Public radio bosses are taking their time finding a permanent replacement for Sean Plunket.

Buoyed by the "Save Radio New Zealand" Facebook supporters who believe RNZ rules the airwaves, the broadcaster thinks people listen to the show, not Sean.

But the long gap between Plunket and his replacement is a bold move in a volatile market.

Plunket left on Wednesday and from January will replace Justin Du Fresne on Newstalk ZB's 8.30am-till-noon show for Wellington.

Plunket's talents were apparent on TV3's The Nation covering the Christchurch earthquake.

Three months after he resigned, RNZ is getting serious about a replacement, advertising in New Zealand, Australia and Britain.

PR man John Barr said yesterday management was close to finalising a shortlist for the job co-hosting Morning Report with Geoff Robinson.

In the meantime, RNZ senior journalists including Todd Niall, Philippa Tolley, Julian Robins, Mary Wilson and Jane Patterson will fill in opposite Robinson.

Barr hoped for an announcement in a few weeks, but could not guarantee a permanent replacement by the end of the year.

In commercial radio, changing the breakfast host is done quickly and (ideally) cleanly so listeners are not lost.

Barr said Morning Report was a team operation and RNZ had absolutely no concerns listeners might desert the station now that Plunket was leaving.


Maybe RNZ chief executive Peter Cavanagh is right.

When Paul Holmes left TV One and Newstalk, the loyalty was to the station, not to him.

But RNZ has never done any research on Plunket and how many listened because of his interviewing skills.

"We can't afford it," Barr said.

One RNZ source suggested that Plunket's interrogatory interviewing style had kept some listeners away.

Indeed, one of my sources said there was relief.

Like many of the best broadcasters, Plunket can be hard to manage.

But after years fronting Morning Report and covering a wide range of topics, he is also New Zealand's best interviewer, adept at uncovering the truth. He is our most knowledgeable broadcaster - albeit in a superficial, journalistic kind of way.

Should losing a talent like Plunket - rather than finding a place that suits his talents - be cause for celebration at RNZ?

And what sort of radio station does not have a succession plan for its prime-time talent?

RNZ quotes from Nielsen Media research saying Morning Report has a station share of 13.5 per cent for 6am to 9am Monday to Friday.


Plunket is doffing his cap to Justin Du Fresne on Newstalk ZB and says he has a lot to learn about talk radio.

He started out in commercial radio in the mid-80s working at Radio Windy, but says one of his abiding memories is at Nelson College, when he and some of his schoolmates would sit up listening to night-time talk host George Balani in Christchurch.

Du Fresne has been a strong broadcaster, but National Radio should be wary about Plunket's impact on the Wellington market, where it dominates. Who knows, maybe Plunket's show could replace Leighton Smith when he eventually retires.


Television bosses like to preach about moral decline and standards but that doesn't stack up when it comes to high-rating shows delivering good advertising returns.

Last week this column mentioned the amount of sex that was creeping into early prime time, an impression that was verified by television researcher Ruth Zanker of Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology.

In particular we mentioned Family Guy, which runs at 7pm weeknights on MediaWorks' C4, delivering strong ratings. Adults programming is supposed to play in the late evening when kids are less likely to watch.

However AGB Nielsen average ratings for last week suggest that viewers of Family Guy - which regularly includes jokes on paedophilia, bestiality and incest - are children.

On average, around 106,130 people aged over 5 were watching Family Guy, about 6.2 per cent of the total audience. Of those 25,260 are children aged 7 to 14.

Around 13 per cent of children watching TV at that time are watching Family Guy, suggesting a disproportionate share of Family Guy viewers are kids.

MediaWorks spokesman Roger Beaumont said C4 followed the guidelines set by the Broadcasting Standards Authority. Ultimately it was up to parents to set the viewing, he said.

Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement may have a cult appeal.

But that was not enough to overcome dismal box office takings for Predicament, the latest feature film backed by the New Zealand Film Commission and New Zealand On Air.

Predicament was made with a budget of around $6 million - with contributions from private investors.

By yesterday it had grossed $137,758 after three weeks.

Second-week takings were down 71 per cent, prompting leading film industry veteran Philip Wakefield of OnFilm magazine to note the movie was likely to come in below The Vintner's Luck, the other box office disaster of the past 12 months, which earned just $193,204.

New Zealand Film Commission chief executive Graeme Mason was diplomatic and said nice things about the movie. Predicament was approved under a previous regime but the result is timely in the wake of the Peter Jackson/David Court report which calls for changes to the way the commission is run.


It's easy to have 20-20 hindsight on which movies will be a winner, and even Hollywood studios make movies that lose bucketloads of money.

The Film Commission has a reasonable record producing some winners, and a cultural role that goes beyond just recovering investment.

But did the commission ever think it was going was going to draw a mass audience to recover its investment in Predicament?

The Ronald Hugh Morrieson story set in 1930s rural New Zealand is beloved by some literary folk but others question whether the book stands up in his canon of work.

Previous Morrieson adaptations Pallet on the Floor and The Scarecrow performed poorly.

Admittedly Came a Hot Friday did well, helped by a small but heavily promoted role for Billy T. James.

But that was a kinder, simpler time when the public had different expectations of New Zealand. How would Friday do if it was made in 2010?

The commission backed Niki Caro's version of Elizabeth Knox's The Vintner's Luck, which failed due to filmmaking rather than the story. But will the commission become wary of literature as the source for funded projects?

Predicament's takings are a marked contrast to Boy, set in the 1980s and written by director Taika Waititi.

So far - and with Boy still playing on about 10 screens - it has made more than $9.3 million at the New Zealand box office. DVD sales have had a promising start.

Whale Rider (based on a book by Witi Ihimaera) and Once Were Warriors (from Alan Duff) were both based on strong literary works.

With all of these hits there is a common thread - they are Maori stories. But Film Commission head Mason points out that The World's Fastest Indian about motorcycle hero Bert Munro also had a magic element - the Number 8 fencing wire attitude that appealed to New Zealand moviegoers.