Paul Casserly takes a look at the Campbell Live catastrophe - and Catastrophe, the new TV show.

As often happens when bad news reveals itself, I was not sure what I was actually reading when I peeked at Twitter on Thursday last week.

A busy day means the occasional glance and piecing the fragments together as you go, but the puzzle that was emerging looked ominous and when the words, "Campbell", "axe", and "Julie Christie" started to shout through the haze, I felt a pain in my gut. Could this really be true?

The news that Campbell Live is "under review" - aka, "for the chop" - has hit me hard, even if my colleagues in the media have long been busy suggesting that John needs a makeover, a bubbly female co-host, or simply to be Paul Henry.

Paul Henry.
Paul Henry.

Those words are chilling aren't they? "Under review" is like seeing that red dot of a sniper's infrared rifle sight just before your head and spinal column depart from your body.


We heard volumes from a full spectrum of voices in the days that followed. Idiots, savants, left wing nut jobs, right wing bastards, and thoughtful wise old heads of every political stripe all weighed in. Nearly all were fans.

If anyone has ever wondered just how highly esteemed John Campbell is in this country of ours, they need wonder no longer. I also took heart from the spectre of Campbell lawyering up with Linda Clark in what in my dreams will be a righteous Good Wife like moment of legal utu.

The usual mad speculation led by online media had Jono and Ben replacing Campbell one minute and a soap opera the next. I was half expecting Thingee's name to come up.

The story has been on all the front pages and has engulfed social media - it's been everywhere except of course in Paul Henry's social media bunker where Perlina Lau was understandably ignoring it on Friday morning.

Henry is a part of this story in that he's the new face and voice of Mediaworks. He is, as he threatened, "everywhere". So much so that Karen Hay and Andrew Fagan's excellent nightly talkback on Radio Live has been shuffled an hour later to make way for a regurgitation of Henry's breakfast show.

If like me, you prefer the likes of Hay & Fagan, Lush and Campbell, it's easy to feel that the barbarians have got through the gates, eaten the last Mallowpuff and are now pissing on the cat. I can't imagine what I'd be feeling if I was one of the many journalists or crew facing unemployment. Being "under review" must suck big time.

Silver linings are not immediately obvious, but look at Alison Mau, whose departure from 7 Sharp revealed a radio talent of the highest order. That's been a net gain in my view. Things change, people move on, and we perhaps can't exactly expect TV3 to think of the public good over ratings if TVNZ doesn't have to.

TV presenter and journalist John Campbell. Photo / Greg Bowker
TV presenter and journalist John Campbell. Photo / Greg Bowker

Whatever happens, Campbell has an unparalleled legacy to be proud of. His show has made the last decade in NZ a better place to be. He was there for the people of post quake Christchurch and for the working poor hamstrung by zero-hour contracts. He takes politicians to task. He doesn't spend half the show droning on about himself.

I also suspect there is a generation of young journalists who have been inspired and even radicalised by Campbell. I hope they are lying in wait like a sleeper cell, ready for a future jihad of truth over profit. I like to dream.

Maybe a local soap will eventually replace the show, but going up against Shortland Street, even in its current lull, would surely be madness. Maybe 3 News will shrink and contain Campbell within the hour, (as will now happen on Sundays) or move to 7pm, or maybe TVNZ and TV3 will do the right thing, and simply swap their 7pm shows. I reckon Hosking would look good in a Mazda.

I guess TV and pain have always been bedfellows. As I mulled over the depressing Campbell Live situation I thought back to other times when I was shocked and left feeling as if I had be punched in the gut.

There was the death of Omar on The Wire (come on, the statute of limitations on spoiler alerts is well past, surely?) That too was a shock of catastrophic levels, and a sad indication that the series would also one day end. I mourned that for a month. Other fictional deaths have hit hard too, Adriana being offed by Christopher on The Sopranos or Sean Bean getting the chop on Game of Thrones.

More recently I found myself upset when Karl burnt down the Rovers Return on Coronation Street. Sure, he tandooried Sunita as well, but she was a right royal tart, that one.

Read more:
Who's to blame for Campbell Live's demise?
Paul Henry 'creepy' but entertaining
Catastrophe: Far-flung fling with sting

Predictably sporting failures loom large. The quarterfinal loss (Rugby) against France was surely the worst. I still remember looking out the kitchen window and seeing a neighbour with his head in his hands a full 10 minutes before our time shifted version of the game was due to end.

Our recent cricket collapse was made easier by the stunning win over South Africa a few days before. That was a match that was clearly not be bested in a calendar year if in a lifetime. I went into the final expecting us to make complete New Zealanders of ourselves, which we did with flair. In a similar way I'm gutted but not surprised that the suited assassins of Mediaworks are intent on napalming anything that stands in the way of profit. That is, after all, what they get paid for.

The irony will be if a soap does indeed replace Campbell Live, as it was the loss of Home and Away that began the downward ratings spiral of 3 News, and in turn, Campbell Live in the first place.

Perhaps it's fitting that Catastrophe, (Soho) is also the name of my new favourite show. It may be the best new comedy of the year, let me just check ... yes, it is.

Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan star in the TV show Catastrophe.
Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan star in the TV show Catastrophe.

Rob Delaney and Sharon Hogan write and star in this brilliantly rude sitcom of sexual blundering and unplanned pregnancy. It starts in a bar as American Rob, offers to buy Irish Sharon, a drink, even though he's only getting a coke for himself.

"You don't drink?" she says, "I quit a few years ago after I shat my pants at my sister's wedding." And with that, the tone is set and they fall in love. Within minutes they are in his hotel room, and after Sharon says, "I've never had sex with a sober person before", they do. They have the sort of chemistry that is rarely witnessed outside of the best movies, and the depictions of family and workplace relationships are as sharp as anything you'll see. "Why does everything have to go right for her?" Sharon says after another encounter with an insufferable friend, "I wish sometimes her dad would get caught with child porn, you know, just to knock the smug out of her."

Catastrophe, Soho, Thursday 9.30pm
Campbell Live, TV3, weekdays 7pm.

PS: The new season of Game of Thrones starts tonight (Monday) at 8.30pm on Soho just before the final of Fortitude, easily the best drama of the year so far. Veep returns for new season to Soho on Thursday at 9pm and you should not miss the brilliant TV1 true crime series I am Innocent, Wednesdays at 8.30pm. New episodes of Madmen, also on Soho, Tuesday's at 7.30pm, and Peaky Blinders has just started a new series on UKTV (Friday's 8.30pm)


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