Why the Conchords really took flight (NZ Herald story)

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Why the Conchords really took flight (NZ Herald story) Empty Why the Conchords really took flight (NZ Herald story)

Post by Dave on Wed Jul 09, 2008 12:15 am


Why the Conchords really took flight
5:00AM Sunday June 29, 2008
By Michelle Coursey

They're New Zealand's hottest international artists, have been nominated for an Emmy - and are now worth millions of dollars.

But it appears a relatively paltry sum of $300,000 was the real reason TVNZ turned down comedy duo Flight of the Conchords four years ago.

That much-criticised decision by TVNZ's commissioners led the Conchords, Wellingtonians Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, to seek fame, fortune and their own show overseas.

Their series, picked up and produced by American cable network HBO, is now an international hit, viewed by millions each week, and has been shortlisted for an Emmy for outstanding comedy series.

Herald on Sunday inquiries have revealed the real story behind TVNZ's decision to turn down the Conchords - it involves money, intrigue and a belief that the pair did not have broad enough appeal.

The saga starts in 2004, when McKenzie and Clement were commissioned by TVNZ to develop a project, and a pilot show was made - a nine-minute teaser called Folk the World - as part of a plan for a 90-minute special show.

The secret pilot was non-transmittable, meaning it could not go to air, but was funded jointly by TVNZ and NZ On Air after TVNZ's general manager of commissioning at the time, Tony Holden, approved development based on a pitch by the Conchords.

TVNZ would not disclose how much it spent on the project, but a source working there at the time said it was a "large amount of money", estimating it was more than $30,000.

TVNZ public affairs spokeswoman Megan Richards confirmed the pilot was made and development was seriously considered, but she said the proposed budget was the issue.

"The guys [Clement and McKenzie] wanted an awful lot of money to make it - we couldn't afford it, and couldn't come to any agreement on it. They then went overseas, where people have more money, and got the deal with HBO."

She added there were also concerns the show didn't have a broad enough appeal.

"We felt it didn't fit quite right with either TV One or TV2. [As the show is now] it was specifically designed for an American cable audience, and that does make it niche programming."

Holden did not want to comment on as he was bound by confidentiality clauses, but said he felt a "strong effort" had been made to get the Conchords to make a local television show.

Clement told the Herald on Sunday in an interview last year that the Conchords "pick on TVNZ because we had written the pilot for them. But also they're the state broadcaster and I think they've got a responsibility to reflect New Zealand culture, which they don't. They take American programmes and copy them."

Independent producer Paul Yates, who developed the script and TVNZ pilot with Clement and McKenzie, said the show that had been planned was not the series HBO eventually made. "It was essentially a mockumentary on the Flight of the Conchords, where the Conchords were part of New Zealand's music history, and proposed the idea that they had been around since the 60s and influenced every major music movement since then."

Yates said the team was not commissioned specifically to make a pilot, but used some of the money they received for script development to create the teaser tape.

TVNZ "really liked it, and really liked the script", but the show was still turned down. "The official reason I was given was that the budget I put in was too high," Yates said. The proposed funding for the special was around $300,000.

Yates said the broadcaster had "missed the boat," and could have investigated further options with the Conchords, but it was worried about taking a risk on them.

"At the time, Bret and Jemaine were kind of cult. Now they're huge, and everyone is saying 'why did we miss out on them?"'

According to Yates, the Conchords were being courted by NBC as well as HBO around the same time, and were frustrated they were being "mucked around" by TVNZ.

"Part of me thinks it is a shame that they weren't discovered early here, but part of me thinks that if they had made a series here, it wouldn't have been as good as what they've done at HBO."

TVNZ's reluctance to commission independent comedy was also part of the problem, Yates said.

An HBO agent for Clement and McKenzie said the pair were "in full writing lock-down mode and are not available for press at all at the moment". The pair are reportedly in America spending the next 10 weeks writing their second series.

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