Seven Sharp conjures up fitting epitaph

JANE CLIFTON
Last updated 05:00 04/04/2013
Avalon Studios
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ
AVALON STUDIOS: End of an era.

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What a juxtaposition on Easter Monday: The programme widely derided as the end of public service broadcasting as we know it stages a sentimental farewell to an emblem of the golden age of old-fashioned quality television.

Actually, Seven Sharp did a jolly nice series of items to mark the handing over of Avalon TV studios to its new private owners. It didn't duck the elephant (now rather white) in the room - that state-owned Avalon was deemed surplus to requirements because the state doesn't make much public-service TV any more.

On the contrary, it invited seasoned broadcaster Ginette McDonald to reflect on all the consciously jettisoned TV treasure. Avalon, once a place humming with industry and creativity, had become a virtual mausoleum by the time of its sale.

To a modern sensibility, the old footage was a hoot. The idea of a government-funded, state-of-the- art monster being plonked in suburban Lower Hutt like some massive, block-headed robot overlord seems barmy.

Through the idiosyncratic coincidence of a government starry-eyed about the future of telly and an expansionist local mayor, the Avalon neighbourhood was chosen over more central locations. The then biggest sound stage in the southern hemisphere was built and everyone from politicians to global celebrities to crush-crazed schoolgirls flocked to Lower Hutt to be on or at least near TV Central.

News crews had to hightail it back along the Hutt Rd to make the nightly bulletins.

Friday-night festivities in the Avalon bar were legendary.

The building was big enough for intensive daily magazine programmes and megashows like Telethons to co-exist.

Those old TV bosses could scarcely have foreseen how both politics and technology would progressively empty out their Arthurian castle.

Once it became a state-owned enterprise, it began to shed its public-service responsibilities, citing ratings and profits. In time, it demanded separate funding, even to cover major news events.

Television New Zealand and Avalon faced increasing private competition and TVNZ's bosses deemed Auckland, not Wellington, the new centre of the universe.

Now, on-demand cyber-viewing endangers the notion even of set TV channels, let alone bricks-and- mortar TV empires.

All of which means, among other things, that reporter Jehan Casinader, seen in this farewell coverage as a winningly earnest little boy on an Avalon-made TV quiz show, is the last of his generation to have a memory of state-funded, institutional public service broadcasting.

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Public opinion is divided on whether the end of that era is good or bad, but good on Seven Sharp for honouring its TV whakapapa.

- The Dominion Post

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