Praise Be

8:00am Sunday, April 17 on TV One

For 47 thousand New Zealanders, April 10 this year is likely to be a day of considerable nostalgia. It’s the 25th birthday of TV ONE’s Sunday morning programme of hymn singing Praise Be and a two-part special of archival footage from each year is to be broadcast to celebrate the occasion.

In the last quarter century, an estimated 47 thousand people have sung on the programme and it’s expected there will be many who will look back with fascination at their youthful performances.

Praise Be was first produced in the TVNZ Dunedin studios and went to air on Sunday April 6, 1986, hosted by Graeme Thomson who continued to as host for 20 years until he retired and Chris Nichol took over.

Hymns from the programme have been retained in an extensive archive – more than four thousand hymns and songs of worship recorded in a total of 175 New Zealand churches and venues.

The largest congregation ever featured was 5,000 people at the Christchurch Rotary Massed Children’s Choir; the smallest vocal group was the four-man Musical Island Boys.

The 25th birthday celebration programmes have been split into two eras. On April 10 there will be footage from 1986 to 1998, and the following week on April 17 there will be material recorded from 1999 to 2010.

The series continues to travel around the country recording choral groups and ecumenical congregation singing for packaging into half hour programmes watched by an average weekly audience of 70 thousand people.

Producer Ron Pledger says the music featured on Praise Be has reflected the changes that have taken place over a quarter of a century. He says early content was very traditional and featured many splendid cathedral choirs from the UK – but over the years the music sung in New Zealand churches has diversified to include rock bands, contemporary styles with modern language and a greater influence from Maori and Pacific Island communities.

He says the extremely high standard of NZ choral singing being performed by school, college and youth choirs continues to astound the Praise Be team.

Praise Be has been fully funded by New Zealand on Air since 1989.

Beginning next Sunday morning, Praise Be will now screen at the earlier start time of 7am.

Praise Be begins its 23rd year of uninterrupted production on TV ONE, featuring 100 per cent New Zealand content from a wide range of interdenominational choirs, music groups and congregations singing a varied repertoire of hymns, songs, sacred and contemporary music.

Chris Nichol continues to host Praise Be, which will travel around the country recording new material throughout the year, updating its extensive music library. Each programme will be linked with interesting background information about the music, New Zealand churches and Christian life, as well as spiritual reflections and interviews.

During the first month the focus will be on Lenten and Easter hymns, but there are some major recordings in Tauranga already planned and Praise Be will be in Dunedin during the 125th anniversary celebrations of the Salvation Army in New Zealand. This will feature in a special programme in May.

Sunday 2 March, 9.00am on TV1

An unexpected financial windfall for New Zealand On Air could mean that the ten programmes of ‘Praise Be’ that were chopped from this year’s schedule, are reinstated.

“That’s what we’re hoping,” said Churches Broadcasting Commission chairperson Trish Moseley.

“I’ve written to Jane Wrightson, CEO of New Zealand On Air, and suggested that a very small portion of the $8.5 million they are getting back after the cancellation of the production of the TV soap, ‘The Point’, would be enough to reinstate the ten programmes they dropped this year.

“Although Ms Wrightson rejected our original request for the reinstatement of the ‘Praise Be’ programmes, this windfall gives them an opportunity to review their decision.

“On behalf of the many thousands of disappointed ‘Praise Be’ viewers, I hope they do the decent thing. After all, 1.5 percent of $8.5 million is not a big ask,” added Mrs Moseley.

Press Release: Churches Broadcasting Commission

The popular Sunday morning hymns and sacred songs programme “Praise Be” on TVNZ has been chopped from 45 programmes last year to 35 for 2007. The amount of funding for 2007 has been reduced by nearly $133,000.

New Zealand On Air, the body that is responsible for allocating government money to broadcasters, says only that there are “competing priorities” for the budget from which the ‘Praise Be’ allocation is drawn.

Trish Moseley of the Churches Broadcasting Commission has written to NZOA asking them to reconsider their decision and reinstate the ten dropped programmes.

“All the figures available to us show that ‘Praise Be’ continues to hold up extremely well in audience ratings and viewer satisfaction levels, so it’s difficult to understand what ‘competing priorities’ have usurped it in the scramble for the taxpayers’ money that NZOA are distributing to broadcasters on behalf of the government,” said Mrs Moseley.

“This is a programme that, under the Broadcasting Act and TVNZ Charter, NZOA is obliged to fund and promote further – not reduce the funding!

“As well, there is a very significant older audience who are being further deprived of their only regular programme of a spiritual nature. Reducing even further the programme time devoted to ‘Praise Be’ from a miniscule 0.25 percent per annum down to 0.20 percent of total transmission time, is simply not good enough and we would like answers as to why it has happened.

“Then there’s the TV exposure that ‘Praise Be’ offers choirs and choral groups around New Zealand which is not offered on any other regular programme on TV. Even the one-off arts programmes of late that are funded by NZOA have not funded New Zealand choirs and there are thousands of people involved in these groups throughout the country who can reasonably expect such exposure especially when compared with what many minority groups receive in terms of funding.”

Mrs Moseley said the announcement of the decision to cut the programme was made just before Christmas and that does not have the look of a government department on top of its game – “that’s hardly a reasonable lead-in time, especially for a TV production. But I hope their response to our request is quick and positive and puts the matter aright,” she added.