Paul Henry: 'I may be arrogant but I'm happy'

SIMON DAY AND KIM KNIGHT
Last updated 05:00 02/02/2014
Paul Henry
HAPPY MAN: Paul Henry.

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Paul Henry wants to be the last thing you see before you go to sleep.

But first he's going to have to convince you to stay up late enough for the 10.30pm start to his eponymous late-night show. Naturally, Henry believes people will do this, for him.

"My view of this programme is it will be appointment viewing. People will change their lives to factor being able to watch this programme into it," he said, after the finish of Thursday's show.

From the first moments of the first show Henry was self-congratulating, welcoming his audience to share in a moment of television history.

He is as brash, self-centred, and narcissistic as we remembered him to be before his brief sojourn across The Ditch. He is also very funny. Still.

His famous ego intact, Henry acknowledges his arrogance, born from a supreme self-confidence, and comfort in who he is.

"Do I think I am better than other people? Yes. I see myself to be above average as a human being. I am a responsible human being. I am a contributor and I care a great deal about people. I am also intelligent. I am pretty happy with the person I am," he said.

Henry's last regular appearance here was on TVNZ's Breakfast, where he famously insulted Greenpeace's Stephanie Mills over her facial hair, singer Susan Boyle, an Indian politician with an unusual name, and asked Prime Minister John Key whether the Auckland-born Governor-General, of Indian ethnicity, was in fact a New Zealander.

The comments eventually lead to his resignation, and a failed stint on Australian breakfast television.

Henry doesn't regret the comments or believe he is coloured by their legacy.

"I'm not someone who dwells on the past, or lives with any regrets. I think people move on and those comments will eventually become one part of a bigger, more interesting picture. People do say I am arrogant, but I am just me and I say things the way I see them. I answer questions where a lot of people don't. If that is arrogance then I am," he said.

In an already strong lineup of news and current affairs on TV3, Henry was hired for his "unique talents", according to director of news and current affairs Mark Jennings.

"We are doing news, and we might have a laugh around some things, and we might be self-deprecating, and we might point out the absurdity of certain things. We are trying to tell people things they don't already know," said Jennings.

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The late-night setting seems a more natural environment for Henry, who can analyse the day's news with his sarcastic and sometimes bizarre but always distinct fashion.

In a world saturated with information, the playful presentation of news has been proven to keep the public interested in current affairs.

In the US, comedian Jon Stewart has been described as the most trusted man in America for his satiric presentation of the news and media critiques, on The Daily Show.

Fans of Stewart, the ironic liberal, white knight might be enraged by any comparison with an aggressively right-wing troublemaker like Henry.

Henry, too, is wary of drawing analogies. But whereas they come from distinctly different starting points, the two hosts have common ground in their execution.

In its first week The Paul Henry Show has already effectively used satire to make important but mundane stories entertaining.

A purported profile of "MP for nowhere", Brendan Horan, and his plans to lead a coalition of independent MPs, let Horan humiliate himself over recitals of the periodic table. Horan was promptly put at the top of Henry's "people we can do without" list.

"He's probably never been on the top of a list before," said Henry.

But Henry also takes news seriously. He is fascinated by politics and international events and worked as a foreign correspondent during the Yugoslavian civil war, in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. (He remembers carefully removing a helmet from a trench in Bosnia for a souvenir only to find a soldier's head still inside.)

But traditional visions of impartial journalism were ruled out on opening night. His first guest, Labour leader David Cunliffe, was told "I'd never vote for you" but Cunliffe was treated fairly all the same.

And this transparency, Henry argues, makes him more impartial and his information more reliable because you know where it is coming from.

He loathes political journalists who don't vote so as to preserve their "political virginity".

"To say that they can't form their own opinions, that they are so frightened it is going to taint their work, of course that is rubbish - everyone has their own opinions," said the man who has an opinion on everything and who believes his opinion is always right because it wouldn't be worth having otherwise.

It's this conviction that makes him so entertaining.

"I have a very cavalier attitude to the way people feel about what I say, and that means I don't have to guard what I say, because it really doesn't bother me what people think. And I think there is something refreshing about that," he said.

Although some people may dislike Henry because of these views, (and according to Twitter and a segment on the show called Who Hates Paul Henry? many do), Henry can't understand or respect those who don't have opinions.

"The problem with the democracy is that everyone's vote counts the same as everyone else. I think it is diabolical that someone who doesn't give a shit about politics, has no interest in it, doesn't care, can go into the polling booth and nullify my vote through their own pig-ignorant stupidity," he said.

If Henry ran the country (his 1999 foray into politics for the National Party in Wairarapa left him unelected) there would be a test at the beginning of the ballot paper to determine a voter's intellectual capability to participate in democracy. A three-question, multi-choice quiz to establish a minimum knowledge of the system.

"And if you can't get those three questions right, there is no way you can make an even vaguely intelligent independent decision on who should form the next government. It would be nice if people could upskill," he said.

