TVNZ to close down Close Up

From Close Up to closed down, it's the end of an era for a New Zealand television staple and its current frontman, Mark Sainsbury.

TVNZ announced a proposal yesterday to switch off the programme by the end of the year, with 16 staff going through a consultation period until mid next month.

Sainsbury said he would have preferred the programme and his role to continue but ultimately he accepted the broadcaster's decision.

"I'd love to keep going until I drop dead. But let's be real, it is the end of an era," he said yesterday after six years with the show and 31 years at the network.

"They've been looking at the programme for most of the year - we'd made a huge effort - but they want to make changes."

Last night, on signing off for the night on his programme, Sainsbury said the Close Up format "as we know it" was ending after 23 years.

"But a new different programme will emerge next year.

"It's an exciting time in this business when change happens, whether you want that change to occur or not, and the feeling is that it's time for change," he said.

Sainsbury stopped short of saying he was leaving TVNZ but said he had no regrets over his 31-year career.

A long-time commuter to Auckland, he is expected to return to his Wellington home when the curtain falls.

Former TVNZ broadcasters said they had concerns the proposal to pull the plug on Close Up was another step towards dumbing down content.

Former TVNZ news and current affairs executives Bill Ralston and Paul Norris said they had fears the programme might be replaced with an even more lightweight “info-tainment” show designed to draw in larger audiences while neglecting serious analytical stories.

Ralston said a show reformat would probably mean it ended up as “current affairs-lite”.

“The only thing I can think of for the new format style is something like Breakfast but they'll have to call it Dinner, I suppose.”

Paul Holmes, who fronted the current affairs show Holmes in the post-One News time-slot from 1989 to 2004, said he feared Close Up had become “lightweight”.

“But having said that, we [at Holmes] were always accused of being lightweight as well,” he added.

“Mark's made a damn good fist of it.”

Holmes said that while the demands of daily news programming were beyond him, TVNZ needed to think outside the square. “Maybe we do need something that's more openly funny and entertaining.

"In saying that, I do not exclude that it will be serious current affairs, even if it's comedy - serious doesn't have to be dour."

TVNZ declined to elaborate on a replacement for Close Up, saying only that a new daily current affairs show "with a distinctively different format" would appear in the new year. Speculation over possible hosts for the new show included the return of Paul Henry, who was sacked from TVNZ in 2010 and is currently working at Network Ten in Australia.

Although the executives who fired Henry are no longer at the network, the polarising broadcaster has struck up an association with TVNZ's main rival, MediaWorks.

The Dominion Post