“I’m pretty nervous,” Paddy Gower confided to an audience member. He was talking quietly, scanning the small crowd, before taking position backstage to launch his biggest, boldest media move yet.
Then it was lights up. As two guide dogs sat patiently, obediently, in the front row, Gower bounded from backstage, high-fiving the cast and audience members, to introduce his eponymous show - and a new chapter in primetime current affairs/entertainment television.
Paddy Gower Has Issues – the name was there, front and centre in bright purple, blue and white neon. And on Wednesday night, Paddy Gower also had scoops.
Over the past many months, Discovery has scoured the world, looking at different formats for a new show fronted by a man who has become arguably their biggest, bankable news star. His one-off shows last year were a huge ratings success; Warner Bros Discovery will be confident that transfers to this new weekly Wednesday night slot.
What they have landed on is a format like no other. An hour-long show that, in Wednesday night’s case, was weaved together by two issues delivered in four parts each – a very impactful and serious investigation into New Zealand kids’ reading literacy and how reading is taught in our schools; and the deliberately softer, funnier “undercover investigation” into music being played in supermarkets.
It was a credit to the producers and writers that they pulled all of this together so well. The respective reporters, Laura Tupou (Newshub reporters such as Tupou will come through the show each week) and comedian Karen O’Leary, were positioned on a couch alongside Gower to make emphatic points on their respective stories.
“I went undercover,” said O’Leary, and by undercover, she meant “I drove into Countdown’s undercover carpark ... and rode the escalator up.” It generated one of the biggest laughs of the show.
As we were taken on a journey into classrooms and supermarkets, we also crossed regularly to a comedic newsdesk helmed by Eli Matthewson and Courtney Dawson – and to Gower himself for some commentary on an issue of the week. Wednesday night’s subject: feral cats. They must die, says Gower.
It might sound messy, but it was executed well. The producers will undoubtedly need to be careful about the content mix each week, given the format. And they’ll also be wanting to maintain a decent pace to hold people for a full hour at this time of the evening.
O’Leary and Tupou had strong presence on the couch – though it might be worth considering more interaction between them (and Gower) in coming weeks – while Matthewson and Dawson’s chemistry was warm, and their content hit the mark.
As for Gower, the ringmaster, those nerves were kept at bay. In his own interview with Education Minister Jan Tinetti, he finally got her to concede that changes were needed in literacy learning, and a ministerial directive might be required.
A strong and terrific start for all. No Dennis Conner storming out of the studio a la Paul Holmes’ first show in 1989 – but for Gower, a great story under his belt, some genuine laughs, and a new format that deserves every success.
* Paddy Gower Has Issues, Three, 7.30pm Wednesdays