Paul Henry made a dignified exit from Australian breakfast television today, the provocative broadcaster retreated with restraint during the final episode of the Ten network's disastrous attempt to crack the competitive early morning time slot.
Renowned as an occasionally irritating and/or abusive host and interviewer, the New Zealander was fairly muted by his standards, maintaining a sense of decorum as Ten's ill-fated and short-lived bid to challenge rivals Today and Sunrise ended nine months after he was lured across the Tasman with a three-year, $A1 million contract.
The final 2-1/2 hour edition of Breakfast was interspersed with a highlights reel of the show's happier and cringe worthy moments since its inception in February, while Henry also made peace with trade unionist Dave Noonan, who successfully took him to task during coverage of a construction worker's street protest in Melbourne in late August.
Noonan refused to be cowed by Henry's typically belligerent line of questioning and finished a live cross by refusing to apologise for the disruption or "the fact that your show has so few viewers."
"Remember how rude he was?" asked Henry before co-host Kathryn Robinson interjected for one of the few times in the programme's history: "Remember how right he was?" she smiled, illustrating the light-hearted nature of their farewell performance.
Noonan was tracked down in London and buried the hatchet via satellite - though not between Henry's shoulder blades.
"You have your arguments in life, you threw a few, you got a few back and life goes on," he said before wishing Henry well for a future that sees the irreverent 52-year-old returning to Auckland and a yet to be determined role with TV3.
"If we had more interviews like you, we probably would have had more viewers," Henry mused.
Breakfast launched four days ahead of schedule on February 23 in response to Kevin Rudd's resignation as Australia's foreign minister and despite a concerted marketing campaign centered on Henry's acerbic wit, it made no impact whatsoever on Seven's Sunrise and Channel Nine's Today show.
It averaged only 40,000 viewers per day nationally - abysmal compared to the figures commanded by Sunrise and Today's 350,000 and 400,000 viewers respectively.
Breakfast also had to endure the humiliation of falling behind the ABC's low-key breakfast offering, an unacceptable scenario given the investment made in the New Zealander.
The show suffered a number of blows during its short existence, including the loss of co-host Dr Andrew Rochford in June as well as the fallout from the axing of popular talk show The Circle in July, which was viewed as a casualty of Breakfast's running costs.
Henry also attracted controversy when he suggested asylum seekers should starve to death or be gunned down on the beaches.
Both he and the network were compelled to apologise in August for the on-air remarks.
Henry today poked fun at himself by screening a segment of his more outlandish observations compiled by the ABC's satirical comedy show The Hamster Wheel.
The clip showed him disparaging vagrants and joke about hitting his then four-year-old daughter in the face with an axe on her birthday. He also perplexed Robinson by asking: "Do we know if there's anything wrong with dogs licking babies?"
Although Ten executives backed Breakfast despite its appalling ratings, the signs were ominous in August when the running time was trimmed by 30 minutes - on November 12 it was announced filming would end today.
While Henry was flippant throughout the death throes, Robinson was close to tears when she reflected on the end of an eight-year association with the network.
Although she often found herself in a similarly uncomfortable position to Henry's co-hosts Pippa Wetzell and Alison Mau during his controversy-laced time at TVNZ, Robinson paid tribute to her colleague.
"You are one of the most misunderstood characters in this country. I thank you for the laughs and for your friendship, I mean that."
Weather presenter Magdalena Roze also expressed her love and admiration for her co-workers but there was no stirring farewell from Henry, a polarising personality who is usually never short of a word.
"That's that then," he said as Roze ended her tribute, before signing off in self-deprecation mode.
"I've decided to dedicate the last programme to the viewers. There weren't many of you because we decided to go for quality over quantity. In hindsight, a mistake."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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