Murder on the Blade?

The Facts:

The feature-length Murder On The Blade? played on Television One at 7.30 of Friday evening 7 November 2003. Although Friday night traditionally has the lowest audience viewing figures of the whole week, the film was wildly successful from a programmer's point of view. It inherited an audience rating of 8 from the Holmes programme, but began four minutes later with a rating of 12.5. That means that more than half as many viewers again tuned in especially as had been watching the popular Holmes that Friday night. As it played it gathered more viewers, ending with a rating of 16.5 and doubling the audience it had inherited at 7.30. Over the two hours its audience averaged approximately fifteen per cent of the adult popuation of New Zealanders, peaking much higher in the later stages.

The viewer figures were achieved despite there having been little promotion for the programme. There had been no promotion in the print media at all. Television New Zealand was concerned that if copies of the film were sent out to reviewers prior to broadcast a copy might find its way to someone who did not fare well in it. In TVNZ's view such a person might issue an injunction against the broadcast – which would destroy the entire evenings peak viewing schedule. Consequently the only publicity allowed was on Television One itself during the week of the broadcast.

The film was successful in bringing New Zealand to its point of view as well. After the broadcast, the NZ Herald reported on polls that had been taken in April 2002 and January 2004, prior to and just after the broadcast, on public opinion as to the guilt of Peter Ellis, David Bain and Scott Watson. In this period there had been all but no change in opinion about Ellis and Bain, both of whom were considered by more people to be innocent than thought them guilty. In Ellis's case 76% of New Zealanders thought him either innocent (51%) or were unsure (26%). The equivalent figures for Bain were 40% for innocence and 24% unsure.

While these figures had hardly altered there had been a remarkable change in views as to Watson. In 2002 59% of New Zealanders had thought him guilty while 24% were unsure. In January 2004 the guilty opinion had dropped to 44% while the unsure rose to 28%. That is, 72% of New Zealanders, acccording to this UMR poll, were now at best doubtful about Watson's guilt. Between the two polls there had been only one significant event concerning any of the cases - the broadcast of Murder On The Blade? six weeks prior to the second poll.