Brian Edwards Media

Now come on, admit it, you’re missing him, aren’t you? You know who I mean. And it’s just not the same, is it?

Herald on Sunday

I see that TVNZ spokesperson Megan Richards has denied reports that viewers have deserted the channel’s Breakfast show since Paul Henry left the programme. Richards said that a report in the Herald on Sunday headed ‘Audience dives since Henry’s departure’ was simply ‘wrong’. Viewership ratings had ‘held steady’. 

Interpretation of television ratings to suit one’s own purposes has become something of a PR art form. There’s bound to be a demographic somewhere where your channel is ahead, if only among insomniac devotees of geriatric movies. 

But I suspect Richards is correct. Leaving aside the fact that there is no competing programme on TV3 for viewers to defect to, weekday early morning TV shows are rarely appointment viewing. 

I became particularly aware of this when staying with relatives in Britain. As mum bustled around making breakfast, getting the kids ready for school, finding dad’s cufflinks and generally transforming chaos into some semblance of order, television sets in the living room, kitchen, master and teenagers’ bedrooms sprayed news, weather, traffic information and chat to anyone who cared to listen and watch. 

Breakfast is a chaotic time for most families, making concentrated viewing of anything on TV difficult. So, other than for the unemployed or  retired, breakfast viewing is distracted viewing. Audiences do not so much ‘watch’ the programme, as ‘catch’ snatches of information relevant to their areas of interest or to the forthcoming day. The often complained of cyclical repetition of news headlines, weather forecasts and traffic reports makes absolute sense since it increases the chances that an individual member of the household will get the information they want while commuting from bedroom to bathroom or kitchen to living room. Weather forecasts are worldwide the highest rating programmes on television, a sobering thought perhaps for programme makers and the stars who appear on the programmes. 

All of this may mean that the hosts of breakfast TV programmes play a somewhat less significant role in attracting and retaining viewers than they would in prime time. There is, after all, very little difference between breakfast television formats world wide: attractive female presenter and (at least passable) male presenter chat, make jokes, occasionally flirt, do serious and not-so-serious short interviews on topical issues, read emails and texts, throw to news headlines, weather and traffic reports and cross live to hyperactive field reporters with the latest quirky, offbeat, sad/happy human interest story in town.   

So how do you distinguish your breakfast show from all the other breakfast shows? Even in a small country like New Zealand, intelligent, attractive, bright, breezy television presenters are two a penny. When I was asked by the Herald on Sunday recently to suggest replacements for Paul Henry and Pippa Wetzell, I was able to come up with more than a dozen women and a couple of men. (There’s a message in there somewhere.) The chemistry is important of course. Ideally, the viewer should be wondering whether they’re having an affair. No such suggestion with Paul and Pippa, but the chemistry was undoubtedly perfect.  

But even that is secondary to the essential function of the breakfast programme to provide bite-sized chunks of news and service information to people starting their day. 

So how many people tuned in to Breakfast solely to see Paul Henry? If Megan Richards (and her ratings) are right, relatively few. This would tend to support the thesis that people don’t watch breakfast programmes for the presenters but for information. However,  the absence of a competing breakfast show has to be a relevant factor in the programme retaining its audience,  despite a fairly lacklustre response to the current pairing. There was, in a word, nowhere else for viewers to go. 

Of Rob Muldoon’s encounters with television interviewers, a colleague once said to me that what made them unmissable appointment viewing was the ‘sense of impending debacle’ that you experienced before the first question had even been asked. Something similar may have been true of Henry. Only a small proportion of television viewers, who happened to be passing a television set at the time, would have caught the original live versions of moustache-gate, retard-gate, Dikshit-gate or any of Henry’s other sacrileges. Most of us read about them in the paper, or saw them on YouTube or watched the hundreds of repeat showings that outrages appear to require. What drew viewers to Henry was the same expectation, the same sense of impending debacle, that drew people to Muldoon. He was undoubtedly a drawcard. 

So I’m reluctant to accept that, had Sunrise still been on air, and had TV3 had the good sense and the money to lure Henry to their studios in Flower Street, viewers would not have deserted the state broadcaster in droves, to see what Paul would do next. 

