Search Browse On This Day Map Quotations Timeline Research Free Datasets Remembered About Contact

Queer TV's uncertain future

Mon 19 Jul 2004 In: Television View at NDHA

The future of queer television in New Zealand still hangs in the balance as TVNZ denies reports of Queer Nation's cancellation, but is unable to provide any timeframe for the show's replacement. Queer Nation's nine-year run will end on TV2 in August. In the meantime, TVNZ has commissioned two pilots for a replacement show. Once these have been completed, the show considered to be the best by both NZ On Air and TV2 will win the slot. Queer Nation has not been asked to submit a pilot. The fate of Queer Nation was sealed at a queer TV symposium held by TVNZ late last year, in which they undertook to develop a proposal brief for other programme makers to tender for the show's replacement. After much delay, this brief was finally released earlier this year, and around 12 companies sent in proposals to the network. Queer Nation boss Johnny Givens says his company, Livingstone Productions, was amongst those to present a proposal to TVNZ. “We proposed something quite different to Queer nation,” he says, “it had its roots in the current programme but was quite different, a significant development away from the current format and quite in line with what their brief asked for. It included more studio content, interactive aspects and lots of the things the network said it wanted." It has emerged that the two “winners” are Bettina Hollings of Imagination Productions; and Cream TV, a company run by a former staffer of Touchdown Productions. Livingstone appeared not to be successful, they were not asked to make a demo pilot programme. However, since's announcement that Queer Nation has been canceled, a spokesman for TV2 has said that Queer Nation could return after all. “We have not told anybody that Queer Nation is canceled, and it could be back on air next year if it is chosen over the two pilots that have been commissioned,” he said. “We are also open to the idea of an extension of Queer Nations current season." TV2 is “strongly committed” to gay programming, but no timeframes were given. At this stage, there is still no firm evidence to suggest that there will be any local gay programming before sometime in the new year, meaning no gay presence on television as the contentious Civil Union and Relationship bills are debated in Parliament, and the very existence of the gay and lesbian population is debated in the mainstream media. This has drawn criticism from social services, producers and other gay media, who have questioned the hiatus as well as TVNZ's commitment to gay programming. Neville Creighton of Auckland's Gay and Lesbian Welfare Centre says they receive calls on a weekly basis from people who have seen Queer Nation and have been prompted to get in touch as a result. He can't understand why TVNZ has allowed a gap in gay programming when other minority groups don't seem to have the same problem with their shows. editor Jay Bennie was with Queer Nation at its very beginnings in 1996. Back then, it was called “Express Report” and was screened on the now-defunct Horizon Television. It was produced in conjunction with Express newspaper, which Bennie was co-publisher of at the time. “It was very important that gay people in New Zealand were represented on TV at that stage,” he says. “The fact that Queer Nation eventually ended up on TV2 was very helpful to a lot of gay and lesbian people and their families, who saw representations of gay and lesbian lifestyles other than the usual stereotypes." The flow-on effect for other gay media was noticeable. Politicians and public figures normally reluctant to talk to the gay press found it hard to resist the allure of television. "It's a shame Queer Nation is disappearing – a damn shame. It's very important right now that our media are as strong as possible. We're facing considerable opposition to the Civil Union bill and to have one of our strongest voices silenced, for even a few months, I think is very disturbing." Queer Nation executive producer John Givins agrees that the programme was a watershed, and says that over the years the show has been “a very proud community programme." "I'm very proud of the work that's been done, and I think that it's been a groundbreaking, award-winning show that has led the world in the area of gay and lesbian television,” he says. “That it's come to an end? Time for a change, time to move on. The fact that other people wish to make a queer programme is a huge change – when we started making the programme there wasn't a lot of competition, it was difficult even to get people to appear on television. I think it's a very healthy sign." But are those other voices going to get a slice of the pie? Some producers spoken to by found TVNZ's process of commissioning laborious, vague, and restrictive. One unsuccessful applicant, who asked not to be identified (TV production is a small and very interconnected world!), says TVNZ did not live up to the promises it made at its queer TV symposium last year. "The symposium seemed to indicate a consultative process, looking at what that community actually wanted, and that was well and good. But it was an incredibly long time after that they actually started asking for proposals, and when they did, they issued a brief that was virtually identical to [youth news show] Flipside. A gay Flipside." Inflexibility is also an issue: “When you read what they were asking to tender for, there was very little room for manoeuvre. You were churning out a generic show format that TVNZ had become fixated on. It gave no room for any of the ideas which may have come up in the forum, it gave no scope to creating a programme that would accurate reflect gay and lesbian life.” After complaints at the symposium that the Queer Nation format had become tired, TVNZ's new brief seemed to some to want little change other than – potentially – the company that would be making the show. There's even a rumour going round that Cream TV, the second successful applicant, will be given money to make a pilot that is, to all intents and purposes, identical to Queer Nation. Cream TV's Derek Stuart disputes this. As the head of production for the three-year-old company, Stuart – who is gay – oversees a staff made up of gays and straights. He is happy with TVNZ's process so far, but is not used to competing in a public arena. He says programme development is usually a private process, and they'd prefer to be able to quietly experiment and take ideas to the network. Currently in a competitive position with Bettina Hollings, Stuart