The humiliation of X Factor contestant Joe Irvine last night could have easily been dismissed as a publicity stunt - after all, humiliations and bullying are common in reality TV.

Husband and wife judges Willy Moon and Natalia Kills were cruel to Mr Irvine, bizarrely because they thought he was dressed like Moon. In my opinion the attack seemed contrived and cynical.

But it is a "TV moment" that has backfired. The live audience didn't like it. The viewers didn't like it. And, critically for Mediaworks, the sponsors didn't like it.

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Natalia Kills and Willy Moon sacked
The bullied contestant who smiled through the abuse
X Factor judge Willy Moon hissed C-word at woman in bakery

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MediaWorks chief executive Mark Weldon and board member and recently appointed short-term "TV and video digital strategist" Julie Christie would have been hoping yesterday that the live X Factor shows would give their ratings a much-needed boost.

There has been run of bad publicity about TV3 reality shows over the past fortnight and, in my opinion, something is awry in the management of the genre at TV3.

Most people accept the contrivance and use of baddie judges in talent shows like X Factor. Format owner Simon Cowell's image was developed being the rudest judge on American Idol.

Kills seems to have been chosen to fill that role. But last night the show tipped over from entertainment to plain old meanness, and that didn't sit well with X Factor's wider audience and sponsors.

Did Kills mean it? Or was she playing to the audience a manufactured outrage. Regardless of the intent, both she and Moon were sacked.

It's heavy blow for the show, which has been in trouble for soft-soaping the role of contestant Shae Brider in a killing. Moon has been accused of calling a 51-year-old woman the "C word" in an Auckland bakery, repeated the abuse on Twitter and did not back up TV3 claims he regretted the abuse. The Weekend Herald reported another cock-up on Saturday.

MediaWorks has blamed Christie's former production company, Eyeworks, failing to notice that The Bachelor contestant Danielle Le Gallais is a convicted fraudster.

Meanwhile, TV3 is heading for a more edgy style of television with Paul Henry's breakfast show starting on April 7. The show will also play on RadioLive.

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Henry is a an experienced outrage generator who will need to be managed by Mediaworks to keep sponsors happy.

The Business Herald revealed on Friday that Spark had withdrawn from a proposal to sponsor the show.

Spark insists it was not due to Henry's controversial nature . However it is understood that the proposals for the sponsorship caused consternation within the firm.

There are potential wins in taking a more edgy tabloid style of television that could make TV3 and MediaWorks stand out from other media.

But Henry is a risky strategy while the wheels are off its reality TV strategy.

Worse, MediaWorks enlists the support of staff to promote shows like X Factor other media.

A reliance on reality TV has been evident since Christie joined the MediaWorks board in June last year as it emerged from receivership. Last month - in a an unorthodox decision - she was named manager of digital strategy for television and video.

Chief executive Mark Weldon, who started in August, is new to TV and has come to rely on Christie's expertise.

His main job is to find ways to sell the company and take it off the hands of banks and investors who lost money through the receivership.

The reality TV strategy and Henry show are a big part of that.

Several senior executives left the company at the start of the year.
Like Kills, both Christie and Weldon are renowned for speaking their mind.