John Drinnan on business

John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

Media: Mallard sees red over Avalon Studios

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Petra Bagust (pictured) and Corin Dann are the new co-hosts for 'Breakfast' next year. Photo / Supplied
Petra Bagust (pictured) and Corin Dann are the new co-hosts for 'Breakfast' next year. Photo / Supplied

Former Broadcasting Minister Trevor Mallard has blasted TVNZ chief executive Rick Ellis over the state broadcaster's handling of Avalon Studios. He says short-term thinking is undermining the TV studios near Wellington.

Ellis ruffled feathers in an address to 70 staff warning them they should not make mortgage commitments based on the survival of Avalon as a TVNZ facility past mid-2013.

That is when contracts run out for the Totalisator Agency Board (TAB) to use the studios for the racing channel Trackside and the Lotteries Commission for Lotto draws. The future is murky.

But Mallard says "bloated" TVNZ management should find ways to make Avalon work rather than forewarning of its end.

Wellington media predicted recently Avalon was about to be closed and reported rumours the Good Morning show was moving to Auckland. It's Avalon's most important show.

TVNZ insisted yesterday neither was happening but staff are skittish and Mallard says TVNZ's approach is not helping.

STALINIST PAST

To be fair, successive managements at TVNZ have struggled to make Avalon succeed - ever since head office was moved to Auckland in the late 1980s.

The Stalinist planning that placed the centre of New Zealand show business in a bleak section of Lower Hutt suburbia might have seemed mad but it was a creature of its time and veteran broadcaster Brian Edwards notes there was a great esprit de corps.

TV stars of the day such as Ian Fraser, Bob Parker and Dougal Stevenson would whoop it up at a drinking haunt known as the TV One Club which hopped until 10pm as TV folk took in majestic views of Taita in the distance.

Edwards remembers that the favourite tipple at the time was brandy and Benedictine - or B&B as it was known to aficionados.

All that went when TVNZ moved to Auckland.

A couple of years back the tower and part of the facilities were sold to an industrial park, but the studio space remains and featured in Dancing with the Stars.

Avalon remains TVNZ's biggest facility outside Auckland - but splendid isolation in the Hutt is no longer the ideal place for a TV studios.

Making television shows is less fundamental to its business plan as it stretches to become a multi-media company

CRUNCHY GRANOLA

Petra Bagust and Corin Dann have been named today as the new co-hosts for TVNZ's Breakfast next year.

But how will this stylish - if squeaky-clean pair - go down with those Breakfast viewers who were loyal followers of Paul Henry?

And will TVNZ pull back from its shift to advertorial and product placement?

Bagust is a good score. A lively, accomplished and stylish broadcaster, she ticks all the right boxes with marketers - young with kids, charming with a touch of glamour.

She is a Christian but there are no signs of preachiness.

She has been strongly identified with TV3 since the 1990s when she presented Ice TV. The new job removes one of their few stars.

The name most frequently suggested for the female role was Alison Mau.

Business presenter Corin Dann has been named as co-presenter - a serious newsman who surprised with a winning, relaxed style during tryouts.

The good thing for both is that there is no competition in breakfast TV.

JANE'S FIGHTING SHIPS

Speaking of the golden era of Avalon, I hear that the former TVNZ interviewer Simon Walker was back in the country this week for one of his regular jaunts to his holiday home at Golden Bay.

Walker is best remembered for his iconic "Jane's Fighting Ships" interview with Rob Muldoon, where he challenged the pugilistic PM over his facts - leading to an on-air confrontation between the state broadcaster and the state.

Walker has had a varied career since is time in Kiwi TV, including stints as a PR man for the Queen and Reuters.

The former journalist - who would have been regarded as part of the trendy left in Muldoon's day - recently stepped down from his role as chief executive of the British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association, a job at the very heart of capitalism.

CHASING HENRY

Paul Henry is back in town after an overseas sojourn, but I hear that MediaWorks is nowhere near to securing him for RadioLive and TV3.

Maggie Barry has stepped down from her RadioLive afternoon show - three months before the end of her contract - and leaves on December 22.

MediaWorks added the lure of a role on TV3. But RadioWorks desperately needs to keep Henry away from the rival The Radio Network, where he could do more damage to its fragile hold on radio ratings.

Meanwhile, a friend predicts Henry will be in no rush. He is said to be independently wealthy - thanks to an inheritance - and picked up a very good payout from TVNZ.

James Coleman has been mentioned as an alternative.

The other name being mentioned, though more likely for a fill-in role than permanently, is Brent Impey.

Impey is the former chief executive of MediaWorks who exited this time last year during restructuring by its owners at Ironbridge Capital.

His restraint of trade stands until March next year, but that does not stop him from working for MediaWorks.

Impey, who has had a lifelong love of radio, has filled in for Michael Laws on occasion, and has a good touch for talkback. But he would be new to the relatively fast-paced format of drive time.

SUNDAY BACK

TVNZ's Sunday appears to have been returned to its normal start date in February. Journalists have cheered the return of the show removing fears that it was for the chop from a programming and marketing department that does not like news and current affairs.

The move was revealed by this column. TVNZ would not confirm the change, but there is continuing discussion at TVNZ about the role of the department in making what appears have been a unilateral decision scrapping a big part of the current affairs output in an election year.

Meanwhile, it is understood Anthony Flannery - the Aussie who heads TVNZ news and current affairs - has signed a one-year extension to his three-year contract that will see him return on a fortnightly basis to his family home in Sydney. The extension provides stability in an election year - a time when state TV comes under intense political pressure.

FAY FEE

New Zealand On Air received a lot of reactions to articles about its music grants scheme that saw taxpayers paying $50,000 towards the next album by Annabel Fay, while her family paid DJs and New Zealand On Air executive Brendan Smyth to helicopter in to the Fay family's Great Mercury Island hideaway.

Taxpayers also paid $5000 towards four videos including one filmed in Cuba. Media supporters of the scheme criticised this column for not pointing out that NZ On Air is able to recoup money from sales.

However, it is not clear that recoupment made a big difference. New Zealand On Air advises that 31 album grants were made in the 2009/10 financial year, which would amount to around $1.55 million.

Recoupments from funded albums for the financial year July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2010, totalled $146,816, plus GST. Not all 09/10 funded albums have been released.

- NZ Herald

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