One of the most experienced writers for film and television in Australia and New Zealand. Numerous credits include local TV shows Close to Home (1975-83)Mortimer's Patch (1980-84)Governor, the (1977), and Inside Straight (1984). He also did work for films The Last Tattoo and UTU, and the Australian television series Medivac and Ocean Girl.

Keith Aberdein: not far from home

by Sue Green, NZ Journalist working in Australia
From the NZ Listener, September 1, 1984

The writer of the new TVNZ series Inside Straight is living in Australia because of his disenchantment with New Zealand television. But out of sight does not mean out of mind.

KEITH ABERDEIN says that in his heart there is no escaping the fact that New Zealand is home and that is where he would like to work.

But although he may not be able to escape that fact, he is certainly trying to turn his back on it. For now at least, he is content to be a member of what is called the New Zealand mafia at Crawford's, one of Australia's big two production houses.

Aberdein, television producer and sometime actor, is best known for his scriptwriting: The Governor, some Close to Home episodes and now the series Inside Straight.

It's entertainment trying to be about something, he says of the new 10-part series, which is based in Wellington's nightworld and tells the story of a young man from the country.

But despite his wish to express something about New Zealand society, Aberdein wrote two of the episodes from Australia, where he has spent the past nine months. I needed to escape New Zealand television for a while - or forever, I don't know which, he says. He went to Crawford's as a staff writer for Carson's Law, a weekly soap which has just been axed. It was rating well in Melbourne but not in Sydney or Adelaide. He later moved up to become the show's story editor (the person who devises the plots) and is producing its last 26 episodes.

They knew months ago it was in trouble but moved too late to save it. With a nine-month lead time between writing and screening, the rewritten episodes with extra sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll do not go to air until too late, Aberdein says.

He says there is no great stigma attached to working on a show which has been axed - it happens to them all eventually. Besides, having been given Crawford's "stamp of approval" with the chance to direct a network show is a valuable credential, even if it is a network show in its death throes. No one is saying it is my fault. Not yet, anyway, he says.

What happens when the 26 episodes are up is not yet certain, although Aberdein's contract with Crawford's will continue. But if he does return to New Zealand, It will be with a realistic, even cynical, view of what to expect

He concedes he is cynical. He could hardly do otherwise, having just said. of the need for New Zealand drama ontent on any third channel: Given that TV is basically crap, it IS better, to have your own than someone else's.

His criticisms of Televislon New Zealand are aimed at what he calls its safe, middle-of-the-road drama, a loss of integrity over the past five years and the attitude of the whole industry.

In New Zealand if you were putting any project together and you had 40 per cent of the people working on it wanting to be there, you were lucky. Here, if you don't have 85 per cent you are surprised. New Zealand people always foundd reasons not to do/things. And of course money - there's so much more available here, Aberdein says.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has just announced plans to commission independent producers to make programmes for it. Aberdein says TVNZ should do the same.

That vast monopoly of money. The country is not big enough to have two distinct groups of talent, one which works for television and one which works independantly. But there is enormous Resistance to it [combing the two]. Many Producers believe the money is theirs to use, not the community's. Aberdein gays

TVNZ and its audience would be a lot better off if there was an input from right across the board. People who work in a system for long enough tend to think the same. They become the same.

He has not been a silent critic of TVNZ. He says he still faces a $1 million libel writ taken out against him by the director-general of TVNZ, Allan Martin, over a column he wrote for the Truth ' lastyear.

Aberdein, a former radio and television journalist in New Zealand and newspaper magazine journalist in Hong Kong, says that writ is another reason why he may be less than welcome back at TVNZ in the near future. But he says the recently tabled report of the broadcasting commission of inquiry vindicates the criticisms he made in that column.

As well as Inside Straight, another of Aberdein's shows is due to be screened on New Zealand television later this year. It is a 90-minute teledrama about the life of local author Robin Hyde, and stars Helen Morse of A Town Like Alice fame. It [Iris] was a co-production with Endeavour Films because TVNZ was not game to go it alone on the most daring thing it has done, Aberdein says.

Aberdem may be in Australia, but the impact of his work and his work and his views seem likely to be felt across the Tasman for quite some tlme, whether or not he decides to return.

His work on New Zealand television includes: