Duncan Greive of The Spinoff, tuned in to watch the new Paul Henry show

"It's that extra 'hi' in there which gets you, isn't it?" Paul Henry was on his best behaviour this morning, as he debuted his new multi-platform morning show, and waited 37 minutes before making fun of a non-European surname. Warriors second rower Sebastine Ikahihifo was the lucky winner of Paul's signature trick, but it was at the benign end of the scale, with no snickering or overt racism.

Instead the debut of Paul Henry, his eponymous morning show went by both quickly and slowly, three long hours of breakneck-paced television divided up into a thousand little pieces. There was a jolly interview with John Key, who calls Paul 'Pauly', and a bizarre one with singer Brooke Fraser, which was mainly focused on bodily functions. After a section discussing their mutual "problems in the lower part of the torso", Henry had another itch which needed scratching. "All of a sudden I want to know if you've vomited today," he said, a little furtively. "Have you? Has it been a day of vomiting?"

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While Fraser looked uncomfortable, such moments were what made the show worthwhile. Henry's strength as a broadcaster is his unpredictability - his willingness to venture off script and into other people's personal spaces in the interests of entertaining himself. It's mostly endearing, though frequently creepy too.


"I don't think you were wearing any undergarments at all," he said to Maria Tutaia of the previous time they'd hung out. She took it with good humour, but there seemed something a rather gross about this old chap spending such a long time discussing Tutaia's gruts situation on national television. Especially so early.

Paul Henry interviews New Zealand Prime Minister John Key during MediaWorks new morning show Paul Henry. Photo / Getty Images
Paul Henry interviews New Zealand Prime Minister John Key during MediaWorks new morning show Paul Henry. Photo / Getty Images

Mostly it was entertaining, though, and Henry's bracingly unfiltered consciousness was fun to watch in motion. He started to ask resident social media guru Perlina Lau whether Prince Harry had twitter, but couldn't even get through the question before giving up.
"Oh hang on - all of a sudden I don't care."

When previewing his interview with Fraser he amiably admitted to "clutching at straws trying to find something interesting to talk to her about". At times he seemed to be just saying words with his mouth, while his brain wandered elsewhere, untethered.

"You can lead a horse to water, and you can make it drink sometimes," he noted to a nonplussed panel (Tutaia and a clearly stoked-to-be-asked Shane Cortese), before snapping out of his little funk. "Why did I even say that? And what does it even mean?"

His constant babbling and insane energy were infectious, but also wearying. Watching it for three hours is not something I'd recommend - or that anyone outside of MediaWorks production staff and TV critics are likely to do. It was also very clearly a debut episode of a show with a lot of moving parts. The first talkback caller hung up, and the first interview conducted in what sounded like a petfood factory operating at full capacity.

Henry remains a figure who delights in his capacity to offend. Those who advertise surcharges at Easter: "Evil swine". The soon-to-be-executed Australians in Bali? "Loathsome individuals".

Sports presenter Jim Kayes and news presenter Hilary Barry on MediaWorks new morning show Paul Henry. Photo / Getty Images
Sports presenter Jim Kayes and news presenter Hilary Barry on MediaWorks new morning show Paul Henry. Photo / Getty Images

Most places outside Auckland got middling reviews, too: Wellingtonians were likely "miserable as sin", while Te Awamutu is a place "you drive through as fast as you can".
For all that, it was impossible to be bored - thanks to the radio-side, everything came at you so fast that it was gone before you could properly process it. Henry's fidgety presence is probably better suited to radio than television, where his constant interrupting and non-existent attention span can tend toward incoherence.

He also glories a little too much in his technological illiteracy, particularly for a show which markets itself in such a modern, multi-platform way. He grumbled about v-cards, called it the 'interweb' and his first question to his soon-to-be long-suffering social media expert Perlina Lau was what she thought of the looming executions, when the whole point of her role is to synthesise the voice of the people.


Likewise his interviews were a mix of the entertainingly bizarre (jetpack inventor Glenn Martin) and wince-inducing. An expert on Indonesian studies from Auckland Uni was mostly asked whether he thought execution was worse than surcharges (Paul thinks not, obviously).

But for all the chaos you have to consider Paul Henry's debut a success. There was just enough edgy Paul Henry-stuff to keep his fans happy, while not enough offence to worry the sponsors. The set design and on-screen graphics were excellent, a modern and functional mix of primary colours and geometric shapes which felt both spacious and intimate.

I'll freely admit to counting down the minutes by the end, and Hilary Barry and Jim Kayes looked like they were too. Three hours alongside that madman would drain anyone, and they were thrown to without warning throughout, while mostly handling his merry narcissism well. But the show looks like it'll be around a while. It's news-driven and unpredictable, a caffeinated counterpoint to the sleepier mornings found over on Breakfast.