Save University Challenge! An Open Letter to the Hon. Clare Curran

Dear Clare,

A starter for 10:  How much public funding would it take to produce the next season of University Challenge?

Is it:   100k,

           50k, or

           20k?

And the answer is: 20k!

Some will inevitably claim that any such allocation of funds is entirely undeserved, that television programs should always turn a profit or, that we should let the market decide.

Indeed, the market has decided…

The market decided that we wanted to see David Seymour and Marama Fox ‘dancing’. The market decided Mark Richardson and Duncan Garner get free reign to pontificate on matters ranging from housing to immigration. The market decided we needed Mike Hosking to suggest we all buy Maserati’s instead of building public transport infrastructure. And forthcoming on TVNZ, the market  decided that we would all benefit from a season of ‘Heartbreak Island’.

I call that Market Failure.

Heartbreak Island is perhaps the clearest example yet of how the executives at our state-owned broadcaster have mastered the Aristotelian principle of a ‘Golden Mean’, a happy middle ground; the virtue found in that midpoint between ‘The Bachelor’ and Pornhub.

Yay, more bullshit on TV!

Claire, I suspect you probably get quite a few of these letters. The requests for money, the heartfelt story or the unashamedly brash request for a ‘hand out’.

So, i’ll keep our pitch brief:

As this Government has committed to encouraging tertiary education through their comprehensive free fee schemes, what better way to promote the sector than a competitive public display of each of our Universities? A measly 20k is the difference between a season of University Challenge – The Podcast and another intellectually stimulating program being consigned to the dustbin. 

Tom Conroy bought University Challenge back to New Zealand shores in 2014 and since then the game show has showcased some of the sharpest minds across the country*. Not only does UC attract a cult viewership, it boasts the accolade of being the only onscreen production bringing together all of our country’s eight accredited Universities.

Season 1, 2 and 3 had NZ on Air funding and despite Season 2 (2015) being one of Prime’s best performing programs, they chucked Season 3 into a 6pm Saturday time slot.

Auckland’s triumphant 2015 team. 

Cue the surprise, it didn’t end well. The show was cancelled and some improvisation was required.

Improvise we did, a gang of 4 ex-contestants ran the competition on a shoestring, reaching into our own pockets. We even filmed the finals, live from the University of Waikato. But we can’t afford to do that again that, we need a bit of moolah to make the whole thing work better.

For the 2018 edition, Tom has managed to rationalise the costs down to a paltry amount while finding a new broadcast partner in Radio New Zealand. 

But NZ on Air still won’t throw us any crumbs. Clare, you might not be able to direct NZ on Air’s funding but will you help us save University Challenge?

TL;DR  Drop Clare Curran a message to show your support for University Challenge NZ.

* and a few seat warmers like myself.

Claire Curran is New Zealand’s Broadcasting Minister in the Labour – NZ First Coalition Government.