And, just in case you’re interested, here are the names I suggested to the Herald on Sunday as possible replacement for Paul and Pippa: 

Women: Ali Mau, Bernadine Oliver-Kerby, Natasha Utting, Emma Keeling, Heather du Plessis-Alan, Donna Marie-Lever, Melissa Stokes, Vicki Wilkinson-Baker… 

Men: Richard Langston, Jim Mora…. 

Paul Homes would not have been right. Q & A fits him like a glove. 

I also hear TVNZ’s US correspondent Tim Wilson mentioned as a front-runner, but I suspect he’s a better novelist than he is a broadcaster. Next time he’s on, look for the way he delivers his sentences in disjointed chunks (what we call ‘patterned delivery’) and for his preposterously self-conscious head tilt at the end of his reports. What is that saying?

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35 Comments:

  1. Nobody, anywhere I’ve looked, has addressed the central Paul Henry question, which is this: if “we” were so “outraged” by Paul Henry’s remarks, how is it that he was a long-time ratings winner for TVNZ to begin with? The answer is: because Paul Henry could only exist in a consumer milieu that had a taste for him in the first place, up to and including the moment he went – oh dear – “too far”. People like watching train wrecks.

    It won’t matter if Paul Henry was fired or not, the public’s taste will remain what it is (whether they complain or not) and soon there’ll be another Paul Henry; there always is. To set the standards that low, and then pretend to be offended later on, is beyond satire.

    The hypocrisy on all sides is profoundly depressing.

    • Nobody, anywhere I’ve looked, has addressed the central Paul Henry question, which is this: if “we” were so “outraged” by Paul Henry’s remarks, how is it that he was a long-time ratings winner for TVNZ to begin with?

      Well, first you have to remember that the Breakfast audience doesn’t represent the entire population. It’s pretty small for a start. And most people don’t really ‘watch’ breakfast television. It’s ‘on’ and that’s all the research people need to know to decide that X number of people were watching. ‘on’ and ‘watching’ are two very different thngs. A small minority of Kiwis watched Breakfast with Paul and Pippa. Some of those may have liked Paul, others may have watched to see what awful thing he was going to say next and disapproved. The non-viewers are a substantial majority of the population and we don’t really know what they think.

  2. Certainly been happy mornings for me now I dont have to listen to Pauls take on EVERYTHING…and quite frankly listening to his right wing babblings often nearly had my breakfast coming back up!

  3. Nobody ever HAD to listen to Henry. Surely?

  4. Maybe it’s just me, but, I DID tune in to Breakfast because of Paul Henry. Were there a different host, I honestly don’t think I would have for so long. Now he’s not there, I don’t really bother with the program except for the weather report just after 7:30 or 8:00am (depending on what time I have to depart the house).
    It was his sense of mischief that was attractive, more than much else. Yes, that is what got him in the proverbial, but I know I’m not the only one.

  5. On Tim Wilson.. whenever he’s doing a live crossover with the presenter in the studio he’s got this rather annoying habit of stating the name of the presenter after each comment. Trivial I know but its just really irritating!

  6. What is it about TV and hyphenated names?

    I dont agree with any of your choices, Brian, male or female. Jim Mora? Zzzzz.

    Tim Wilson would be a good choice, although I am liking the little I have seen of Corin Dann in the big chair.

    Or bring back Mike Hosking!

  7. Oh yes – Mike really was good. Tim Wilson? Maybe – but probably not.

  8. So what about a bit of class; Brian and Judy as co-presenters? I might even watch it then.

    Like Holmes before him, I think Henry has an exaggerated idea of his own talents and importance. Holmes found out the hard way what happened to his ‘loyal’ fan base. Henry would have found out the same thing even had he fronted a TV3 breakfast show.

  9. BE: “Now come on, admit it, you’re missing him, aren’t you? You know who I mean. And it’s just not the same, is it?”

    Just gives me the willies, reading that. You were at the forefront, forever, snapping at his heels like a rabid dingo. Now, that Paul’s been ground, down into dust, you’re lamenting his departure, already.

