Duncan Greive is the editor and founder of New Zealand pop culture-obsessed website The Spinoff and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Another catastrophic week for Mediaworks. What lies ahead?

The exit of Paul Henry and the dumping of Story make for another miserable glut of headlines. Duncan Greive explores what lies ahead.
Duncan Garner, Paul Henry, and Guy Williams.
Duncan Garner, Paul Henry, and Guy Williams.

Over the past 18 months, there have been a number of disastrous periods for Mediaworks' news and current affairs operation.

First the botched axing of Campbell Live; then the long slow bleeding death of the 3D investigative unit; the trickle of loss represented by the departures of David Farrier, Mark Jennings and Jono Hutchison; then the atom bomb of Hilary Barry decamping, followed quickly by the departure of Mark Weldon, the source of all this chaos.

Shockingly, this week looks worse, if anything.

As confirmed to Mediaworks staff this morning, not only are they losing Paul Henry, their one figurehead broadcaster who was actually beating his TV One rival in the same slot, but they are also dismantling Story, which for all its flaws was a better version of Seven Sharp a lot of the time.

Despite all that, the events of this week have the potential to be a godsend for the embattled broadcaster. I've long felt that Duncan Garner, who will succeed Paul Henry at the helm of the breakfast show on TV3 and RadioLIVE, was wasted in the drive slot. His energy, his aggression, were coming in at the end of the day, when most people were looking for something a little slower. The key drive shows don't tend to have your sort of marquee news broadcasters - John Campbell aside - and he's emblematic of a slower and more empathetic form of journalism than Garner ever delivered.

What you get in the mornings, the key time slot for radio, is a form of barely contained aggression and energy. Across key competitors at RNZ and ZB you have bulldogs that won't let the news go. That's been a hallmark of Duncan Garner's drive show from the first. The other thing about Garner is that he has one of the strongest competitive streaks and largest chips on his shoulder, in broadcasting, on radio or TV.

A point beautifully illustrated in Steve Braunias' classic profile of him for Metro in 2013, during which he described an encounter with Leighton Smith, who, in a typically Leighton Smith way, came up to him at a sushi bar and told him he was joining a losers' team at RadioLIVE, and there was no hope.

That's a classic TVNZ/ZB perspective, a born-to-rule attitude: we've got the best frequencies, the powerful brands, the entrenched audiences, we're unbeatable. There's a lot of evidence to back up that assertion. But if you are the kind of person that takes that very personally, who views any insinuation that your team has an unwinnable hand - if that makes you want to prove people wrong then you will not rest until your point is proven. Clearly, it ignited a fire within Duncan Garner that's showed no dimming.

Ultimately the only way to prove in radio that you have the true killer instincts and the ability to take on the reigning champs is to get in the ring with Mike Hosking. Now, finally, Duncan Garner has an opportunity to do that.

You could argue that Paul Henry did the same. Yet Paul Henry was a lifestyle show - it sort of fit and didn't fit him. With Paul Henry he was concerned with making a show in his own image, not taking on Mike Hosking at his own game. Henry was doing his own thing.

Fundamentally Paul Henry was a broadcaster who, while he did have some undeniable strengths in terms of conviction and personality, was constantly saying terrible things in an era where there's less and less tolerance for it. Particularly with the younger demographic that both TV3 and RadioLIVE are courting.

So the situation this week was an inevitability. He's one of those people - and they exist across print, radio and television - who never leaves a contract on good terms. Garner's a company man. He's been with TV3 essentially his whole career, tutored by Linda Clark, invented the style that Patty Gower has now perfected, and is very much here playing for keeps in the biggest spot. I think there's every chance that this will be the making of him.

The second major move is the end of Story, which was launched with great fanfare 18 months ago. Heather du Plessis-Allan is a very talented broadcaster but she and Garner never quite clicked. You can tell when there's a natural chemistry between hosts, and they slightly grated against one another. Neither was willing to concede an alpha status, and they had stylistic instincts that were slightly at odds. Also Story was a match product, albeit a well-executed one, but a "we'll do our version of Seven Sharp - that's what the public want."

The era of the public just wanting a choice of two of the same thing is over. The elder demographic's not going to shift, the younger demographic is just going to see it as more of the same. So the idea that they're going to move to a more entertainment-driven panel show is probably the right thing to do if well-executed. Obviously that's the biggest "if" in New Zealand or world broadcasting.

The talent rumoured to be attached (though this is far from a done deal) is Guy Williams. For a lot of people, who may only have a cursory knowledge of Williams, who have caught him doing something buffoonish on Jono and Ben or know him as a commercial radio guy, are going to see this as further evidence of the disintegration of society and the relegation of news.

In reality Guy Williams is a political animal, a provocateur with a purpose. Full disclaimer here, I know Guy pretty well and consider him a friend and a kind of genius. I've long tried to work with him at The Spinoff precisely because I think he's one of the great underutilised talents in New Zealand media. He resigned from The Edge, and we submitted a proposal to NZ On Air for a Daily Show-style online show that would have gone out daily for the 15 weeks of next year's election, and would have been absolutely savage.

NZ On Air turned it down. I remain disappointed by that. But Guy is a really interesting person. He's got this great power which isn't particularly well-understood. He's got a huge social audience - if you look across his channels it's probably nearly 250,000 across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Should he get this role I think you'll see a metamorphosis which reveals him as New Zealand's Jon Stewart, essentially. A person who uses humour as a weapon and as a way of exposing hypocrisies and nonsense. I think he's ready for a moment like this.

So while this has all the potential ingredients of a last great calamity, for a network and a business which has been in free fall ever since Mark Weldon announced its new look to great fanfare - this might end up being the making of the channel. And out of all this chaos, might finally come some order. At the very least, everyone involved knows the stakes.

- The Spinoff

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