The teams were already hammering and bickering away on their Point Chevalier townhouses when The Block was halted two weeks into its 2020 shoot.
The scaffolding still remains abandoned on that television construction site.
Kiwi TV productions collectively downed tools on March 25 as Covid-19 lockdown had directors scrambling to adapt their film sets to a socially-distanced world.
Ten months on, the Herald has spoken to TVNZ and Discovery [formerly MediaWorks] to find out which of their locally-produced and internationally-sourced TV shows have adapted to set a 2021 return.
Warner Bros New Zealand co-managing director Mike Molloy says the hugely successful reality TV franchise The Block will have an oddly seamless return to Discovery.
“We were two weeks into a 12-week shoot and we expect to be shooting [again] early in 2021,” Molloy said.
“TV3 [Discovery] decided that they’d rather suspend it – that’s their decision. So we locked up the houses which are part-built over at Pt Chev.”
Molloy is fairly hopeful none of the carefully-vetted aspiring property tycoons will have to be recast either.
“We keep them informed [of the filming start date], and we see where we end up,” Molloy says.
“Whatever month it is : February, March, April or May. We’ll find a date and then work with our talent and hopefully they’ll all be back, and if not, we’ll find a way.”
Discovery NZ general manager of New Zealand and Australia Glen Kyne confirmed the ninth season of The Block NZ will be “same teams, same houses – and with the production halt all caught on film which will resonate with our viewers.”
Kyne was not so definitive about their other big reality hit Dancing with the Stars making a 2021 return but said “planning is underway… and we will be making further content announcements so watch this space.”
The other big delay Warner Bros had to contend with was a shut down of the filming of Black Hands, the David Bain story, during Level 4 in March and April. But the production company was still able to deliver it for TVNZ to broadcast in November.
TVNZ director of content, Cate Slater, said the locally produced TVNZ programmes that don’t have a guaranteed return date are those dependent on an open international border.
“Border Patrol was probably an obvious one which, when there’s no activity at the border, becomes challenging to make,” Slater said.
“Celebrity Treasure Island was set to shoot in Fiji and that obviously wasn’t going to be able to happen.
Slater said an Aotearoa version was shot instead and it will go out this year.
An adapted New Zealand version of Travel Guides, which typically follows different groups of travellers on international journeys, was also in the works.
“The format is usually travelling to international destinations, but we thought it was an incredible opportunity to showcase our own backyard,” Slater said.
The impetus for TVNZ stalwart Shortland Street to remain on screens meant they were back filming on the first day of Level 3 in late-April.
“They had done that prep work during Level 4, to know exactly what they needed to do,” Slater said.
“They had cast doing their own make-up and hair, reduced their crew sizes, they had boxes marked out on the dressing room floors to make sure all the crew and cast were remaining socially-distanced.
“They adjusted their camera angles to be able to shoot in more creative ways.”
But overseas programming guarantees could not be given by either TVNZ or Discovery.
“The impacts of Covid on international content has varied – many US dramas produced fewer episodes . . . and we expect this to continue in 2021,” Kyne said.
“We have also experienced delays with the delivery of upcoming US content, for example new seasons of 9-1-1, The Rookie and NCIS are all premiering later than usual on their respective US networks.
“The benefit to Three is that there will be a shorter window in bringing them to NZ fans.”
TVNZ assured new episodes of The Chase were now being delivered.
Both Coronation Street and Home and Away both cut their weekly delivery of episodes to TVNZ in half, but are back up to capacity.
Australian versions of Ninja Warrior and Lego Masters were locked in for Discovery in 2021.
Notable overseas content broadcast on TVNZ that delayed their 2020 start date include Grey’s Anatomy (November delay), The Walking Dead (October delay). Both Britain’s Got Talent and The Voice UK jumped from audition episodes to the finals after a Covid-19 hiatus.
A TVNZ spokesperson said the biggest impact on 2021 overseas shows is there won’t be any completely new titles to pick up from the US market because it didn’t have its regular pilot season.
The great unknown for Kiwi TV in 2021 is the staggering library of programming that US documentary network Discovery has to draw from – which it is committed to expanding to local Kiwi production.
“Globally, our business has an annual spend of approximately $6 billion on content which totals about 8000 hours of original programming,” Kyne said.
“This focus now includes the New Zealand market and we remain absolutely committed to the production of news and local content.”
But a positive of Covid-19 shutdown is it has bolstered Kiwi production out of necessity.
Molloy says it is “better than ever”.
“It is bumper, it’s come back very impressively. We’re very happy with what we’re looking at after a tough few months,” he said.
“I think as well as limited overseas programmes, it’s also because what works is local. You bring in some Aussie stuff and that might rate half as high, then stuff from somewhere else will rate a quarter as high. New Zealand TV works for New Zealanders.”
As evidence of this, TVNZ is delivering its biggest local content slate in 2021 in more than a decade.
This includes The Apprentice Aotearoa, The Great Kiwi Bake Off, Popstars, Bachelorette NZ, and The Bachelor NZ, Eat Well For Less NZ, Have You Been Paying Attention?, Wellington Paranormal and The Casketeers.
Clarke Gayford will also transport homes from one end of the country to the other in Moving Houses.
“It’s out of necessity because of our international production slow down,” Slater said.
“We have seen significant delays out of international production sector where obviously they’ve had a much more significant impact from Covid.
“So we are very lucky in New Zealand that we’ve been able to get to full-scale production very quickly. A lot of it is in production and a lot heading into production over the next six to 12 months.
“It’s a great story for local.”
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