The Paul Henry Show – A Review
Far from being “television history”, TV3’s new “Paul Henry Show” on 27 January was a bit of the old chat show; the usual weather graphics; a mix of interviews and on-the-scene reporting; plus a curiously dated style of reading the news.
I must admit, I was sceptical. Henry’s track record in the electronic media left a lot to be desired, with episodes of racism and juvenile behaviour. He appealed to a certain sector of our society – mainly the racists and juvenile-minded adults. For the rest of us, he was a major *facepalm* in our lives and people were happy to switch off.
On 16 January, as TV3 began to promo Henry’s up-coming show, I blogged,
Henry can do outrageous, tasteless, shocking. It’s not that hard to cater for society’s lowest common denominator. Ignorance, juvenile “humour”, and tastelessness require no thought whatsoever. Just check out Courtney Place in Wellington or Queen St in Auckland, in the early hours of Saturday and Sunday mornings, for evidence of that kind of behaviour.
But I’ve also seen Henry’s better, more serious side, where he has hosted intelligent current affairs programmes with maturity, dignity, and professionalism. That side of Paul Henry is one that treats viewers, and his own profession, with respect.
I’m not expecting a sombre, sullen, Henry – fresh from a funeral or roadside crash.
But is it too much to expect maturity and dignity from a man who is quite capable of delivering a professional performance?
Paul Henry has talent. I would love to see that in his new show. I would love to see TV3 encouraging that talent. And I would love to be part of an audience to appreciate it.
So Paul, I look forward to a solid, professional, engaging, performance from you.
Just leave the clown nose at home this time. Ok?
So, how was Henry’s first performance?
Firstly, it’s worthwhile pointing out that Henry had a co-presenter (or straight-person), in the form of Janika ter Ellen. She was the “news” reader and weather presenter (off screen to weather graphics).
She read her news from paper (as well as an off-screen tele-prompter) – something of a ‘retro’ feeling – reminding me very much of news-readers from, literally, the last century;
The ‘newsyness’ of the material ranged from a once-over-lightly of serious issues to the superficial; Lorde’s Grammy achievement; David Cunliffe’s State of the Nation speech; an explosion in Invercargill; Mt Etna erupting; inter-family rivalry, North Korean style; the Syrian civil war; ongoing unrest in the Ukraine; and a strange item on two pidgeons released by the Pope, and prompty attacked by a crow and seagull… (Slow news night, perhaps?)
As Ter Ellen finished reading the news and weather, Henry jumped in and made light of the pidgeon-vs-crow-and-seagull story, and referred to “If you were Jesus…”
At this point, it appeared that the old, obnoxious, Henry was about to stage a sudden re-appearance and launch into a bad-taste comedy-routine… It came close. I nearly switched off… But persevered. Henry reigned himself in.
Just as well – a few thousand other hands were poised with TV Remotes, ready to switch channels or switch right off. Janika ter Ellen looked decidedly uncomfortable, squirming ever-so-slightly in her chair. I could see her thinking, hoping, praying, “Please, please, please, Paul; don’t say something dumb. Don’t do it; don’t do it; don’t do it!”
The moment passed. Henry pulled back from the Chasm of Bad Taste. Viewers thumbs moved away from the channel switch. Janika ter Ellen breathed relief. The show’s producer popped another med for angina.
As well as the superficiality of the news, a Paul Henry coffee cup was plonked in front of ter Ellen, distracting the viewers attention. If that was some kind of “product placement”, it was a dumb move. If it was an accident – watch that kind of stuff next time, please.
The “news” was followed in quick succession with an interview with David Cunliffe. There was discussion of his State of the Nation speech; oil drilling safety; royalties; Norway; and coalition partners.
Not a bad interview. Cunliffe responded well; confidently; and was well advised. But again, once-over-lightly, with easy questions, and no follow-ups.
Then on to World “News”; an Australian base-jumper killed; UK’s feral cats; and a pregnant brain-dead woman in the US having her life-support switched off. The stories were off-beat and more what you’d expect from Youtube than a serious media organisation.
Then into an interview with John Key, with a permanent – and oh-so-obviously fake – smile cemented onto his face. The Prime Minister must be a very worried man. I haven’t seen such a fake smile since the last door-to-door sales-girl came to my door suggesting I switch power-cos.
Henry quizzed Key on playing golf with Obama; what did they chat about (with a non-committal and vague response from Key); potential coalition partners; the Maori Party; would he trust Peter Dunne (yes); would he trust Winston Peters (evasive response); would he trust Kim Dotcom (firm, decisive “NO!”); and would he trust Len Brown (a very diplomatic answer – but then Key isn’t an attractive woman).
That was followed by a bizarre contest; first prize a very shiny new car. Key had to name ten native birds in ten seconds. He got four or five.
It was a jarring moment, incongruent with a supposedly news/current affairs programme. Had we entered into a light entertainment segment. If so, it was a seamless switch.
Then we got given a “story” on Labour MP Jacinda Ardern. Evidently she “moonlights as a D.J? Vaguely interesting. The suggestion was that it was a means by which a politician could connect with young people in a social setting? If so, that wasn’t original at all. The Alliance did something similar in 1996, with young cadres visiting night-clubs with “Alliance” badges and other election paraphernalia.
Overall, it was a restrained, almost mature performance from Paul Henry (except for the pidgeon thing. As infotainment it was watchable.
As serious news/current affairs, it is a step backwards. Whether it was a miscalculation to deliver “lighter stories” at that time slot or someone at TV3 not doing their job properly, it was hardly in the class of John Campbell or Paul Holmes.
It’s major failing is that the Show tries to be all things; serious; newsworthy; informative; light-hearted; chatty; irreverant. It doesn’t work. And there were enough moments that ‘jarred’ as to make the viewing experience less than coherent.
Would I watch it in preference to TV1 News? Probably not. Not unless there was a particularly topical interview.
Can it do better? Without doubt.
Can it do worse? With Paul Henry, what do you think?
On a Frankly Speaking Rating, where 1 is Godawful-never-to-be-seen-again-by-Human-eyes to 10, This-is-unmissable-Walter-Cronkite-BBC stuff, I’d rate this a 6.
Unless the Show confirms which path it wants to be on – serious news/current affairs – or – light infotainment/chat show – it will not appeal to either audience demographic who demands one or the other.
However on a new Frankly Speaking Rating for Paul Henry’s self-discipline and attempt at professionalism; 8/10.
Indeed, perhaps that was the real news story of the night..
Having watched the Paul Henry Show again (28 January), I can confirm that he has not failed to live down to expectations. His inanities came through with usual juvenile predictability. He has obviously “loosened up” from the previous night, and returned to true form. I found it tedious.
It may work on 7 Days – but with him, on his show, it falls flat and stinks. Much like an Arctic cod.
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 29 January 2014.
Paul Henry Show: David Cunliffe talks State of the Nation with Paul Henry
Previous related blogpost
Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen
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