COW TV (2004 – Part 2)

The poster for the show... "We're Back Violating Your Television"

The poster for the show… “We’re Back Violating Your Television”


Continued from part 1.

So I turned up on the following Monday evening to Channel 9. As I mentioned last time, the station is located in the Allied Press building – home of the Otago Daily Times. Allied is currently the only remaining independent newspaper company left in NZ, and had taken full ownership of Channel 9 after it faced financial problems in 2002. This meant that for most all of my time at the company, the station never spent money it didn’t have to. Regional television is done bare bones, smell of an oily rag most of the time… but this generally means the people that come out of working from it really do well with challenges. The station itself is on the top floor of the building, floor 3, and you either took the full set of stairs up or crammed yourself into what is likely to be the world smallest elevator.

Once you’re inside there is a reception area with no receptionist, just a TV showing the current on air material from the station and some couches. At the time I first arrived, the News team was in the front area with the sales people. The office behind that was the production managers, who at the start of 2004 was Dan Wright – who’d been there since 2001. Beside that a large office for the station manager, Keith Collins. Then two edit suites, one analogue tape-to-tape, used mostly by the news guys and a digital suite with two computers running Adobe Premiere.

The Channel 9 station logo and slogan, which used to be at the end of the main hallway.

The Channel 9 station logo and slogan, which used to be at the end of the main hallway.

Behind this area was the old CowTV room, then used for random storage. Beside that a tape store, and then beside that a large space that was the new Cow office… the “Cow hole” I believe I mentioned previously. The other areas in the floor included the studio space, and a moderately small control room with vision desk, three tape machines, Grass Valley switcher, sound desk, and a rack of broadcast equipment that should have probably had it’s own room but never did.

My intent was to do a great job being part of the studio crew, hopefully jump on a camera and show I felt confident as a camera operator, and show my enthusiasm for the work. When I arrived, I was instructed to help setup both the remaining pieces of the set not yet out and the camera equipment. The studio space was surprisingly not as big as I had expected, having not seen it when I originally visited. I’d seen plenty of COW and also the local news, and straight away remembered that things always generally look larger on camera. Half of the studio was taken up full time by the news desk, the other half was where every other production was made at the station. The split was made by two doors on either side – one which went out to the front offices, the other intro the control room. Of the half of the non news space, COW used up half of this space again for the set, and half or so (spilling slightly back into the news area) for a 3 camera setup for the hour of live content. The studio was probably only 4×8 meters square in total size.

My first notice aside from the studio of things was that, while it was still a hive of activity with a number of people around, there certainly wasn’t as many people as had been there the start of the previous week. There was also a few new faces that I didn’t recognize, some people from the meeting, and a few I did simply as they’d who’d been working on the show the last year or so – mostly presenters. Also floating around was Dan Wright, who was Channel 9’s production manager as I mentioned, who I’d never talked to until that point. I had a quick chat with him between setting stuff up, and found him quite an easy to talk to and laid back guy. He seemed to be good friends with some of the crew around, people who’d he’d obviously been working with the last few years.

Those people who’d been around previous years and Dan gave instructions, and so I listened and tried to do or otherwise copy what they were doing. I was spending most of my time setting up Camera One. This was going okay, until I managed to insert the external camera monitor cable into a different plug location. As the camera cables were bundled and already in (power supply, gen lock/picture and reference sets), the power was provided to both front and rear of the camera, and I’d already switched both on being told that was okay… and not knowing this would happen. And so this tripped an internal circuit breaker… meaning the camera was still powered on but nothing would seemingly function including sending out a picture.

As I was providing that feed already into the control room once the power was on, and they’d seen the picture short out… from the control room doorway came this pale dark haired character who proceed to yell at me, tell me I was very stupid, and that I should go home. He proceeded to turn everything off on the camera, flick a tiny hidden switch under the camera which reset the breaker, and then proceeded to finish setting up the camera… give me a glance, and then stomp out.

A voice cut across the room. “Don’t mind him, that’s just Wayne… he’s like that with all the new people.” I didn’t know him at all, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to but I was reassured that I should just carry on. Later I would get to know Wayne… and he was a real crack up. The first few months of 04 he was holding the station together and was under a lot of stress, little sleep, and long hours. He was seemingly difficult and when I had to work with him on actual projects I didn’t know how I would deal with him. In later years when I got to know him better, we’d joke around a lot and I counted on him a lot for helping me with his never ending technical know how. He’d later finally leave Channel 9 in 2006 and eventually moved to TV3 in Auckland, where from what I’ve been told he’s basically just become the same technical guru for them as he was for Channel 9.

Part of the Channel 9 control area. From left to right - Barry, Dan, and Wayne.

Part of the Channel 9 control area. From left to right – Barry, Dan, and Wayne.

Back to that first night though…. intending not to make anymore mistakes, I planned to moved on and just do what I could.

We found that the set of lights in the studio were numerous but old. They were all more or less locked into a general position but could all be turned around with the trusty lighting stick or by climbing up a ladder and positioning them. A call went out for people with lighting experience, and I put my hand up… along with another fellow. We ended up chatting and working out our respective “lighting history.” His name was Ivan Larsen, originally from Levin, and just moved to Dunedin to study medicine at Otago University.

