Pop star Bonnie Tyler sings from the heart yet again in <i>Video Killed the Radio Star</i>, which tells the stories of 1980s film clips.

Pop star Bonnie Tyler sings from the heart yet again in Video Killed the Radio Star, which tells the stories of 1980s film clips.

FREE TO AIR

Video Killed the Radio Star: Divas and Directors, ABC2, 7.30pm

ANY program that starts with Diana Ross in leggings belting out Chain Reaction can't be all that bad. Toss in Bonnie Tyler and a 1980s music video featuring dancing ninjas and you have a half-decent spot of TV. (Did I say half? Probably closer to three-fifths.) In a tribute to the decade that style spat on, this show ventures behind the scenes of what are billed as ''some of the most iconic music videos ever made'' - take that Spike Jonze! Despite the show's title there's not a lot of dirt flung at the divas. The fact that Aretha Franklin likes smoking menthol cigarettes and eating ribs (at the same time) is about as mucky as it gets. Instead, it's a rough tribute to the music videos that spawned a million karaoke singers. The stories behind the videos are quite dull by comparison. Worth watching if only to admire the Benjamin Button-like ageing of ''divas'' Kim Wilde and Joan Jett.

Coastwatch, Channel Seven, 8.05pm

DISPROVING all that blather about bureaucrats being boring sods, here is some footage of people counting fish. Ninety-nine snapper in all. Laid out in rows. On the lawn. One day every government department in New Zealand will boast its own TV series (I eagerly await ''Ministry of Taxation: It's a Numbers Game'' ). Until then we must settle for a show pitting fisheries officers against ''the relentless tide of reckless or carefree shell food gatherers''. The ''stakes are high and the incidents fraught with danger, confrontation and excitement'', we are told. Watch as marine officers issue fines to over-indulging fishermen, if you dare. Titter as the locals say ''cliff'' and ''fish''. I did. Tonight's episode features make-believe places such as Kawakawa and Invercargill. But otherwise this show is proof that just because people do stuff in uniform it doesn't make it good television.

The Cult, Channel Seven, 10.30pm

HERE'S a program intent on proving that cults ain't half bad. You get to spend time outdoors erecting electrified fences, disavow yourself of hair product and wear sandals year round. Of course, there's that bothersome issue about conducting experiments on humans. But consider the alternative. In this turgid New Zealand series, the anti-cult Liberators line up against the religious nutters. I signed up to Scientology after enduring a long, boring stint with the Liberators. Emotions are telegraphed by anguished faces and a loony soundtrack. People don't stand in this show, they pose. Questions are posed but left unanswered: what happened to Jenni's left eye; why didn't we insist she have piano lessons; who stole all the sheep? God spare us from the anti-cultists. Credit goes to Julian Assange for taking time out from the Ecuadorian embassy to play cult leader Edward North.

PETER MUNRO


PAY TV

Show of the week: Ken Follett's World without End, Sunday, SoHo, 8.30pm

MORE than a century has passed since the events chronicled in The Pillars of the Earth, but the fictional English market town of Kingsbridge remains a hotbed of sex and violence, treachery and intrigue, incest and ecclesiastical villainy. It looks wonderful on the screen, too, and this latest mini-series adaptation of the historical fiction of British writer Ken Follett is more immediately engaging than its predecessor. It doesn't have such a big-name cast (Cynthia Nixon, Miranda Richardson and Copper's Tom Weston-Jones being the most familiar faces) but it promises more of an epic sprawl, with the action set to spread to France and Italy, taking in the Hundred Years' War and the Black Death.

At the moment, the year is 1327 and on a corpse-strewn battlefield we see the defeated Edward II surrender to his French wife, Isabella (Aure Atika), who promptly plonks him in prison and crowns their teenage son, Edward III (Blake Ritson). Isabella, we soon learn, is hell-bent on stretching the necks of malcontents and levying crushing taxes to raise money for her coming war with France.

All of which means trouble for the little folk of Kingsbridge. Among these are brothers Ralph (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and Merthin (Weston-Jones), who rescue a wounded knight named Langley.

Langley (Ben Chaplin) has information that could get him killed, so he seeks sanctuary at the priory overseen by Mother Cecilia (Richardson). It's also at the priory that the scheming Petranilla (Cynthia Nixon) seeks advancement for her callow cleric son, Godwyn (Rupert Evans). Meanwhile, the sweet and lovely Caris (Charlotte Riley) dreams of being a doctor and works with herbal healer Mattie (Indira Varma).

The script by playwright John Pielmeier (who wrote Agnes of God and also adapted The Pillars of the Earth) is efficient in establishing characters and storylines, although some parts of the dialogue sound disappointingly modern. Follett, for his part, clearly remains fascinated with mediaeval architecture. Some of the characters are descendants of Tom Builder from The Pillars of the Earth, and two of them also happen to be builders (the big project looks likely to be a bridge).

It's also clear that the Middle Ages were a particularly bad time to be a woman. A few of the female characters (Isabella, Petranilla, Mother Cecilia) have power, or at least apparent security, but the others live under constant threat of violence, rape and being sold as chattel or tried as witches.

Produced by Ridley and Tony Scott and directed by Michael Caton-Jones, it's off to a pretty good start. Fingers crossed that the rest of it delivers.

The People Speak, History, 7.30pm

A wonderful special in which actors perform parts of great speeches and writings from Australian history.

Toddlers and Tiaras, LifeStyle You, 7.30pm

Strangely addictive American kiddie-pageant action.

BRAD NEWSOME


MOVIES

Game Change (2012), Showtime Premiere (pay TV), 6.30pm

JAY ROACH has made amends for the slide into dismal profitability of the Meet the Parents and Austin Powers movies by directing two of the sharpest studies of modern US political life. Recount (2008) was a tragic comedy about the battle to influence the Florida result in the 2000 US election, while Game Change zeroes in on Sarah Palin's sudden and disastrous elevation to the 2008 Republican ticket as John McCain's vice-presidential candidate. As played by Julianne Moore, Palin has an enthusiasm that buckles under the pressure and an obstinacy that encourages mistruths. Suggested by McCain's campaign boss, Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson), Palin adds excitement and then uncertainty to the ticket, with the gaps in her knowledge and lack of policy understanding becoming a time bomb as media scrutiny and debate prep builds. It would be absurd, the movie acknowledges, if the stakes weren't so high.

Awake (2007), 7mate, 9.30pm

HAYDEN CHRISTENSEN is the wealthy scion married to Jessica Alba, who has a clairvoyant experience when a heart transplant goes haywire, revealing pulpy plots in this slight and unlikely thriller.

Wonder Boys (2000), Movie Greats (pay TV), 8.30pm

A WONDER boy, as defined in this ruminative comedy by literary agent Terry Crabtree (a deliciously compromised Robert Downey jnr performance), is an artist who arrives with a swelling torrent of critical acclaim and the attendant publicity, only to struggle after they realise that even more is required of them the second time around. Director Curtis Hanson was not one of them: he was in his 50s by the time he graduated from sturdy genre pieces to announce himself with the one-two combination of L.A. Confidential and Wonder Boys. In the latter, Michael Douglas plays author and university professor Grady Tripp, who can finish marriages but not his second novel. With a shaggy mane and a caustic tongue that's no longer softened by his preferred mood adjusters (whisky and marijuana), Grady is an expert at avoiding resolution. In the course of a madcap weekend, change unexpectedly comes to bear, but this remains wry, illuminating farce.

CRAIG MATHIESON