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Mornings Will Never Be the Same: Analysing The Paul Henry Show Premiere

The Paul Henry Show landed this morning at 6am on TV, online and on the radio. Duncan Greive and Alex Casey dissect TV3’s new multi-platform experience. //

The Host:

After delightedly pressing the button, much like a kid allowed to honk a horn, Paul Henry’s sting “you can run, but you can’t hide – this is Paul Henry” rings through the studio. Teeth peeking out, he can’t contain his David Brent grin – the smug-o-meter exploded within the first few minutes. I’ll admit it. I laughed quite a few times during the three-hour broadcast, and not just because it was a nutella-soaked 6am and I was hysterically questioning my life choices. As hated as Paul Henry is, and as much as I dislike him, he is so goddamn watchable. He has the twitchy attention span and face of a humungous chipmunk in a suit. Who wouldn’t want to watch that?

Because that’s what it comes down to – nobody else could host this show like he does (or, doesn’t). Where Hosking would send the nation straight back to sleep/a coma, Henry makes you sit up and listen – because most of time you’re just trying to decode his stream of consciousness before a small laser light catches his eye and he moves on to the next thing. He had his fair share of ‘classic Paul’ this morning, the most disturbing of which I found was his complete obsession with whether or not Maria Tutaia was wearing underpants at the Bendon party or not. I found it palpably uncomfortable, and it seemed like the sort of thing that would get anyone else hung, drawn and quartered online.

It’s clear that Paul has absolutely no filter, reaching all the way to LA to ask Brooke Fraser about shitting herself via gluten intake before mouthing off about slow drivers and how speeding is a human right. His persona oscillates from poop-obsessed toddler to horny teenager to drunk racist grandad, and it’s horrific and electric to watch. Is it too much to handle for three hours at 6am every week day? 100% yes. / AC

Supporting Cast:

“Are you going to run for Prime Minister?,” asked Jim from Te Awamutu of Hilary Barry in this morning’s sole worthwhile piece of talkback. She batted the remark aside, while Henry seemed vaguely affronted that the question wasn’t posed to him. But we are all thinking it, every day. Hilary is just that kind of person – hip enough to try and drop ‘goosed’ into conversation, square enough to suggest passing lanes be closed in the holidays. Setting aside their both having popular ‘50s forenames for surnames, there’s something else appealing about Barry and Henry together: the moral weight from years fronting the news will reign him in when he gets too loose. A prediction: within two years she’ll be a co-presenter, and not just a wing woman.

Jim Kayes was solid if unspectacular alongside her. I liked the workmanlike way he hosed down Henry’s early enthusiasm when asked how on earth he could possibly go for four swims in one day. “Well we live close to the beach, so you just pop down, have a swim, then come back”. Great stuff.

Perlina Lau is in a neighbouring studio, the ‘Social Media Bunker’, which is a fairly apt description of her new workplace. She has a helluva job on her hands – Henry barely cares what anyone else in the room thinks, let alone the great unwashed. That said, she handled his excesses well. “I’m looking at you now and thinking you’re heading for great things,” he said by way of goodbye, “and you’re starting with me”. “There you go,” she replied, slightly unnerved, trying desperately to figure out what he meant by the cheerily bizarre statement. Sarcasm? Self-deprecation? A compliment? I doubt even he knew, but it’ll be fun watching her wrestle with the proudly technophobic alligator. / DG

Visual Style:

It took a little while to get used to the huge microphones in front of everyone’s face, but the studio didn’t look half bad. A little too many bright colours for the early morning, but I get what they’re trying to do. It’s fun. It’s loud. It’s orange. I spent a tremendous amount of time looking at the back of Paul Henry’s head, and I implore producers to start some sort of segment for it, or at least sell it for advertising. What else? The desk is sort of interesting I guess, and looks enough like a pair of underpants to keep Paul entertained long after Maria Tutaia has left the building.

For whatever reason (budget? set limitations?) we see almost all of our hosts in close-ups, which doesn’t sit amazingly well with the early morning start. Someone needs to get Hilary and Jim some cucumber slices, stat. It looks like they haven’t slept for weeks, and I’m not surprised in the slightest. Not Paul, though. Paul eyeballs the barrel chipper as ever, well adjusted to the odd hours after his definitely real stint in “space”. I don’t think he ever sleeps.

The most dynamic visual of the episode was when a roaming camera struggled to catch up with a not-worth-it shot of Shane Cortese’s chucks. The least? Lazily filming a TV with weather graphics playing on it. It’s like something out of a MOTAT Special FX exhibition, but worse. Would be a prime slot to get some of those tweets scrolling past – Flipside style. / AC

Guest Appeal:

The first guest was a little old man we like to call our Prime Minister. He got a slightly less softball interview than Hosking would inflict, though nothing which would have raised his heartrate past ‘sound asleep’. At one point he said “A piece of paper’s a piece of paper,” and Henry nodded sagely, before a sting played to close the segment. CUTTING TO THE CHASE – NO, SERIOUSLY. THIS IS THE SITUATION. What the actual fuck does that mean?

Brooke Fraser got hazed all morning, with Henry unwilling to even pretend to give a shit about her until he realised she was gluten free, like him. Then he just wanted to know about her bowels, and tell her about his own: “If you try and feed me gluten I’ll show you problems in the lower part of my torso.” It ended, farcically, with her refusal to sing ‘Something in the Water’, which made it incumbent upon him to do a very bad cover of his own.

