The Diary - part two: Shock as TVNZ axes local news staff

20/20, hosted by Sonya Wilson, will be screening only overseas stories.
20/20, hosted by Sonya Wilson, will be screening only overseas stories.

The news was catastrophic for TVNZ's 20/20 team on Monday, when they were unceremoniously told they're out of a job from next month.

The public broadcaster will continue to air the programme but will no longer run local content - just foreign stories. It's a money decision, TVNZ told The Diary.

The long-standing show, hosted by Sonya Wilson, bills itself as "provocative and unflinching current affairs interviews and investigations".

It will now carry only provoking stories from overseas.

"20/20 has performed well," said corporate affairs manager Georgie Hills, "but it costs a lot of money to produce. It was a commercial decision to stop production on local stories and put that investment into other areas of current affairs".

TVNZ says at least "a dozen roles will be affected by this change", but it's too early to say whether that will result in redundancies.

The Diary understands some people will be absorbed into other teams, but there will be job losses.

"It will be too difficult to absorb that many people," said an insider.

The commercial decision to scrap locally produced content on the show is understood to have been made by chief executive and editor-in-chief Kevin Kenrick. TVNZ will run only stories from the US 20/20 show produced by ABC.

But a well-placed source says TVNZ aims to quit the deal with ABC as soon as the contract runs out.

"Usually you're locked into a three- or four-year deal, but those stories from the US are always crap and there's never enough to fill out an entire show. It won't rate well."

TV3 originally had the rights to 20/20, running it from 1993 to 2003.

TV2 picked it up in 2005 and the show thrived in the 9.30pm slot, scoring big wins such as the 2006 interview with former Auckland socialite Nicky Watson, who admitted to drug-taking, a failed marriage and a suicide attempt.

Critics say 20/20 has lost its relevance in recent years.

But one issue for the broadcaster is cutting costs by axing local news content.

One TV executive bemoaned the network's stance.

"TVNZ always cuts from the front line, but that's not where the big costs are. They are haemorrhaging costs in second-tier management, but I guess it's easier to swing the axe elsewhere."

Other cuts at TVNZ will come on the Heartland channel, which is expected to be canned next year.

TVNZ would say only: "The contract with Sky for TVNZ Heartland runs until the middle of next year and the future of the channel will be determined around that time."

Read more: The Diary - part one: Kimye's Kiwi connection

- NZ Herald

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