‘Good Night to Good Morning’ is a three part series farewelling the iconic TVNZ variety show. In part one, Steve Braunias recalls a recent appearance on a show that once gave him cakes and grapes, and always gave New Zealand reliably good viewing.
This is the way Good Morning ends: not with a green room, but a vast, deserted space with a snack dispenser in it. I turned up at TVNZ a couple of weeks back to guest on the show and was taken from reception to kind of empty hallway down the back to wait my call. The TVNZ building is undergoing major refurbishment and the loss of a green room – that warm, inviting zone given over to a programme’s guests, with nice settees and tea and coffee and usually grapes, often cakes – is just one of the many casualties of renovation.
It felt depressing to sit it out in that dark void. The emptiness was like a metaphor for all television shows that get axed, canned, switched off; it contained the spirits of generations of presenters, guests and technical crew who once brought entertainment to our homes. Life is brief, television even briefer. The light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.
I put a coin down the slot and gnawed on a Mars bar. Things had been okay when I first arrived, because at least I had company in that wasteland. One of the show’s regular guests, Dr John, was waiting his turn. He was a merry soul in a short-sleeved shirt. He said it was his final appearance on the show. He sighed. “It’s been fun,” he said.
There was a TV on a table beside us. We watched Good Morning host Jeanette Thomas introduce three high school students who sang a version of ‘Lean on Me’. Then a man came on and shouted in a pre-recorded infomercial for the complete range of Nutrinfusion kitchen blenders. The more he pulped watermelons, lemons, spinach, and other life forms, the louder he shouted.
Sean Connolly was the next live guest. He made spaghetti with clams. ‘Doesn’t that look good,’ said Dr John. It looked very good, as Connolly cooked the pasta with 14 grams of salt per litre (‘Make the water taste like the Mediterranean Sea’) and steamed the clams in butter, white wine, chili, garlic, and parsley.
But he didn’t seem like the world’s nicest guy. It’s unlikely his natural charm is going to win him an audition on MasterChef. He got a bit frazzled by the induction oven, prodding and pushing buttons hither and tither, and wondering why a red light sometimes flashed an E symbol.
“I love cooking on induction ovens,” he said.
“Do you?”, asked Jeanette.
“No,” he scowled.
“Well,” she said, “I guess I’ll see you around the traps.”
A shouting man appeared in a pre-recorded infomercial for the Power Fit exercise machine, and then I sat back alone in that vast, deserted space and watched Dr John talk with Jeanette about allergies and such. He was terrific. He talked about things in a lively, intelligent, simple manner, listened to the questions, laughed, chuckled, guffawed – I want this guy as my doctor. Jeanette’s questioning was alert, and she radiated a genuine warmth. They genuinely liked each other, and shared a farewell kiss on camera.
I was on after that. I’m a veteran at coming across like a terrible old phoney on Good Morning – I’ve twice guested on the show when it was made at Avalon, in Wellington, when the show was in in its pomp of making three hours of TV every day. It was the most professional show I’d ever been on or seen in action. It was fast, seamless, expert; the grapes were good, also the cakes; the real Steve Gray was there, also Mary Lambie, Brendon Pongia, Sarah Bradley – two generations of presenters, now haunting the TVNZ building in Auckland, probably.
As the final presenter, Jeanette was the charming equal of Mary and Sarah. She instantly put me at my ease and her questioning was once again alert, and to the point, as I banged on like a terrible old phoney about my new book The Scene of the Crime: ‘It’s a book for the beach, it’s a book for the back yard in the shade – it’s a book for summer!’
I kissed Jeanette off-camera, and wished her all the best. She’s an absolute pro, and has always done quality work. She didn’t know what she was going to do next. I bet she’ll be alright.
Back home, I watched the rest of the show on MySky – there was an infomercial for Dragon’s Blood, a liquid facelift made from a gel discovered ‘deep in the Amazon rainforest’, and then two eliminated contestants from My Kitchen Rules, sisters Kimberley and Brooke McIntyre. The two sisters from the Manawatu talked with Jeanette about their experience on the series while preparing a marinated lamb salad. They seemed like good sorts. It was a fun, relaxed chat, the kind which Good Morning has put on TV all throughout its life, bringing New Zealand to our homes.
The sisters left, and Jeanette wished them all the best. She turned to camera. ‘Have a wonderful day,’ she said. ‘We’ll do it all again tomorrow.’
The final episode of Good Morning airs this Friday at 9am on TV One. Read further Spinoff coverage of Good Morning here.
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