Paul Henry tamed down

“He’s not the messiah, he’s just a very naughty boy.”

That famous phrase from Monty Python’s Life of Brian seemed strangely appropriate as The Paul Henry Show rolled onto our television screens for the first time last night.

For while New Zealand broadcasting’s enfant terrible (back after a less than successful sabbatical across the Tasman) jokingly promised a programme that would "define television as we know it", what he delivered was a proper half-hour of current affairs programming laced with his trademark schoolboy humour and roguish riffing.

But those hoping for something truly anarchic or  car-crash television akin to Mike King Tonight will be sorely disappointed, as Henry (best described as “broadcasting marmite” – you either love him or you hate him) not only takes a back seat to the real news for the majority of the first segment (read with a fair amount of nervousness by a precariously perched Janika ter Ellen who also clearly feared any questions Henry might toss her way), he also brings the same assuredness and eruditeness that made his short-lived Radio Live Drive show a popular listen.

Indeed it’s a somewhat tame affair by TV3 standards, especially when compared to the early days of the show’s predecessor Nightline – when Belinda Todd and Bill Ralston regularly shocked viewers.

Even recent Nightline regular roving reporter David Farrier looked like a new man when reporting from a virtually abandoned Sunset Strip post-Grammys.

That live cross was a rare non-political moment in an opening salvo that even Henry admitted had "politicians up the ying yang".

Our two main political leaders both popped in for chats in the cosy, drawing room-esque set, with Labour leader David Cunliffe chastised by Henry for his inability to spell Lorde’s name correctly when tweeting and a smug Prime Minister John Key confronted with a series of images of potential coalition partners ("He hasn’t changed his hair in two decades, I’m sure he hasn’t turned into an honest man in six months," Henry reminded him about Peter Dunne) and humiliated by his lack of New Zealand bird knowledge in what is promised to be a regular name "9 out of 10" segment (for the record Key could only manage Tui, Kiwi, Kakapo and "some kind of  pigeon").

A quick wrap up of world news saw Henry waxing lyrical about feral cats being thrown around by tornadoes, while a pre-recorded  piece followed Labour MP Jacinda Ardern as she MC’d David Cunliffe’s state of the nation speech and then DJ’d at the Laneway Festival. That was followed by a live cross into Ardern’s home where Henry encouraged his reporter to ask her “when she was going to finish decorating”.

On this evidence, The Paul Henry Show can rightly lord it over  the newly staffed Seven Sharp in terms of depth, breadth and entertainment value (despite them bringing their own cynically cool heavyweight in the form of Mike Hosking, although he looked like he’d just woken up last night).

And on a day when our own Lorde ruled, we even saw a rare glimpse of humbleness from Mister Henry. When ruminating on her successes, he noted, "It makes me question my own life. I’m 53 and what have I achieved?"

The Paul Henry Show, around 10.30pm, weeknights, TV3.