was understandably cagey about providing details of Cream TV's pilot, but was keen to point out some general refinements they would be undertaking. "We're looking to provide a programme that is entertaining and serves the gay community, but take a slightly different approach, maybe with a little more humour, than QN," he says. "In addition we want to bring a little bit of mainstream sensibility to an off-peak programme.” Cream TV's past successes include a number of reality-style programmes including Border Patrol, Coast Watch and Housecalls. Our voluble, anonymous applicant says that TVNZ's revision of the Queer Nation format, as outlined in their proposal brief, was right up Cream TV's street, “but what they [TVNZ] were doing was tweaking it for what they imagine was a TV2-type audience. Trying to creating a more youth magazine show, disregarding the fact that it screens at 11pm on Thursday which is quite a different audience from 5:30 in the afternoon.” This applicant also raised questions about the length of the process. Since the symposium in November last year, two entire series of Jeremy Wells' satirical Eating Media Lunch have been conceived, pitched, developed and screened. If the commitment to queer programming is so strong, what have TVNZ been doing in the intervening months? Events creator and producer Terry Burke, another unsuccessful applicant, also feels the process could have gone a lot quicker. He's prepared to go public with a number of reservations and complaints, especially in light of the fact he was “outed” as an applicant by what could be seen as, at best, a careless mistake by TVNZ in the rejection process. “We got a 2-line email that had everybody's name that got rejected. I heard from two other applicants before I heard from TVNZ," he says. “Up until that point, you didn't know who else had applied until you saw the rejection letter. It was confidential.” Burke finds it hard to understand why, when a producer could see TVNZ executives in person and make a presentation in 15 minutes, a process of written proposals which seemed to take many months to sift through was necessary. "People could have had a chance to talk. Surely you'd want to talk to the producer and director and give them a chance to present their ideas, rather than put it on a bit of paper?" he asks. He questions the network's commitment to queer programming, and – rather provocatively – ponders whether the selection of successful applicants was a case of executives playing the favourites game. “Who they did have correspondence with was all their old friends… these guys are the ones who are in favour. For example, someone like [former Queer Nation researcher/director] David Herkt was never going to be considered, we were all told that." Herkt's involvement in the Jonathan Marshall/TVNZ debacles was always likely to make him an undesirable in TVNZ's eyes, but there is more. heard on the buzzing TV production company grapevine that Bettina Hollings of Imagination TV did not actually put in a proposal of her own volition, that she was asked to by TVNZ. But Hollings herself denies this. "I took the brief off the internet and reacted to it in a unique fashion, in a way that which I hope will move gay and lesbian TV forward,” she says. “I didn't even try to influence the process, I haven't had any direct discussions with TVNZ." Other voices have alleged the uniqueness of Hollings' successful proposal was totally outside the guidelines of TVNZ's brief. Other applicants who suggested changes were told they must stick to the brief if they wanted to be considered. Hollings has a solid background in television. She's worked at TV3 and TV2 “for years”, as well as a year in New York. She's currently “in a committed relationship with a woman”. She cannot divulge details of her pilot at this stage either, but thinks it's a bit rich that someone of her experience is coming under fire from someone who appears to never have made a programme. Although she is correct about Burke insofar as he has no production background, he has had involvement with some of Mikey Havoc's previous TV series, and Havoc's former producers were backing Burke's queer TV proposal. Burke says TVNZ made up the rules as they went along, and then changed them. “If they wanted a pilot, why didn't they ask for one? I could have made a pilot. I don't understand how you can see a TV show idea from a bit of paper. Nobody wants to hear these ideas. I've got a ton of ideas and nobody wants to hear them.” Although NZ On Air and TVNZ made it clear at the symposium that there could be more than one gay programme, and that it didn't have to be restricted to the lifestyle/magazine genre, Burke feels the closed-shop mentality that reigned over Queer Nation's nine-year run is still prevailing, and echoes sentiments from other applicants that nothing was taken on board from the queer TV symposium. He says TVNZ wasn't receptive to ideas for more gay programming in the past because Queer Nation was there already – they apparently didn't want “two dogs in the kennel”. John Givins was certainly under the impression that, after Livingstone's unsuccessful proposal, that his dog had been kicked out of the kennel. Queer Nation was finished and canceled, but he said he was pleased to hear through that TVNZ is open to the idea of the show continuing beyond mid-August as contracted and has started talks with TVNZ about extending the current "fill-in" series to possibly cover the rest of the TV year, which generally ends around November. A final word is perhaps due to the outfit that funds the series with the objective of letting us see "more of New Zealand on air." NZ On Air chief executive Jo Tyndall was firmly in PR mode when spoke to her about the future of Queer Nation and queer TV in general. “We would have to see if an application came before us, at this stage we have received nothing,” she says of Livingstone. "We're working in partnership with TV2 to give other production companies opportunities to develop ideas. We are committed to ongoing funding for gay TV programming." When, and what, will appear on our screens, however, is anybody's guess. - 19th July 2004    


First published: Monday, 19th July 2004 - 12:00pm

Rights Information

This page displays a version of a article that was automatically harvested before the website closed. All of the formatting and images have been removed and some text content may not have been fully captured correctly. The article is provided here for personal research and review and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of If you have queries or concerns about this article please email us