Henry accepts poverty and the growing inequality in New Zealand will be a big election issue, but he has little pity for the poor, despite coming out of poverty himself.

When his parents separated when Henry was 11, he was pulled from relative wealth in New Zealand - "a boat in the driveway and a couple of cars" - and dropped in the tenements of Bristol, where his mother worked in a plastic bag factory. He was at the bottom of the pecking order in an industrial town at the bottom of the pecking order.

"I knew in my heart of hearts, that something had gone terrible wrong to put me in this situation and I eventually would be out of it," he said.

Hence he believes in taking personal responsibility to fight for success, even on an unlevel playing field. He won't make excuses for people because they didn't start with the same opportunities as others.

"We can sit around and pity people, we can take them by their hand and lead them through their sanitised lives and guarantee them a minimum standard. If you guarantee people a minimum standard you can be pretty sure that they will reach that minimum standard and probably go no further," he said.

On that note, while Henry is happy and proud of the show's first week, he'd be unfazed if it bombed. He would have more time to spend in his garden, on the ocean and with his three daughters.

"If enough people don't like me and if it doesn't work then I won't do it. If tomorrow it all comes to an end I will just spend more time on the boat. And it is just no skin off my nose at all."

HOW THEY RATED

According to Nielsen Television Audience Measurement figures The Paul Henry Show won its time slot on its debut night, achieving a rating of 4.9 per cent of the 25 to 54-year-old target audience - beating The Grammys (4 per cent on TV One) and a repeat screening of Arrow (1 per cent) on TV2.

Earlier that same night, TV3's Campbell Live beat Seven Sharp, with 15.9 per cent share of the 25 to 54-year-old audience, compared with its rival's 12.3 per cent. Shortland Street easily beat both with a 45.5 per cent share.

When audience share was averaged across Monday to Thursday nights, Seven Sharp scored 14.6 per cent, Campbell Live 12.4 per cent and Shortland Street, 44.1 per cent.

HENRY AND HOSKING SHOULD GO IT ALONE

How many egos does it take to host a television current affairs show?

Just one, say the commentators, who think Mike Hosking and Paul Henry should ditch their co-hosts.

The new (old) kids on the infotainment block are a week into their latest small screen incarnations - Hosking on TV One's Seven Sharp, where he shares the spotlight with Toni Street and Jesse Mulligan, and Henry on his self-titled TV3 late show, where he's paired with newsreader Janika ter Ellen.

"It's a really good thing we've got them both back on mainstream TV," said Jo Malcolm, Canterbury University journalism school broadcast lecturer.

"But I have huge issues with the way they're being used. Unfortunately, neither of them likes sharing the spotlight. They're such big egos, they are good at what they do, so why make them share?"

Brian Edwards, Auckland-based media consultant, said Seven Sharp's three-person format was "not really a feasible proposition". He thought Hosking looked uncomfortable and said he should have gone into the 7pm slot when Mark Sainsbury left Close Up.

"I think this (Seven Sharp) is very much second best to that as an idea for what to do with Mike Hosking on television," Edwards said.

Both commentators bagged TV3 newcomer ter Ellen, who, while not billed as a "co-host", reads the news on Henry's show and interacts with him throughout.

Edwards: "I've said, perhaps unkindly, she comes across as though you've got a very beautiful hairdresser to read the news. Henry needs someone to come back when he says something outrageous, and she doesn't."

Malcolm's reaction was: "I thought - oh my god, she's a bridesmaid. She's just walked in from a wedding . . . she's no foil for him, she is mincemeat on the show."

Hosking's co-hosts fared only slightly better.

"Two's company, three's a crowd," said Malcolm. "Get rid of Jesse. I'm sorry, I really like him, but he's a third wheel. If I'm going to be really brutal you have Hosking in the hot seat, and Toni doing the news - although the great thing about Seven Sharp is you don't need the news because you've just watched it, which really makes a second person irrelevant.

Malcolm said viewers tuned in for personalities. "You're watching Hosking, or you're watching Henry, and the rest is window dressing. Let them come into their own, let them do what they do best. Stop cluttering it."

On Friday, executives from both networks defended the use of multiple presenters.

"We're proud of the Seven Sharp team, both our presenters and reporters," said John Gillespie, TVNZ's head of news and current affairs.

"They're a skilled lot, and we're working hard to make sure those skills shine, which is a team effort. We'll keep on trying different things that will continue to resonate with our audience - who have been telling us this week we are absolutely on the right track."

Mark Jennings, TV3 director of news and current affairs, said ter Ellen added "an important dimension" to The Paul Henry Show and that her main job was to present the news.

"She's not a co-host; the show is hosted by Paul alone, which is the way it should be. In the four days since the programme started, we haven't yet had any big breaking news, but when it happens, the news component and Janika's role will allow us to cover it properly. Janika also frees Paul up to be Paul in a way that wouldn't be possible if he was also responsible for reading the news - you can't comment on the news at the same time as presenting it."

- Sunday Star Times

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