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The Outlook so far: Our community reports back

Thu 5 Jul 2007 In: Television View at Wayback View at NDHA

Oliver Hall, Richard Todd and Owen Allison Two episodes of TV2's new late-night foray into our New Zealand LGBT world has shown us Georgina Beyer, a young couple at Christchurch Pride Week, a gay dancing star, a lesbian battling Pharmac over a vital breast cancer drug, a look at the new generation of drag wannabes, and Asian gay men talking about their lives… oh, and bits and pieces from a small publishing office in Ponsonby. In general, the feedback we've heard, verbally and through GayNZ.com's Message Board, has been positive – with a few notable exceptions! There were the predictable concerns about the 11:05pm timeslot and slight out-of-dateness of the content. A few people picked up on the lack of ‘what's on' style news. Many seemed to appreciate the stylish opening credits, and the way the stories were put together – who needs presenters anyway? Even a few who told us they hated it said they'd tune in for more episodes. The show is also now available to download from TVNZ's ‘ondemand' website – a step forward for interested people who missed the broadcasts, but one emailer to us didn't appreciate the cost involved to view it: “I'm disgusted TVNZ's trying to gather revenue by getting us to pay to watch it online. I don't understand why it can't be free to watch ondemand. Wasn't that the point of the new technology? To make these shows more accessable?” TVNZ's official ratings show the audience rose from approximately 60,000 viewers for the first episode to 75,000 for the second, and say they're happy with those figures and the positive feedback they've received. “WE'RE AN OPINIONATED LOT!” “That they're making the programme is fantastic. They've got a high-quality programme that looks really good,” says former Gay Auckland Business Association President Johnny Givins, producer of the now defunct long-running Queer Nation TV series, who caught the first episode. “The first programme had a good range of entertainment and issues, which they dealt with quite sensitively. It looks better, and it's got more substance in it than what I've seen before on some of the other recent shows. I'm pleased we've got our people up there telling our stories. That's always a triumph. “People who I've spoken to about it seem to have enjoyed it. Only one person told me it was dreadful. That's great – we're an opinionated lot!” TV movie critic Steven Grey says the show is well-produced, and a big step up from recent LGBT local shows: “But it's not really made for people in the industry and are fine with their sexuality – I always think these shows are made for innocent young guys sitting in Shitsville.” However: “I think we all need a show that says more than ‘look at this person, look at that person, they're gay and no-one's killed them'. But I think the network won't have that – they still want to treat gay people as freaks who are outside society. So I think the producer had to work within a really difficult plan of what the network wanted. And I think he's done really well.” Documentary-maker Anne Speir says the stories presented were a little too ‘once over lightly' for her taste too. “It's a nice, safe, TV2, happy-clappy little show that mum and dad can watch and not freak out about what the homosexuals are doing. It's on a par with other shows we've had recently, but hasn't missed the mark with its humour so much. Other shows have thought things were funny that we didn't – it was cringe, not laugh.” Speir has specific feedback about the depth of the lesbian battling for her breast cancer drug story. “I didn't want to know more about her illness, I wanted to ask her – was it being a lesbian that gives her the motivation and strength to take on the Government? Did she learn activism in the 70's and now just accepts that's what she does now? " David Herkt sent in a proposal for a new gay show, and from his comments on The Outlook, it seems his programme would have been in a very different style. “A time when we could be entering a new era of Gay TV, just as we are entering a new era of personal identities unshaped by the same degrees of oppression we experienced in the past, The Outlook locks us back there,” he writes. “It's stories of worthy role models, quasi-sub-celebs, earnest events, and unexamined assumptionskeep us back in the unreal world of gay propaganda and outmoded styles. Reality seldom intrudes.The only hint we have of a future for Gay TVis a certain attitude when it comes to the Express component of the series. Despite the lamentable use of NZOA money to promote a private business, there is a sense of intimate and ironic observation here that, if it was applied to real gay life,just might indicate the way ahead for any future gay TV programming in NZ.” EXPRESS DISTRESS? QUESTIONS ANSWERED It's the Express office segments which have got people talking, thinking, and asking us the most questions. Even before the official announcement was made that the show would be about Express, our small community's most vocal media watchers united in anger on the GayNZ.com Message Boards. Many leapt to the assumption that NZ On Air was funding a big weekly advertisement for the small fortnightly newspaper. But what we're seeing so far is more a ‘warts and all' look at what really happens at their Ponsonby headquaters – from issues with wages and debtors, to bars on the windows, to problems keeping staff. Yikes! Anne Speir says she can't take the Express stuff seriously. “If I was the owner of Express, I wouldn't want to be seen publicly chasing up a debt that's a year old.” On his Planet FM show, Ross Stevenson summed up what many others told us – “I sat there thinking that this was an insight into why [former editor] Olly wanted to leave the paper.” Ex-staffers of Express are convinced much of what we've seen of staff meeting on-screen was ‘staged' for the cameras. Producer Glenn Sims wants to set the record straight: “The editorial meetings have been taking place since before we arrived with cameras.I think that some people's opinions on whether these are fact or fiction are based purely on their own past experiences working with the newspaper.Things obviously change within any organisation. “Like all reality and observational documentary shows, we sometimes have to ask for a second take or angle if a story line evolves or an event happens that we think may make it to the final cut of an episode,” he clarifies. GayNZ.com's news stories and recent issues of Express newspaper itself provide some spoilers as to what's coming up on the show – Oliver Hall will leave his role as editor, and Owen Allison will take over. That's all on tape, says Sims. “The ‘Olly leaving' storyline begins to emerge in episode five with his leaving at the end of episode six. “We knew for some time before the official announcement was made that he had decided to leave so we filmed the process from both his and the other staffs' perspective.” So what's it been like to have those cameras in your face? New Express editor Owen Allison admits the filming at work was a struggle for the team initially and that we're seeing that awkwardness in those first few episodes. “Initially it was quite intimidating, but it gets easier and easier. So far, people have been intrigued with the level of reality. They expected things to be glossed over, but they've gone into the cash flow issues, theft, and all sorts of issues. “I've heard some very good feedback, which I didn't necessarily expect. The gay community is notoriously hard to please, and New Zealanders are known for being ‘tall poppy' – they want to cut you off if you're doing well. “But you have to look at everything as an opportunity,” he reflects. “I know it looks pretty raw sometimes. It's fairly low-key at the moment, but it's in episode five that we really rev up and push the boat out.” ‘The Outlook' screens on TV2 Tuesday nights at 11:05pm. No word yet from TVNZ on whether the show will return for more than the initial ten episodes. Matt Akersten - 5th July 2007    

Credit: Matt Akersten

First published: Thursday, 5th July 2007 - 2:09pm

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