    Paul Henry never deserved to get the boot. He oughn’t’ve have made the remarks about Satyanand the way he did, but it didn’t justify in his being unceremoniously dumped. Just because he wasn’t too PC about the way he phrased the question. More “tongue in cheek” than anything. But the drongos who complained, couldn’t grasp the humour. A bit too subtle for those who can only laugh at the “pie in the face”-type gags.

    Paul skirted around the edges of staid propriety and stolid sensibilities, but he was more playful than offensive. And that’s why he had the popular following that he had. Paul’s right, too, when he claims TVNZ encouraged him to rattle the chain. TVNZ might ultimately be correct in saying his avant-garde ballsy style was becoming a lightning rod for its boring and indignant mainstream viewers, with all the complaints to the BSA; and that he was alienating many viewers. But that’s just a false dichotomy. Because on the one hand, TVNZ can’t argue that his controversial style attracted viewers — that is, he articulates what the majority feel but are too afraid to express; and on the other hand, that he’s alienating those viewers with his so-called outrageous remarks.

    More to the point, when TVNZ are so ratings-driven that they encourage their boy to stir things up and are willing to defer to “style” over “substance”, they forfeit their right to play the pious morality card — especially, over such a trivial matter when Paul asked the PM about our next Governor-General.

    Maybe, you should start a campaign to have him reinstated on Breakfast. It might just go some way in righting all the wrong you’ve heaped upon his head.

    Oh, and as for that other “Paul” — he’s only good, if you like your commentary Lite. A paint-by-numbers journo.

    • Just gives me the willies, reading that.

      Sorry about that, Merv. But actually I don’t think you’ll find me saying anywhere in the post that Paul Henry should come back. And I don’t withdraw any of the criticsims I made of his performance.

  10. “Now, that Paul’s been ground down into dust”.

  11. I never cared about Henry’s competence and, although i was personally offended, I think there ios probably a discussion to be had about his “humour”. I campaigned to get rid of him because he was a mouthpiece for a the particularly nasty right wing aspects of this Tory government. For that alone I was happy to see him go and don’t really care if the process was fair or not.
    BTW – I think maybe we put too much emphasis on the pulling power of “hosts” full stop. Weibe Zwaga did a very interesting study of NZ TV viewing habits that painted a picture in the evenings no unlike the picture you painted of breakfast TV land, Brian. Zwaga’s research showed that most of us pay very little attention to the TV MOST of the time.

    • Weibe Zwaga did a very interesting study of NZ TV viewing habits that painted a picture in the evenings no unlike the picture you painted of breakfast TV land, Brian. Zwaga’s research showed that most of us pay very little attention to the TV MOST of the time.

      Interesting. Can you point me to this please.

  12. Its great that Paul’s gone. Ive never cared for “ratings “designed television.Im also sceptical about the reality of ratings.

  13. Couldn’t agree more with you about Tim Wilson. Please spare us from that lightweight, narcissistic irritation. Whether on radio or TV, it’s never about the story with Tim. It’s always about how to make Tim sound smart, quirky and funny. It never succeeds.

  14. Glenn, I agree with you about the constant referring to the names – presenters, interviewees etc – it must be a TVNZ thing, I have never watched morning TV on any channel – good old RNZ does me, but I certainly have heard Paul Holmes do it [constantly] and I find Jim Mora’s incessant ‘name calling’ on Afternoons at RNZ irritates me no end.

  15. Wiebe’s work was a PhD thesis completed in the mid 90’s at Massey University. He’s currently with the BSA I believe.

  16. “Well, first you have to remember that the Breakfast audience doesn’t represent the entire population.”

    That illuminates my point. If, as widely reported, “we” were outraged, who were/are the “we”?

  17. Just a thought…….. Michael Laws, anyone? *runs and hides*

  18. With the introduction of Tivo,My Sky etc, Im sure our viewing habits will change and ,morning tv ,6 oclock news ,etc, domination will eventually erode.Thats if it hasnt already.

