Good Morning has sung its last song, danced its last dance, and broadcast its last advertorial. Calum Henderson watched the lights go down on a New Zealand TV icon.
“I don’t want this day to end…”
These plaintive words from host Jeanette Thomas perhaps best summed up today’s final episode of Good Morning – a freewheeling reunion, retrospective and celebration of everything that has made the show such a unique part of the New Zealand television landscape for the past 19 years.
Like every episode it brimmed with laughter, generosity, earnestness, absolute nonsense, and of course, advertorials.
“I hadn’t quite been given the brief that there would be advertorials,” the show’s first ever host Liz Gunn admitted to its last ever host Jeanette. “So I had in my mind, because I’d done some work on Radio New Zealand, that I would make it a bit like Nine to Noon – bit of politics, bit of light stuff – then I saw lovely Suzanne Paul walking past. I said to the floor manager: “what’s she doing here?” And she said: “Did they not tell you there were advertorials in this show?” You didn’t tell me that! I’m going to my dressing room, I’m not going to do this show.”
The dreaded advertorials. Today, like any other day, we had to endure them. There was one for the Powerfit, a kind of retro vibrating exercise machine, and one for the ‘Boombox’, a bluetooth speaker available in a range of snazzy designs. Look out for the one with Kyle Lockwood’s red and blue New Zealand flag design providing noise pollution at a beach near you this summer.
But if you could look past the advertorials, you would see that they were sort of a blessing in disguise. As long as they had the advertorials, it felt like Good Morning had a rare amount of freedom to do pretty much whatever it wanted with the rest of the time. That was where the magic of live television happened.
The show’s second host, Mary Lambie, would bring her cat Louie, a lilac point Birman, into the studio. He got his own little highlight reel today, including the time he lashed out and attacked his owner while she was trying to cut to another bloody advertorial. “Ohhh. He died in 2010,” Lambie informed us. “I’m surprised he didn’t fry himself on the lights behind the scenes.”
Good Morning has seen fourteen different hosts since it started in 1996. The first, Liz Gunn, would routinely read out viewers’ faxes, and Lambie would regularly host talkback segments where viewers could call in to the show. But they moved with the times. Now it’s all about the Facebook. The show is TVNZ’s third most ‘liked’ property after One News and Shortland Street, something Jeanette makes a point of mentioning in the show’s closing moments.
Sarah Bradley hosted Good Morning with Brendon Pongia and Steve Gray during its mid-2000s pomp, when it ballooned to a three-hour show. She now works in communications at the UN, and joined the final episode briefly on a video link from New York. “Working in diplomacy and working on a show like Good Morning is actually quite similar,” she reckons. “You’re always negotiating and you’re always trying to get the best out of people.”
One person the show got the best out of for about 17 of its 19 years was Astar. The show’s fairy godmother started out hosting an eccentric crafts segment, but over the years ended up doing anything and everything else that took her fancy. Today, she performed her yearly ballet recital. She’s been doing them ever since she started lessons 13 years ago. “I remember when you started dancing I thought you were out of your mind,” Mary Lambie told her after she had collapsed back onto the couch. “I’ll be better next year,” Astar promised.
Over the years the show has accumulated a variety of these strange annual traditions. Yesterday’s penultimate episode was a retrospective dedicated entirely to Good Morning’s surprising number of hypnotism specials. Astar cried through the whole thing – at first they were tears of laughter, but by the end, as she dabbed her eyes with a tissue, you sensed they were also tears of loss.
The last ever Good Morning wouldn’t have been complete without the last ever Men’s Panel. The blokes – today we saw stalwarts Wallace Chapman, Miles Davis, Robert Rakete, Blair Strang, Will Hall and Ganesh Raj – are a relatively recent addition to the show, but are now well-known enough that Strang has had “Men’s Panel!” shouted at him in a cafe in Amberley.
In the highlights we saw a brief clip of the time the Men’s Panel formed a band, and wrote a wryly self-aware anthem led by Wallace Chapman on acoustic bass. “What a woman wants, what a woman wants,” went the song’s chorus. “Let the Men’s Panel tell you what you really want: Love, hugs, leaving the lid down. These are some of the things that a woman wants.”
Live music has long been one of Good Morning’s cornerstones, and provided some of its most memorable moments. “Yulia debuting her rock phase was… something else,” remembered Bradley. The show became one of the few places you could see live music on New Zealand television, and went about it in a wonderfully open-minded way, booking everything from Yulia to roots reggae, international touring acts to the Men’s Panel band.
Today the Hipstamatics led us slickly through a couple of uplifting funk numbers, and the Good Morning house band (!) performed Dave Dobbyn’s ‘Welcome Home’. “When Good Morning goes, where do we see talent like that?” asked Gunn on the couch after the song. “Where’s the platform? Sorry to be political, but we need that.”
Good Morning has been responsible an unparalleled number of bizarre TV moments over the years. Happily, there was time for one last one today. With so many special guests in the studio it was only natural that they would have a lip sync competition. The last act was a duet between Men’s Panel duo Miles and Wallace, who (as Duncan Greive highlighted earlier this week) have had a strange relationship over their years on the show.
Stridently un-PC Davis came out to sing the woman’s part of the duet wearing a wig and a dress with balloons stuffed down his chest. Chapman stood with his arms crossed, frowning. It seemed like part of the act, only he remained unmoved when it came his turn to lip-sync. Instead he appeared to take a phone call, wandered off, then returned to shout something at the still lip-syncing Davis. Incredibly strange, tense scenes. What on earth was going on?
As Jeanette, Astar, and Matai Smith got together one final time to say their goodbyes, the camera panned around the room to show the assembled presenters and regular guests. Maybe 30 or 40 people, and barely a dry eye among them.
But this was Good Morning. Instead of going out with a whimper, they got up and sang and danced with big grins on their faces to the house band: ‘Thank You For Being a Friend’ into ‘We Are Family’.
Read part one of our ‘Good Night to Good Morning’ series, in which Steve Braunias recalls his final appearance on the Good Morning couch, here.
And read part two, in which former Good Morning employee Robyn Gallagher recalls some of the show’s glory years, here.
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