Critics move in for kill as Paul Henry fails to fire

By Greg Ansley

Ten Network was hoping Paul Henry would be obnoxious, says the Australian's media reporter. Photo / APN
Ten Network was hoping Paul Henry would be obnoxious, says the Australian's media reporter. Photo / APN

Paul Henry's Breakfast show in Australia has been a ratings disaster, with the king of controversy all but missing in action.

As the Ten Network's Breakfast morning show heads into its fourth month, rock-bottom ratings and speculation over its future are all that appear on the media horizon.

Henry, imported as a lightning rod for controversy, has failed to attract viewers.

"You could say he has sunk without trace" said Amanda Meade, a media reporter at the Australian.

The Sun Herald's Colin Vickery agrees: "He hasn't resonated with Australian viewers."

The show started in February, billed as a new, different, edgy and controversial alternative to Nine's Today and Seven's Sunrise.

Its debut was advanced to take advantage of the bitter leadership contest between Prime Minister Julia Gillard and ousted predecessor Kevin Rudd, but was received with little enthusiasm.

A first-week nationwide audience of 51,000 has dwindled to 30,000 - not even a third of the target of 100,000 set by Ten for its first year.

Today's audience runs at more than 330,000, and Sunrise is close behind.

"The ratings are just shocking," Meade said. "It's not growing at all."

The problems extend well beyond Henry, who is now one of five presenters.

Media analysts say Ten's decision to start the show was risky, pitting Breakfast against the well-entrenched Today and Sunrise, and the ABC's non-commercial News Breakfast programme.

"Probably Ten's concept was flawed in the first place because there weren't a lot of Australian viewers sitting around unhappy with those shows," Vickery said.

Ten also promised something new, special and fresh for Breakfast, but has instead delivered more of the same.

Vickery said Henry was talented, but had been thrust in at the deep end for the Gillard-Rudd challenge and had since been limited in his ability to deliver the promised colour and controversy.

"I think they were hoping he would be really obnoxious, different and controversial, but he's not," Meade said. "Nobody cares."

Henry's only brief media stir came when his comments about housing asylum seekers in linen cupboards prompted an angry response from the ABC's Media Watch programme.

"No one is talking about Breakfast ... [or] Paul Henry, good or bad," Vickery said.

Ten is now tinkering with the show, adding veteran newsreader Ron Wilson to an already-expensive panel of four presenters.

Critics have slammed Wilson's addition as a mistake which ignores original pledges of difference and spice and turns instead to an old, familiar and conservative face.

In the immediate future the show faces a likely exodus from its tiny audience to Nine's Olympic coverage.

Revenue from sponsors is in doubt, and analysts are now asking how long Breakfast can survive despite Ten's public determination to stay for the long haul.

"It's just money going down the drain," Meade said.

Vickery said he did not think Breakfast was under immediate threat, but that Ten would probably be looking closely at the show by the end of the year.

- NZ Herald

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