When news broke six weeks ago that
was on the chopping block the response was genuinely astonishing. This wasn't just your garden-variety social media outrage - huge numbers of people were properly pissed off, they took it personally.
I felt a bit sorry, even, for MediaWorks bosses, who found themselves copping heaps of flak. Some of it they deserve (and yesterday's announcement, two minutes before Bill English began reading the Budget, was cynical and unbecoming), but at least as much would have been better hurled at politicians from both major parties who had allowed public service television to become all but extinct.
TVNZ had long since been denuded of its muscular daily current affairs programming (remember Eyewitness News? Lindsay Perigo was brilliant). The prioritisation of profit, the introduction of a feeble charter, followed swiftly by its deletion, left public-service television emaciated. Then came TVNZ 7, a good channel that was getting better, but which was set up with an expiry date, and hidden away by TV One like a hated cousin beneath a trapdoor.
John Campbell, producer Pip Keane, and their team, under news boss Mark Jennings, were now the only ones doing daily current affairs for grown-ups, albeit on a wholly privately owned channel.
And it was commercially viable, too. The real blow for the primetime ratings of TV3 has been not just the (pre-surge) performance of Campbell Live. The channel's biggest misfortune - or cock-up, even - was to lose the rights to the Australian soap that led in to 3 News at 6. In that light the best new hosts of the four-nights-a-week replacement for Campbell Live might be Home and Away.
John Campbell's mix of acuity, tenacity and integrity is irreplaceable. His work in leading campaigns on school lunches, in disaster relief, and especially in remaining tirelessly focused on Christchurch, when most outside the region had stopped paying much attention, adds up to a formidable legacy.
It is hard to overstate how keenly he'll be missed by colleagues, too: everyone from those in the mailroom through to senior journalists at TV3 speaks glowingly about Campbell's willingness to stop and talk, to mentor the next generation of bushy-tailed reporters.
All the same, it's worth giving the child of Campbell Live a chance, especially if the core of excellent producers and reporters can be retained, and as long as the decade-old show's core values seep into its successor. After all, those values have been overwhelmingly vindicated by the extraordinary surge in viewers since the "review" of the 7pm slot was announced. And TV3 retains a bunch of other excellent journalists, including on the strong NZ on Air-funded programmes The Nation and 3rd Degree.
The long-term commercial interests of the network hardly seem to be served by the decision to axe a programme that engendered loyalty among viewers. Call it brand perception if you like, but Campbell Live was a kind of motherlode of goodwill. But MediaWorks' focus is very much on the short term, on preparing itself for sale.
After the final ka kite ano and very good evening, indeed, from John Campbell, he will go on to do something new and coruscating, and, I hope, surprising. (Novelist Danyl Mclauchlan had a suggestion: "I think John Campbell's next job should be appearing to troubled people in visions and leading lost travellers to safety".)
Most importantly, he's timed things perfectly to focus on watching the mighty Hurricanes storm to their first Super Rugby crown.
Implicit in the anguish and upset at his departure and the end of Campbell Live, meanwhile, is a sense of ownership among its viewers. But it is not owned by the public. If only there were a TV channel that was.
In a rambunctious day in the house of representatives on the eve of the Budget this week, amid the expulsions, expletives and fulminations, the leader of the opposition let loose a poem. Inspired by the renaissance of verse-based political discourse, here is a heartfelt assessment of the New Zealand Parliament.
A poem from the heart
When MPs go forth in debate
It might thrill but more likely will madden
They bluster and exaggerate
As eloquent as Bradley Haddin
I'm all for the sparring and spark
But too often they're dull or stuck up
So on this point I'm with Ron Mark
And really wish they'd shut the [that's enough - ed].