.30pm weekdays, I'm clearly not the only one entirely over this genre.

The week's other debut, Troy, kicks off 7.30pm Wednesday on TV3. Sadly, it's not a new swords-and-sandals series with wooden horses full of vengeful Greeks.

Instead, it's about the stunts and street magic of Troy Von Scheibner. Heavy sigh. Yes, I get the appeal of tricks performed live before your credulous eyes but, given the jiggery-pokery that goes into making a television programme, I fail to feel any wonder when shown sleight of hand on the small screen. So, thanks, but no.


Due to FTA's slim pickings, then, and prompted in part by Telecom announcing its web-based ShowMeTV service, I decided to check out what's currently available in the way of made-for-internet New Zealand shows.

Turns out there are rather a lot and the best place to find many of them conveniently gathered together is a site with the to-the-point, easy-to-remember URL of webserieschannel.co.nz.

The 50-plus shows currently hosted are an eclectic bunch. There's factual content as well as fictitious. Some series have been made by enthusiastic amateurs, and others by screen production professionals "resting" between gigs. A few (Woodville, Hook Ups, The Factory) were bankrolled with money from NZ On Air's Digital Media Fund, but most were made on the sniff of the creators' own oily rags.

Needless to say, the quality is hugely variable and the viewer ratings are unreliable, being a better guide to how motivated the makers are to self-promote than whether their work is much chop or not.

The beauty of these shows, though, is that each episode is almost invariably less than seven minutes long (in other words, about the length of a FTA programme segment before the first ad break), so it doesn't take long to work out if something is for you or not.

To date I've watched some or all of 10 of the site's series, of which I especially enjoyed the following four.

Animated series Crumbs is a parody of cop shows that features a punishing barrage of puns delivered with impeccable timing.

Jungle Fever 2: Primal Fury is the best action-drama starring a banana-addicted monkey puppet you're ever likely to see.

Flat 3 is about three Kiwi-Asian girls living under the same roof and has its focus firmly on being funny rather than providing deep cultural-ethnic analysis.

And finally, my favourite thus far: High Road, a wry comedy with a magnificent Mark Mitchinson as a washed-out rock muso turned community radio DJ and
a stonking soundtrack that serves as a reminder of the redemptive power of rock'n'roll.

So, next time you have a few minutes to kill (while you're waiting for an interminable FTA ad break to end, say), check out webserieschannel.co.nz, a portal that's a portent of things
to come.