  19. merv- so true about the take on humour, as used by paul henry and digested by viewers.(or not digested- spewed back, spat out..)
    and ron – tories? we are not in the u.k. i realise it’s a stab at creating insult but it’s not a n.z. word.

  20. Missing Paul (I’m Distending My Cheeks To Make Room For My Feet) Henry? You’re kidding, right?

  21. bje – let me guess, next time you would like to see a word that looks more like a New Zealand word?

  22. yep, charis, i would.
    tory is such a british term and i feel it’s use creates an uncomfortable feeling of outdated colonialism “where she goes, we go,” etc so i personally don’t like it.i think we’ve well grown out of thinking we have to sit on their coat tails, in parallel with british parliament.

  23. I was going to try writing something witty and insightful… but WAKE UP’s post (November 19th, 2010 at 19:36) was better than anything I could knock together.

    One point I will make is that if Paul Henry was a “Child of Ratings-Driven TV” and if ratings-driven broadcasting remains the Way of the Future – then nothing will change. Quite simply, we will get the TV we deserve.

    Television – the greatest communication tool since humanity invented writing – devolved to the level of a ten year old.

    All I can say is, thank the gods for advertising. Because really, there’s more production quality, wit, and insight into the human condition with a Speights ad, than there is with all those pesky programmes that interupt our ad-viewing…

    That, and National Radio.

  24. “Interpretation of television ratings to suit one’s own purposes has become something of a PR art form.”

    Indeed, although there’s more than a touch of the pot calling the kettle black in this! Having been a loud member of the chorus to remove Henry, it is now time to reduce any collateral damage.

    So no-one really takes notice of breakfast TV anyway, they absorb the important news facts, listen to the weather report to see if they need to take an umbrella, and head out the door.

    Presenters are irrelevant, the personality stuff is ignored, makes you wonder what all the fuss was about since no-one was paying attention.

  25. Breakfast routine:

    Feed annoying cat, feral rabbit, blind dog and amputee magpie while water boils.

    Eat budget baked beans on toast…drink Cuban coffee…listen to NatRad…talk to girlfriend…nod off…regain consciousness…wonder what girlfriend just said…pack lunch…stagger off to work after hopefully passing bowel motion and remembering to brush teeth.

    Feel pleased that I’ve avoided breakfast TV…commercial radio…and any form of ratings war and advertising.

  26. All this chatter about Henry reminds me of the Oscar Wilde quote, “it is better to be disliked than to be ignored”

  27. You are right, its a programme that is on in the background as we all get ready. We catch the news, the weather forecast and any interesting snippets in between where we might be standing still for a moment.

    We did watch because of Paul but we haven’t switched off since he left, it hasn’t been as much fun, we still get the content we need just not the sideshow.

    I heard a rumour that Paul Holmes had been offered the job, that would make me switch off. I don’t need to have the sideshow I just need to get through my breakfast without feeling nauseous.

  28. When I heard Paul Henry’s “is he a NZer remark I just laughed and didn’t think of it again…anyway Mr Satyanand was born in the same Grey Lynn maternity hospital that I was, at about the same time. But I do remember when we had a string of toffs from England foisted upon us. People have forgotten that there was considerable public pressure for NZ born GGs who did at least sound like us. Mr S fills the bill nicely, Paul.
    And the breakfast show is indeed dull without Henry’s weirdness.

  29. I am happy that Paul Henry has gone.Now I watch the breakfast programme sometimes.

    The programme is still a bit silly but now it’s not so stupidly biased toward denigration of anything or anyone that PH didn’t approve of.
    Let’s face it, he was a clever little bigotted pain in the bum.

    I worry that they may try to emulate Mr Henry’s snide humour. Please don’t.

    And NO,I don’t think anyone really misses him.

  30. I think the dream team TVNZ are looking for will be hard to find. But in saying that, I would like to see Greg and Bernadine do it. Bring in two people who wouldn’t have to change their positions a lot and a good balance of professionalism (seeing as they present the news) and also something new and exciting. Both have solid fan bases that would rack in the viewers. If not, I don’t care as long as it isn’t Ali Mau, Corin Dann or Peter Williams.