A conversation between 2 librarians on their first session at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival Books on the Box (a panel discussion about TV book programmes, featuring Hamish Keith, Hermione Lee and Colin Hogg, and chaired by Noelle McCarthy).
Donna: Well that was a riproaring and fighting start. What was your favourite bit?
Joyce: Noelle’s shoes – her two tone shoezies were fab (editors note: they were pink and gold and very high) but the vibrant green earrings were plain wrong.
Donna: Fashion aside, I liked Hamish Keith’s fighting spirit, defence of the elderly and hatred for people meters. They all seemed to agree that book and arts coverage on tv is in a pretty bad way and the advertising buck is king.
Joyce: I enjoyed Colin Hogg’s more laid back attitude. He’s accepting of the status quo but positive that
digital channel options will gives the arts another forum (albeit embryonic at this stage). He is currently in talks to produce a book show on Channel 6 and already presents Talk Talk on the arts.
Donna: The audience for this talk was thin but enthusiastic and included some of their targets – the programmers at TVNZ.
Joyce: Hermione Lee described herself as the moa bird – she presented Book Four on Channel 4 back in the olden days (from 1982).
Donna: She had some wicked guests man – John Fowles, Angela Carter, Roald Dahl, Umberto Eco, and even Dick Francis and Len Deighton so not just high brow.
Joyce: Don’t forget Norman Mailer, Iris Murdoch, Peter Carey, Alice Walker, Germaine Greer and Milan Kundera.
Donna: That’s hot! I wonder if there is still footage of those interviews around, maybe on youtube?
Joyce: All the panellists lamented the loss of the non-commercial channel and despaired at the downward spiral and dumbing down. Now instead of Channel Four hosting The book show, Lee tells us that the channel has Big Brother, Gordon Ramsay and recently promoted “wank week”. But there were no real answers to the dearth of quality mainstream programming for the arts in New Zealand. Hamish Keith thought we should pick up our pitchforks and head to the Beehive in protest. Colin Hogg in a characteristically laconic way said “tune into digital”.
Donna: Hamish was a fiesty gentleman. I liked how he said the making of “The Big Picture” was thwarted constantly by Taniwha Dumb and Taniwha Dismal. And the conversation turned to Talking heads (not the David Byrne band). Hermione thought “There’s something sexy about the talking head” – if the author is interesting enough it can be a fascinating thing to watch. You get to see their thought process in action and dig deeper in a longer interview format. Milan Kundera was interviewed in French with subtitles and this could have been alienatingly artsy but he came out with gems like “if you have tears in your eyes (when you’re writing ) you can’t see clearly”. Hermione is quite quotable – she also said that “Thinking is sexy”.
Joyce: She hit the nail on the head when she said books only become big news once a year in the UK when the Man Booker Prize rolls in. Any other arts coverage within the mainstream media is reported as a quirky or end of programme joke story.
Donna: Hamish Keith said something about the whole winning thing becomes a story … like Lloyd Jones. It becomes a sports story like he is a racehorse or the All Blacks.
Joyce: It becomes a NZ pride thing, not about literary merit.
Donna: Hamish also raised the point that various surveys put reading at the top of NZers recreational activities so why doesn’t tv capture that? I hate how the news always has so much sports news when I only care about Formula One and not everything else. How come the arts and books don’t get such good coverage when more people are supposedly interested in them?
Joyce: (arching a sceptical eyebrow) Do you think people are truthful when they say they read?
Donna: Maybe they are counting reading the newspaper?
Joyce: Well Colin Hogg thinks tv should be like a newspaper – your headlines, sports, arts, international news etc – something for everyone. But the writing’s on the wall – it won’t all be on the same mainstream channel.
Donna: No they talked about “hiving” arts things off, sort of ghettoizing them so they all hang out on some channel by themselves … it kind of separate the arts from other entertainment.
Joyce: And yet how many books have fuelled movies and tv shows?
Donna: Is there a quote or a final impression you’d like to give? I’d say Hamish Keith saying “Throw away your people meters what have you got to lose”. And you?
Joyce: “Don’t hold out on me Doris”