Ivan had done a lot of lighting, sound and tech stuff mostly for school shows, and he had far more experience than I had while I was at film school. I’d done two days of studio work which mostly had us looking over lighting plans. The rest of my lighting experience was just from 3 point light setups for interviews, which was ironically good enough to help out because basically that’s more or less how we were lighting this set – aside from a giant fill light above the door to the control room.

Ivan Larsen on sound duties, looking like a filthy bad man.

Ivan Larsen on sound duties, looking like a filthy bad man.

Between us we went around adjusting lights, having presenters or other people sit in the seats, looking at getting it even, that it wasn’t too harsh or in eye-lines. After a half hour or so, a few placement adjustments, cutting some lights, and some gel/spun work – we’d got it sussed. By then more or less the rest of the studio was set, with mics and cameras all in place. I got to call for a camera position, #3 – one of the close ups. Cam called a meeting and we discussed stuff and did a little bit of rehearsal, probably one of the only ones we ever did that year, just so people could get a feel for the show.

The presenters were Matt and Sasha, both from the previous year. Matt was generally open and funny, Sasha was mostly quiet. As a combo onscreen it generally worked, for some odd reason… both talked fine, they were opposites in backgrounds and seemingly balanced it out. If Matt was over the top, then Sasha was the straight-man… or woman as it was. Two 2003 segment presenters, Jim Bush and Rob Dixon were also around, having been filming flat raids and other things during Orientation. They would be on and off the show during the year based on what they were doing outside the show.

The presenter audition night. Sasha is behind the Cow desk. Matt, in tan, Cam in blue. Tony on the ground getting a shot ready to come back to.

The presenter audition night. Sasha is behind the Cow desk. Matt, in tan, Cam in blue. Tony on the ground getting a shot ready to come back to.

Supporting them in doing the “Night and Day News” segment was Hamish Coleman-Ross, also another last year veteran. Although I think if Hamish was there that night at all, he wasn’t there for long. Hamish’s then girlfriend Victoria Rushton was probably also wasn’t, though later on she often did work on the sound desk. Barry Findley was directing, he’d been doing the show for a while, and was in almost every night to do this. I think William Miller, who was then this young kid was also around, he just wanted to help out and ended up in the control room most of the time (If he wasn’t put in a giant cow suit which had been made). And there was Tony Pratt, who was often the main camera 1 operator and who was on “handheld” for good chunks of the show. Tony and I would usually end up working together on a lot of studio shows, tag teaming the camera work around the static #2 wide cam. The rest of the guys running around were mostly friends of Cam’s who were involved in early shoots, including John Day who’d done heaps for Cam during Orientation – who I’d end up working with a few years later somewhere else entirely. He now does the Sports news for the Rock FM radio station morning show.

The other person that came in for camera in the early days was Harley Neville. Harley was well known for doing a segment in 2003 called ‘Cow’s Rear End’ and mostly was dumb and/or gross stunts that would have fit in with Jackass or similar. The story for why Harley got in trouble for this is better left for another post, but he wasn’t supposed to be allowed to make new content for the show… but Cam had somehow convinced Keith to allow him come work on the show floor at least.

Then as my memory is, I don’t remember much who else was there… and aside from glaring gaps – there was a simple reason probably. It turns out that the promotion of “work” there meant lots of people turned up, as I’d seen the previous week, but the drop off rate was quite high. Between people realizing it’s not at all paid, or could be a while before they’re going to get paid work, as well as students not really having time for it and realizing this, or the simple fact people can’t volunteer every day. This would later work to the advantage of anyone who stuck around – including my own – and was probably a bigger factor than me just doing ‘awesome work’.

The first show went off almost without a hitch. As the week went on I helped on a few small segments, but turned up for every show. By later in the week I got to do some handheld segments and shots, and felt like every day when I came in I was contributing to the show. By show 5 on the Friday, Hamish did a special on party pills mixed with alcohol, and I can still clearly remember getting an extreme close up of his eye which we cut to showing the effect you could see on his face as well as a “party” zone with a smoke machine and strobe light, that the entire cast and some of the other studio crew was in by the end of the night.

In studio the following weeks, later in March, we had a “be a cow presenter” comp, people had auditioned during Orientation and came in. Out of it the show got a new host in Anna Hegarty, who was already friends with some of the guys anyway including Cam, John, and others; and Rob Jackson. Rob lost the presenter challenge by a small margin but hung around to help on the show. Later on in the year Anna took off overseas, and so Rob filled in the presenter position he’d originally gone for.

Anna interviews a guy they found busking outside the Countdown supermarket.

Anna interviews a guy they found busking outside the Countdown supermarket.

I’d started an advertising design course at Aoraki Polytechnic, which was a 2 minute walk from Allied’s building, to up my graphic abilities. I’d done this as I’d found I’d enjoyed making graphics for edits the previous years, when most students were just using basic text in the films. My course normally finished mid-afternoons (and at lunch time once a week on Fridays) so within a few weeks in I started popping in after this time.

By doing so I began helping out on going out and shooting segments… and without knowing a new chapter began already…

To be continued once more…

2 thoughts on “COW TV (2004 – Part 2)

  1. Pingback: COW TV (2004 – Part 3) | Strange Metallic Baby

  2. Pingback: COW TV Retrospective | Strange Metallic Baby

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