Editorial: Challenge for TVNZ

Last updated 08:51 28/09/2012

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OPINION: The era of personality-driven early evening current events shows on television began 23 years ago with the Holmes show fronted by Paul Holmes.

Although some viewers were put off by a slightly bumptious and self-important air about Holmes, for many years, love him or loathe him, he was for a very large audience compulsive viewing.

But Holmes left the show eight years ago after a row over his salary and since then, while the ratings of the show, renamed Close Up, may have remained respectable, something of its dynamism left with him and the show has not been able to generate the same energy.

Yesterday, Television New Zealand announced that a proposal to close the show was under consideration. Although the announcement said that ending the show was just a proposal, the programme's frontman for the last five years, the extravagantly moustached Mark Sainsbury, announced that his 31-year tenure with Television New Zealand was over and declared the end of an era.

The end was not unexpected. For many critics, much of the show's weakness lay with Sainsbury. For all his long experience as a television journalist, particularly his years as TVNZ's political editor, his skills as an interviewer were often found wanting.

With one-one-one interviews a vital element of such programmes, it was a serious deficiency and the show sagged as a result. Although TV3's rival Campbell Live show continues to lag significantly behind Close Up, the stridently Leftish advocacy style of John Campbell, that show's frontman, has often made the TVNZ show look anaemic.

Television New Zealand's head of news and current affairs, Ross Dagan, has promised to fill the slot with a new daily current affairs show but one "with a distinctively different format". To this end, it has invited suggestions on its Facebook page from the public, netting the usual facetious responses - "one with Paul Henry in it" or "one without Mark Sainsbury".

Whatever TVNZ settles on, it is hard to see any "distinctively different format" being an improvement on the present one. One reason for suspecting this is that all changes in television news and current affairs in recent years have been relentlessly for the worse.

Although news and current affairs shows do well enough in the ratings, they are expensive to make. Such ratings as they have can always be beaten by a "reality" show which will be much cheaper. Broadcasters, like many other sections of the media, are facing the twin challenges of straitened economic conditions and the internet, and are finding it hard to meet financial targets.

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News and current affairs are often the first to bear the brunt of any cuts going and cuts inevitably mean an inferior product. The flagging commitment of TVNZ to prime-time current affairs has already been shown by the cutting of the time allotted to the Sunday programme in half to accommodate a cheesy talent show.

The question now for TVNZ, if it is going to have a current affairs show in the 7pm slot, must be who will replace Sainsbury to front it. Paul Henry is a facetious suggestion because of the rancour surrounding his departure not long ago from TVNZ.

Mike Hosking, who stands in for Sainsbury, has a grim earnestness about him that is likely to make him hard to take every night. TVNZ does not have a lot of heavyweight talent to choose from for such an important spot.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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