Aside from a pair of smart, diligent academics who struggled in vain to be grownups due to Henry’s refusal, the main other guests were the panel. Maria Tutaia, whose beauty he’d been talking up all morning, was literally the main attraction. “You are just – I’m transfixed,” he drooled, before the largest and most uncomfortable pause of the morning. When he came out of his boner coma he commenced a prolonged discussion about whether she was wearing undies last time they saw one another. It was deeply uncomfortable, and probably shouldn’t have happened.

Shane Cortese was my favourite guest, by far. He was so happy to be there, and you could just tell he was projecting a career in hosting looming if he could just nail this one opportunity. He didn’t like speed limits much, but was also concerned about teen drivers: “These kids getting in Subaru Legacies – it’s like bombs on wheels.” There is no generic opinion Shane Cortese hasn’t deeply held at one point or other. He’s lovely. Tomorrow: Jason Gunn paired with former Telecom CEO Teresa Gattung. Seriously. / DG

Hot Topics:

Henry’s not got where he is today without knowing how to get middle New Zealand’s engine revving. Today’s issues were precisely selected to provide maximum outrage. Those poor bastards about to get shot full of holes in Indonesia? “I don’t care as much as many,” said Henry, which could double as his personal philosophy. Surcharges on holidays? They “should be criminal, quite frankly.” Earthquake in Christchurch? “It’s just earthquakes,” he reckons.

He also did some legitimately fun and borderline inclusive riffing on the anniversary of George Michael’s arrest for a ‘lewd act’ in Beverly Hills, though unaccountably attributed it to 1978, when Michael was 15.

But my favourite Henry was the one who shat on both Wellington and Te Awamutu, and talked about fishing in the most dismissive of terms. “I just don’t want dead fish around,” he said. “How do you turn them into food? It’s 2015, and I don’t want to learn that skill.”

That’s when he’s at his best – playing the bourgeois ass he is with relish, and finding a quick way to make one of the country’s favourite pastimes seem mediaeval. Unmasked contempt for much of your audience is such a weird trait for a popular broadcaster to possess, but he revels in his naughty boy role so brazenly I somehow find him oddly appealing. / DG

Interactivity:

If it hadn’t been for the news – and Paul Henry’s frightening tangents – there was almost no evidence that the show was live. One of two talkback callers hung up, and there was little engagement with social media aside from John Key taking this horrific selfie. Nothing from us dregs in the online audience made it through to the studio, despite there being more than enough happening on one of the many confusing hashtags bandied around Twitter.

Henry urged viewers to get in touch, “call 0800 PAUL HENRY, or do any of those other things,” clearly nonplussed as to the existence of anyone else, studio or elsewhere. I expect he only remembers the phone number because it has his name in it. A huge hurdle for the interactivity of the show is going to be Paul’s absolute lack of interest in almost anything. With their own social media presenter Perlina waiting patiently in the wings, even her specialist segments, stuffed with potential, were cut short by Paul realising that he wasn’t paying attention. I don’t know why anyone would pick up the phone with him on the other end, and I suspect the guy who hung up was just beating him to it. / AC

What’s working?

There’s all the potential for a breakfast juggernaut, pummeling us with all the news, sport, interviews, social media and weather slideshows we can handle over a bowl of Paul Flakes© (sure to be coming soon). As erratic and terrifyingly opinionated as Paul is, he also knows exactly what he’s doing. There were no technical faults on his part, aside from cutting links short and harping on about how bored he was. He knows how to do this job, I just fear that his co-hosts might age 500 years in the next four days. I’m looking forward to seeing how their three-way (and one in the bunker) dynamic develops, and how Jim and Hilary learn to arm themselves whenever there’s a storm of ‘Classic Paul Randomness’ brewing. Or maybe they won’t. I wouldn’t be surprised to tune into three hours of them all laughing at Youtube videos of rodents by the end of the week. I am also looking forward to seeing Perlina grow, and, as the social media side hopefully picks up, bring a fresher younger feel to show so determined to be ‘the future’. I don’t know, it felt fun and unpredictable and, job aside, I can see myself hauling my ass out of bed early to see what the hell is going to happen next. / AC

What’s not?

In some ways, the show was impressively slick. Henry is a broadcasting beast, looking like he could do another six hours as the show closed, even though the whole country would have sunk into the ocean had that happened. But in others it was clearly the first run at a fiendishly difficult proposition. As Casserly pointed out in his review of the show as radio, doing multi-platform isn’t particularly new. But normally there’s a dominant medium, a situation they were trying to avoid here, where TV was clearly subjugated to radio’s needs for pace and brevity. Henry talked incessantly, interrupted constantly and was forever throwing one last curve ball in to knock a guest or co-host off balance. His whole brand is ‘uncontrollable’, so I don’t know if they’ll stop that. It’s also a long time to spend in that gaudy little set. I like it there, but it’s pretty small, which makes Henry take up a lot of screen, a lot of the time. / DG

Is it gonna fly?

DG: I think so. What matters for a show like Paul Henry is that it has a sense of moment – that watching it you’re likely to see something weird or important or at least conversation-worthy happen in front of you. It achieves that with room to spare, and feels like Henry finally has a vehicle on which he can both expend his ample energy and, where necessary, be hauled back from the cliff.

AC: Yep. Especially once Paul figures out how to say Twitter and Facebook, I think the multi-platform aspect will really take off. It has to, right? It’s prime for getting people involved in the news topics, as well as having Perlina pass on important messages to Paul from the modern world. The spontaneous outrage of Twitter is pitch-perfect to Paul’s explosive modus operandi. Even as it stands right now, it’s clear that you can run but you can’t hide.

You can experience The Paul Henry show 6am weekdays on TV3, online or on RadioLive.

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