Television: Unhappy families: the TV news chiefs' game

By Frances Grant

By Frances Grant

I have an idea for a documentary of great social service value: a 12-step programme, possibly followed by an 0800 number, about how to cope when television newscaster couples separate.

TVNZ could screen this to help us all to move on in the wake of its recent games of presenter reshuffles and old anchors away.

We know how hard it is on kids when parents divorce and get new partners. It's time to acknowledge the distress suffered by telly news dependents when similar events overtake favourite pairs of autocue-readers.

These are the couples, be they only virtual, whose smooth and harmonious authority appears unshakeable, whose genial ad-libbed interchanges reassure.

The institution of on-screen news-presenter marriage is one I have come to hold sacred. The networks have convinced me of the sanctity of the tandem act. Even TV3 has spurned its once-cherished swinging single approach on its main news bulletin. But what are we now to believe?

The leaked news about Richard and Judy could not have been more shattering, coming as it did in the year the top-rating duo celebrated their 10th anniversary.

From January 18 we are to accept John Hawkesby as on-screen groom for the mother of the nation, the man who left Carol Hirschfeld at the altar of a revamped 3News.

Those of us who naively believed in the "dream team" way back in the days of Top Half have been made cynical ... and jaded. Will we find room in our weary hearts come January 23 for the match of Long and Liz Gunn?

An even greater shock comes with the announcement that Simon Dallow and Alison Mau, the couple we imagined heir apparent to the premier news duo throne, have been separated to either end of the telly news schedule.

This revelation cut to the quick, we know these two really are married. We've seen the pics of the wedding in the mags, and of baby daughter Paris.

Encouraged by this, we have an interest in their personal well-being. We're wondering, with Mau on Breakfast and Midday and Dallow on Tonight, when are they going to get to see each other?

Like all responsible adults, the pair were putting on a brave face for our benefit last weekend, although insiders report Mau is gutted by the shift.

TVNZ general manager Shaun Brown wouldn't be drawn on whether the company was concerned about any potential strain on their relationship, saying: "I'm not going to comment on that."

Why not? Those TV One promos showing Mau, Dallow and babe at a cafe, a picture of family togetherness, have ensured we care.

Equally disturbing was the directive to all presenters concerned not to comment directly to the media. When it comes to some stories, it seems they're allowed to yakety, yak, yak. Yep, here's Gunn, for example, on the cover of a mag on the racks this week.

All of this upheaval gets scarier by the minute. Speculation that Hawkesby could sometimes be partnered by daughter Kate is a worry. You hope TV One realises what it could mean if it plans to go intergenerational.

Marriage is one thing, blood ties another. Creating a telly dynasty in the now impermanent world of on-screen relationships would surely carry grave risks.

What if, for any reason, it didn't work out? A perceived rift in a beloved clan could spell the kind of viewer trauma even a quality 12-step programme could not cure.

Pictured: Alison Mau

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