John Drinnan 's Opinion

John Drinnan is the Media writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Media: Risks of a Paul Henry return

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Enthusiasm for Paul Henry to liven up current affairs output conjures memories of John Hawkesby fiasco.

Judy Bailey, John Hawkesby, Liz Gunn, Richard Long and (below) Paul Henry. Photo / Martin Sykes
Judy Bailey, John Hawkesby, Liz Gunn, Richard Long and (below) Paul Henry. Photo / Martin Sykes

TVNZ chief executive Kenrick acknowledges the commercial risk of a big change when Close Up returns next year.

In my opinion the risk is multiplied if TVNZ secures Paul Henry as presenter.

Reappointing him after his racial comments on TVNZ Breakfast and the train crash ratings of the Australian Ten show will bring indignation from viewers who dislike Henry.

It will probably be matched by people who see him as a politically incorrect hero.

My sources say behind the scenes TVNZ bosses compare Henry with Paul Holmes, a current affairs host who polarised opinion. But Henry is no Paul Holmes.

Like Holmes, he is capable of being a good interviewer and he has brilliant comic timing.

He can be very, very funny.

But unlike Holmes he lacks compassion and does not show any empathy with viewers.

Much of Henry's humour aims to shock or put down people who are different.

On TVNZ Breakfast he was sometimes plain mean.

TVNZ will expect the smiling Pippa Wetzell to be the beauty to Henry's beast.

The test will be whether Henry-haters tune in to be outraged as TVNZ hopes, or whether they will abandon 7pm.

On TVNZ Breakfast he was credited with boosting ratings to 7 per cent of the viewing audience, and since he left it has slumped to 4 per cent.

But beyond the loose three-hour format of Breakfast he is unproven in prime time.

At RadioLive he did not have a dramatic effect on ratings.

He has had star billing on TV3 prime time gameshow Would I Lie to You - a commitment, by the way, he would need to escape if he were to sign with TVNZ.

Ratings for that show have been acceptable, but far from stellar.

Australian TV commentator Michael Idato says Henry was part of the problem at Ten.

"Breakfast was predictable, derivative and - with a cranky, 52-year-old front and centre - seemingly pitched at an older, conservative audience which was never, and is still not, part of Ten's heartland."

Henry fans will say he was like Mitt Romney in the US, and should be even more radical. The alternative view is that his time has passed.

CUT DOWN SUNDAY SURVIVES


TVNZ will stick with its last prime time current affairs show, Sunday, next year - a big relief for TVNZ staffers who worried it would be read the last rites.

But the decision balances out the shift to entertainment content in the 7pm weekday replacement for Close Up.

Pressure is on the show to deliver the last vestiges of long-form current affairs at the broadcaster with a new format where for much of the year it will be a 30-minute show.

The format for Sunday in 2013 will be a mix of one hour and half hour shows.

As with Sunday now the show will be halved next year to make way for entertainment shows like Masterchef and NZ's Got Talent. Chief executive Kevin Kenrick insists TVNZ never intended to kill Sunday altogether.

But comments yesterday illustrate the scale of change at TVNZ news and traditional current affairs, a genre that has been at the heart of the TV One brand for 50 years.

"In five years' time [the new Close Up] will be traditional," Kenrick says.

And for those who worry about the reduced importance of journalism?

He says the shift to a new form of current affairs at 7pm is to meet audience demand.

It is part of a cycle of consumer tastes and eventually the audience would view the new style as not good enough and seek other types of programmes.

It seems the state broadcaster has no role in maintaining standard and a responsibility to an informed public.


DEJA VIEW

Enthusiasm for Paul Henry to liven up its current affairs output conjures memories of the John Hawkesby fiasco nearly 14 years ago.

Hawkesby was not so polarising but there are similarities.

Back then TVNZ bosses wanted to revive the dream team of him and Judy Bailey on the regional news show Top Half to boost One News, but the audience revolted, Richard Long was re-installed and Hawkesby left with a record $5.2 million payout along the way.

Now TVNZ is drawn to the purported dream team of Paul Henry and Pippa Wetzell. TVNZ should be careful that the publicity and hype about Henry does not blind them to the commercial risks.

COUNTRY COOKIN'

Country99 TV has cut personnel in a move chairman Chris Gedye believes will boost financial returns, One source said that Country99 TV had cut staff from 23 to 13, though Gedye could not confirm those numbers.

Gedye says the channel is focusing on information rather than lifestyle programming and some of the staff were contractors.

A pay TV industry source said that Country99 TV - which has been around for four years - had maintained a significant sales and marketing team when advertising revenue was scarce.

SHOP TILL YOU DROP

The Shopping Channel is accentuating the positive aspects of a cut in the number of hours being filmed to two days a week instead of six. "The Shopping Channel are constantly reviewing their operating model," said spokeswoman Megan Stuart of Bullet PR. "They have identified the need to focus more on crafting the content to tell the brand story, enriching the content and creating more structured television.

"A natural progression to see this happen means focusing on rehearsals and the quality of the presenter's sell. This has led to a strategic move of less live hours transitioning from six live days to two.

"The Shopping Channel is going from strength to strength," she said.

Did the drop in the amount of time spent filming suggest there was less business?

"No," said the PR agency.

ALLEY-OOP

Dominion Post deputy editor Oskar Alley is expected to take a senior role in the restructured operation for Fairfax in Auckland.

Alley - who edits the Dominion Post Saturday edition - is being tipped for a role heading the new division that publishes the Sunday Star-Times and Sunday News, combined with Auckland digital operations.

A reporter for the SST in its heyday, he was focused on news with a racy style that has been scarce.

That said, there have been signs of new energy at the SST with the reduced role and subsequent resignation of editor Dave Kemeys.

Fairfax declined to comment on progress in appointing a replacement for Kemeys.

HAMBURGER HEAVEN

A senior executive for the Hamburg-headquartered publisher Bauer, Echhart Bollmann, was in Auckland yesterday talking to bosses at its newly acquired division, ACP Media New Zealand.

But chief executive Paul Dykzeul says that the German flag flying outside the Beaumont St offices was a joke from the building's owners, not a sign of deference to ACP's new owners.

Bauer Media Group agreed to buy ACP Magazines from Sydney-based Nine Entertainment for a reported A$500 million ($638 million).

Dykzeul said that the name for the new company had not been decided but it would probably be Bauer Media New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

John Drinnan

John Drinnan is the Media writer for the New Zealand Herald.

John Drinnan is the media writer for the New Zealand Herald. A business journalist for twenty years, he has been editor of the specialist film and television title "Screen Finance" in London, focussing on the European TV and film industry. He has been writing about media in New Zealand since the deregulation of the television industry in the late 1980s. He is focused on the business side of the digital revolution in media.

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