Legendary NZ TV Moments

Thingee's Eye and other delicacies  

There's a generation who remember where they were when JFK was shot. These moments punctuate our lives like punctuation. I can even recall some kids wearing black armbands at school when John Lennon was rubbed out. Others can easily recall the place and time when they heard about Diana coming to her full stop in that Parisian tunnel. But where were you when Thingee's eye popped out? For many the answer is simple. "I was watching it on TV."

Even Wikipedia knows our national puppet and describes Thingee as 'a humanoid with large bulbous eyes.' But Thingee wasn't human, far from it. He was actually a duck. One of his creators, TV writer and director Stephen Campbell, told me recently that he was based on some sketches of a duck and that his name was initially just a placeholder while they thought of a better one. Of course they never did.

He began his TV career inside an egg on the set of After School, the show that also gave rise to his human side-kick Jason Gunn. The foetal mallard sat on set for several weeks inside an egg before hatching into an unsuspecting pre-pubescent world. Jason and Thingee then fronted The Son of a Gunn Show in the 1990s and it was there that the bulbous eyed humanoid duck lost one of his eyes live on air. One moment it was staring blankly from his motionless face, the next, well, the rest is history. It really is a gem and some consider it to be the moment that this country truly became a nation. No offence to Gallipoli.

The moment was such a taonga that it featured each week in the title sequence to a show I worked on called Eating Media Lunch, which, like this collection was a kind of celebration of our television culture, although more often than not it was an unkind celebration. We were also lucky enough to retain the services of Thingee and his handler, Alan Henderson for several episodes of The Unauthorised History of New Zealand. Both were charming company — however the 'duck' was a tad boorish after a few drinks.

The reverse was true of Bob Jones: delightful company even after several vinos, in fact even more so. He was a regular guest on the shows and also featured in the title sequence along with reporter Rod Vaughan; the man whose bloody face is also etched onto our collective cathode. Jones was fly-fishing in a secluded spot near Taupo when Rod arrived via helicopter to ask him some questions, as reporters do, but Bob wasn't having a bar of it.

Rod was also a guest on EML, and generously talked us through the bloody encounter. It was all rather like a boxing match where both victor and vanquished came out shining — the man stalked by the media doing what most of us would want to do, and the reporter doing his job and getting 'the shot', which in this case was his own face covered in blood.

The late great and hated, Sir Robert Muldoon was a master of magic moments and two of my favourites are represented here. The so called 'schnapps election' clip is unrivaled as a piece of political archive. I like to imagine David Attenborough narrating the scene: "As the pack surrounds the wounded leader, he lashes out, but to no avail, this will be his last winter."

There's something Orwellian about the great leaders interview with Simon Walker. Muldoon seems to be scowling from inside what looks like a 21" Pye Vidmatic. Big Brother is not only watching, he's practically frothing at the mouth.

There's something captivating when great minds clash and John Pilger v Kim Hill is one of the greats. It's also a 'shoe on the other foot' moment as it's usually Kim Hill who dishes out the bash to unwitting or under-prepared subjects. To watch this clip is to enter an alternative universe where Kim Hill is guilty of 'not reading enough'. Both lose their rags and Kim throws a book. Magic.

John Campbell and Mark Sainsbury are all well and good but has either of them resolved a labour strike on air? Not likely but Brian Edwards has.

Live on air he brought a post office strike to a happy conclusion. He also invented Fair Go, and it's rumoured, though not confirmed, that he once sported a perm much like Graham Thorne, who's magnificent spiral-shaped mane was once the talk of a nation that was still decades away from having to deal with the Prime Minister poncing about at the Big Gay Out.

This collection is O for Awesome, and wouldn't be complete without that famous moment from Wheel Of Fortune. Legend has it that while very good at beating the bejesus out of people, champion boxer David Tua isn't exactly a linguist, hence the 'O for Oarsome' moment. But Tua has another explanation. He may have picked a vowel instead of consonant, but he argues what he actually said was: "O for Olsen" (referring to Olsen Filipaina, the league player).

Regardless, it remains a treasure that has its rightful place along with such great phrases as "You're not in Guatemala now Dr Ropata" and Police 10-7's "Blow on a pie". But like Leeza Gibbons and Chris Quinten, some things are not meant to be. The stars (of Entertainment This Week and Coronation Street) met and pashed on Telethon but it didn't last. Much like Melody Rules and genetically modified corn; the former a much-unloved sitcom that has become legendary for all the wrong reasons and the latter, the corn, was something that nearly brought down a government and caused Helen Clark to famously label the previously cuddly John Campbell as 'that little creep.'

It's a term that was often bandied about in relation to our most famous little creep, Paul Holmes, though in this collection he is certainly outdone by American yachting curmudgeon Dennis Conner. The whole thing was a set-up of course, designed to launch the Holmes show into our homes, which it most certainly did. Ratings and outrage followed.

Before I invoke the Goodnight Kiwi to close this commentary, I would like to suggest that the infamous Gofta Awards aren't the worst awards show we've ever had but the very best. It's true that the night was an unmitigated shambles but it remains the only awards show that rewards repeat viewing.

Sadly the fallout from the night is still felt at awards shows held to this very day, where drinks are cruelly kept in short supply until after the ceremony is finished. The spectre of the Goftas is very real and haunts organisers in the same way the Titanic haunts sea-captains. I have actually heard a wowserish organiser mutter those immortal words as they ejected me from behind the bar, "We don't want another Goftas on our hands."