So after my return from Wellington at the end of 2004 I had, as mentioned in my last post months ago, decided I would make a return to Channel 9. Hopefully to both continue to help with COW TV as well as hopefully pick up more work from the station. In mid Jan, I walked back into Allied Press and popped back up to the usual haunt that was the station. When I got in I popped into the news room, where I saw some of the familiar reporting team. I then was told there was a new, yet also old, Production Manager I should pop by and see if I planned to make my return.
I popped down the hall and knocked on the door to introduce myself, and was met by a woman. This was Charlotte Young. Charlotte had been at Channel 9 earlier in it’s life, when it was independent and had much more cash flow prior to it’s collapse in 2002 that Allied Press bailed it out of. As she was due to have a child, her role currently as the Production Manager was only temporary until later in the year. When I first arrived I had to explain my background of having been there the previous year. I think it felt like I was pitching myself as just walking in the building off the street and asking to have a camera put in my hand. But once she realized I wasn’t just talking myself up and did know people there and what was happening at the station things seemed to go a bit smoother.
As much as Charlotte was fine in the production management role, she did make a couple of choices related to COWTV for the year that would end up biting some of the crew in the ass later. This will be explained in more detail as we go on. In any case I was told by her that a producer was being considered from an advertised role over the holidays and that she’ll get back in touch. She mentioned the show was being reduced to 3 x 1 hour shows down from the 5 we had the last year (now Mon, Wed, Fri) as well this year might include a paid role or two of production assistants in the budget due to the reduced episodes, at least for the first couple of months, which I was hopeful of getting. Otherwise if I could be available again for news work I’d gladly be made use of.
With the hope that I could get that paid work for with COW on top of the news, I managed to make some time to pop by the Student area of town and visit past both Callum as well as Hamish who lived down the street from each other. After chatting with Callum for a half hour or so, I popped by to see Hamish. He had last years presenter Rob Jackson around sleeping in his window seat, as he’d just returned early from some Orchard work in Central Otago with no place to live. I told Hamish about my experiences in meeting Charlotte, and he reiterated a similar experience of showing her previous Night and Day News bits with little expectation he’d be picked up for any work, especially as a main presenter for 2005, earlier the same week. It was then Hamish dropped an idea that if he wasn’t a presenter he’d breaking off to do his own show independently, which he had already dubbed ‘Studentville’. His idea was to produce it himself and then broadcast it on Channel 9 as well as other regional stations possibly if he could, and get Rob Jackson and maybe I involved in presenting and shooting respectively.
It’s worth noting here, something I didn’t mention about about 2004 was, the OUSA (Otago University Students Association) ended up paying for and producing their own half hour show called Scarfie TV during the year which once a week (well three times, as it replayed twice after it’s original screening each week) at 9.30pm before COWTV, for about 12 or so weeks of the year. The show’s production was included people I would later work with. But at the original launch time the straight news and info show was a contrast to the usual irreverence we took at COW. Being made also by mostly volunteers or low paid staff the production had also had problems and was often late in arriving before broadcast, and during it’s first or second week Hamish had made quite a bit of a thing about it for a Night and Day news segment. So I thought it was kinda funny that he might approach this issue himself producing yet another show (It’s worth noting ScarfieTV later made a return later in 2005 as a 10 episode production that screened as a 7-8 minute segment actually within COWTV once a week).
Of course his reason for this was if the new producer was underwhelmed with his chance at being a presenter he could go off an do something different. So once this person was chosen, Hamish went and pitched himself heavily again with his history of the news segment to be a main presenter for the year. He would eventually get his wish and would be named as one of the presenters for the year, meaning ‘Studentville’ was no longer a thought. Rob considered a return himself, but aside from turning up at random episodes, as the year went on he lacked further interest in COWTV – and mostly for a specific reason which will become obvious. At the same time once I’d heard from him a producer was in place (Charlotte never got in touch with me), I made sure I stopped by to meet this new showrunner for COW.
Sarah Andrews was chosen by Charlotte as the producer for the 2005 year. Sarah’s background was from CPIT in Christchurch where she did 3 years of TV production study. She was also a sales person who had a decent background in sales for both radio and print I believe. The catch was she lived in Balclutha, which was over an hour and a half south of Dunedin, and so she definitely wasn’t surrounded by Student Culture. Nor recently in her life either having been there for a number of months. And so certainly not by living well out of town. These issues probably should have been a clue to how things would go for the rest of the year, but at the time I didn’t think much of it. This was a bad mistake.
I pitched myself for helping out on the show and what sort of things the history of the show was prior to her inclusion, as she only had limited experiences of the show near it’s beginning in 1999. Again, this should have been a clue. Instead of me going into detail here about issues, I’ll just short list some of the things I did in the following weeks. Firstly, even though I pitched myself well and did support Sarah’s work by knowing the equipment and production requirements in Channel 9 – Charlotte hired someone who’d barely ever been in the studios, let alone worked there, as Sarah’s support production person. Ironically I knew this person from Aoraki and was good friends, but they didn’t have the production knowledge of the show and station and people like Hamish and myself ended up still filling the gaps of knowledge frequently. There was a comment made by many at the station at the time, both male and female, that Charlotte created a girls club at the Nine in hiring more women into paid roles. I don’t have a problem with hiring women at all personally, provided they’re going to do the job right. Sadly while the person I knew from Aoraki ended up being an asset when they caught up on how the place worked… Sarah’s future certainly didn’t do well for Charlotte’s choice at the start of the year.
Secondly, over the first few weeks we answered every question Sarah gave us and then assisted in shooting hours of footage, only to have her eventually turn it around into weird montages with no story or content, and then otherwise ignore or change everything about the show. As a producer she had this right if there was paid staff in place everywhere, but the show was so involved into it’s presenters and crew producing content for nothing this was a tough pill to swallow for a lot of people, myself included.
On that front, both third and finally, good will and history provided the show with a decent number of returning crew – people like Barry, Victoria, Ivan, Callum, Will, etc. beyond myself. Also Anna Hegarty also returned briefly at the start of the year to present, but more or less vanished as the weeks went on. She was also provided with both new crew (including people who’d be there almost every night like Bert Holmes and Ryan McMahon) and a string of amazing new presenters including Jez Brown, Helen O’ Leary, Tineille Charteris, Joe Hackshaw, Ben Wallace and Hamish of course. But as those weeks would go on both hosts and volunteers would seemingly be treated much more unappreciated than the level of praise leaped upon by Cam and Matt the previous year. Again, this was confusing because they helped make the show work yet Sarah had no concept of how this made her job easier.
At the time though I didn’t quite notice it straight away, it was the slow level of decent that went on over the coming weeks and months… but I think by Easter I’d begun to noticed how much negative comment there had been, and by May I was certain things weren’t going as well as I’d hoped myself…