Opinion: What sets Three apart from the competition

  • 20/10/2019

By Al Jazeera news presenter Kamahl Santamaria for The Spinoff

With the future of Mediaworks' TV business hanging in the balance, Al Jazeera news presenter Kamahl Santamaria reflects on what the imperilled channel meant, and continues to mean, to him.

I always liked the logo. The fresh bright colours, the nod to a koru in its shape, and just the fact that it was something new. I even remember seeing it appear in the Listener TV listings for the first time. More than two TV channels? Get outta here! Nine-year-old me simply couldn't wait for TV3 to launch.

I loved the jingles, too. The one that Dave Dobbyn did before launch was funky and high-energy. I think they played it in movie theatres before the trailers began. And of course there was 'Come Home to the Feeling' (actually adapted from a promo by America's NBC, which was an early investor). Cheesy as hell, but also comforting and homely. Come home to the feeling, only on 3. I liked that idea.

And as I grew up watching 3 National News I knew that if I one day realised my ambition of becoming a TV journalist, then this was the place I wanted to do it. John Hawkesby, Joanna Paul, Leanne Malcolm, Eric Young, Tony Johnston, Bob McNeil, John Campbell - these were real TV stars to me. And there was just something different about the way they approached the news.

And that's to say nothing of the likes of Belinda Todd, Bill Ralston, and Dylan Taite. I swear, I couldn't stop grinning the day I saw the tiny little elevator that opened out in the 20/20 office, from where Dylan used to do his irreverent Nightline pieces. "Nice to see ya… wouldn't wanna BE ya!" he would sneer at the camera in the coolest possible way. I'm glad I met him before he passed away in 2003.

Kamahl Santamaria's business card from his TV3 days.
Kamahl Santamaria's business card from his TV3 days. Photo credit: The Spinoff

So the fact that TV3 - and maybe more specifically then-news and current affairs boss Mark Jennings - took a chance on me, an 18-year-old kid with no experience or university degree, tells you a lot about the culture there.

Forgive the cliché, but it's about the people. TV3 would look past the obvious hurdles to see if there wasn't something there worth pursuing - in the news, and in its people. Very soon after starting there in 1998, I discovered that you weren't part of a big corporate machine - certainly not in the newsroom. You were part of a tight team of battlers. A team that pushes boundaries, that welcomes ideas, that thinks outside the box as the rule rather than the exception.

I'm not saying it's not like that "over the road" as we would describe the competition at TVNZ. I've never worked there, and have no first-hand knowledge of their operation. But I know that with our tighter budgets and more limited resources at TV3, we had to be very smart and creative with how we did the news. And somehow, every night, we pulled it off.

(Not to give away state secrets, but back in the day before digitised recordings and 24-hour operations, we used to ask Bob the elderly security guy to press record on the tape machine in the sports department for any overnight events that we'd need for the next day. Not conventional, but effective.)

And damn it, we had fun too. I recall the very first All Blacks test to be broadcast on TV3 in 2000. I was producing the nightly sports bulletin from North Harbour Stadium, and then watched the match from the sideline with Nathan Rarere - then of ICE TV fame. The ABs put 100 points on poor old Tonga that night, meaning someone had to stick a hastily-drawn '1' on the old two-digit scoreboard. Now I'm not saying anything… but between Nate and Jon Bridges and I, that number '1' somehow appeared in the ICE TV studio the next night…

Suffice to say, I'm very sad to hear the news of Three, as it's now known, being put up for sale. I know, I know, it's not closing down (though that is a distinct possibility). And in the grand scheme of 2019, the corporate decision to carve-off of a distressed TV business that's been in and out of financial trouble for 30 years isn't the worst thing that's happening in the world, nor the most illogical. You can't make TV if you're not making enough money from it.

Kamahl Santamaria.
Kamahl Santamaria. Photo credit: Kamahl Santamaria/Twitter

But for the people at Three - the people who make Three what it is - it could be the end of their worlds. I really feel for everyone there. An uncertain future is one thing, but it's made infinitely worse by the knowledge - and they'll all know this - that jobs in the New Zealand media industry aren't exactly abundant.

My hope, as someone who's worked at Flower St and who loves the place dearly, is that someone sees the inherent value in Three. Everyone knows that streaming and digital media has changed the game irrevocably, but I firmly believe there is still place for television as we knew it. And as a journalist, I'd hate to see New Zealand reduced to one TV newsroom. For such a forward-thinking country, that would be disastrous.

Would I have spent the past 14 years working for one of the biggest news networks in the world without my grounding at Three? Not a chance. And for that reason, I owe the channel that "comes home to the feeling", and its fabulous people, so much.

The Spinoff

 

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