One year in and Paul Henry is in the rudest health of any TV3 news product this side of the peerless The Nation.

A year ago a new current affairs show launched on a channel known for serious and sober current affairs, featuring a talent seemingly at odds with both of those adjectives: Paul Henry. His show was to be called, with characteristic modesty, Paul Henry, and his shiny face gurned out of every billboard in the city as it first went to air.

Its early days were, in truth, something of a shambles. Garishly bright, swinging chaotically from section to section, prone to sustained shots of the back of its host's head. This wasn't helped by the contrast - it replaced the very good Firstline, and started a day which would climax with the one-two punch of 3 News and Campbell Live, a long-established and well-loved lineup.

Paul Henry's breakfast programme has managed to stick around while other shows have rebranded.
Paul Henry's breakfast programme has managed to stick around while other shows have rebranded.

Today those shows are gone or rebranded, but Paul Henry remains. And, somewhat shockingly, it has grown into one of the best daily current affairs products in New Zealand broadcasting. This has been driven by the vast well of energy its host draws on every day.

He has always loved the hot lights of the studio, the electricity of a live mic. There is no issue on which he wants for an opinion, no medium he feels incapable of mastering. Finally, the show constantly implies, he has something shaped entirely in his image and worthy of his talents.


In previous enterprises, Henry seemed forever straining against the dictates of an ill-fitting suit. Breakfast was too bland and breezy for him, and some of his excesses came no doubt from that stifling environment. It's notable that, despite him having uttered hundreds of thousands of words on air this past year, markedly fewer than usual have caused offence.

That doesn't mean none: his comments to Hilary Barry earlier this week were essentially workplace harassment dressed up as banter, and on any given show he'll say something to a guest or colleague which, in a vacuum, would demand a serious reprimand. Even his recent airing out a producer's liking for tuna in meetings felt vaguely cruel.

And yet - his colleagues, both men and women, seem to love him. They forgive his every transgression, and even people who find his politics antithetical cannot disguise their affection for the man. It seems dangerous to say, but also entirely possible that Paul Henry, who has appeared a toxic combination of racist and lech, might somehow be a good guy.

And Paul Henry a good show. It brings a different feel to its competition. The mix of editorialising and reportage feels reasonably well delineated, thanks to his being such a mischievous dude, and oftentimes he's right.

Despite his own politics, it's not a partisan enterprise, and he welcomes the contest of ideas. He's second only to the flawless Morning Report duo of Ferguson and Espiner on a statement interview, and, thanks to smart and slick producers, mostly he gets the good talent to work with. This extends from culture, to politics, to business - indeed, one of the most attractive qualities it possesses is an admiration for those who venture and gain, something often lacking in both our populace and media alike.

Like nearly everything on this earth, it is imperfect. It still lumbers along with that 9 in 10 section which is plain bad, and whenever Henry utters an opinion on popular culture it's generally regrettable: "1971 - arguably the best year for rock'n'roll" is not a plausible sentence.

The social media bunker is basically a very long-running joke about his respect for the medium. It's a good idea in theory, but has never quite been properly integrated, and is thus on its third bright young female host in 12 months. All have done well under the constraints, but the section needs more room to breath, so conversations as substantive as those had on his sneakily good panels can be had.

But a year in Paul Henry is in the rudest health of any TV3 news product this side of the peerless The Nation. It's up against entrenched incumbents on both radio (Hosking) and television (Breakfast). For the first time in a long time, each has a good fight on its hands.


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