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Sky TV rescues TVNZ's Back Benches

Rumours confirmed. UPDATED with NZ on Air funding.

Chris Keall
Thu, 13 Sep 2012

UPDATE Sept 12: Sky TV has confirmed rumours that TVNZ7 show Back Benches will get a new life on Prime TV.

NZ on Air has funded 20 episodes of the show, which will screen on Sky's free-to-air channel Prime from early next year, with repeats on the Sky TV-only Heartland

Sky TV will also part-fund the series.

NZ on Air told NBR it would chip in $629,187 toward the 20 episodes, or $31,459 per episode.

Back Benches - a political panel show set in a pub - went down with the ship when TVNZ canned TVNZ7 as government funding expired mid-year.

The state broadcaster caused ill feeling when it deleted most TVNZ7 show from its ondemand service, citing storage costs.

Sky TV did not immediately respond to a query about whether the reanimated Back Benches would be freely available for streaming from the net.


Sky TV exec eyes TVNZ7's Back Benches

Friday June 15: Sky TV is looking at takiing on TVNZ7 show Back Benches, NBR ONLINE understands.

If taken under Sky's wing, Back Benches would appear on its free-to-air-channel, Prime.

The rumour comes a day after another of TVNZ7's A-list shows, Media7, was picked up by TV3 under a deal that includes $491,000 in NZ On Air funding (or just under $25,000 per episode).

"Prime has looked at Back Benches, at Tony O'Brien's instigation," a source close to the situation told NBR.

Mr O'Brien is Sky TV's lobbyist. He could see taking on a TVNZ7 show as helping to draw increasing political heat away from the pay TV provider.

However, a Back Benches move to Prime is no done deal.

Mr O'Brien and his wife attended last week's filming of the show, which took place at the Britomart Country Club in Auckland (usual venue the Backbencher pub in Wellington having suffered fire damage).

The show - which features host Wallace Chapman grilling a panel of guest politicians in front of beer-chugging audience wrangled by Damian Christie - is often raucous.

"Tony seemed to find it all a bit uncivilised," says the source.

The Sky TV man did seem to be open a second opinions, however. He and his wife were accompanied by media power couple Bill Ralston and Janet Wilson.

Mr O'Brien did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Save TVNZ7 campaign hears whispers
Myles Thomas of Save TVNZ 7 says he has heard whispers of commercial networks circling the network's most popular shows (TVNZ7 is due to be replaced by a repeats channel on June 30 as its time-limited funding granted under Labour expires).

“Non-commercial and public service television channels make ideal breeding grounds for innovative programmes like Media 7. It’s great to see the programme continue beyond the impending death of TVNZ 7," Mr Thomas said.

The campaigner welcomed Media7's shift to TV3.

“This is exactly as it should be. The greatest talents start out on the margins such as Sir Peter Jackson with Braindead, the Back of the Y boys on Triangle/Stratos and countless TV and Radio personalities who started their broadcasting careers at BFM,” said Mr Thomas.

“We just hope that the shows reborn out of TVNZ 7’s unfortunate demise get aired in primetime where audiences can enjoy them.”

Chris Keall
Thu, 13 Sep 2012
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Sky TV rescues TVNZ's Back Benches