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FeaturesOctober 30, 2014

“It’s Not Now, It’s the Future!” – The Sublime Mania of the MediaWorks New Season Launch

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On the night before Halloween, Duncan Greive went to the launch of MediaWorks’ new season. To some it would have been a vision of pure terror. But not to him. //

“A living nightmare,” said Damo. His interviewer, radio DJ Mike Puru, nervously pressed him to expand.

“It’s like a bad dream, but when you wake up it’s real. You’re still there. And you can’t wake up.”

Damo is Damo. Still Damo from The Block. He’s a massive hunk who that incessant, wildly popular show has made a star. He was wheeled on stage with his shiny but less handsome Blockmates gathered around for warmth and company. Damo spoke his mind. He spoke the truth.

It was one small, unguarded moment of clarity on a night which otherwise seethed with the promise of a torrent of new Damos. More Damos than we ever thought possible. Enough Damos that you will almost certainly know a Damo by 2015’s end, and that ACC might have a new category for ex-reality show participants with advanced PTSD.

But you know what? It’ll be worth it for the rest of us. Because we don’t know much here at The Spinoff. Less by the day. Less with each passing hour. But we know this: New Zealand makes some dynamite reality television. The Block. MKR. Top Model. X-Factor. What’s more – and this is crucial – every imported show we make, we make our own. Fresh strange hosts. Fresh weird contestants. All reeking of our own special scent. We’re oozing out of their every orifice.

Anyone who complains about the endless inward flow of reality franchises can go have fun signing petitions for the reinstatement of TVNZ7. They would have hated tonight. Because MediaWorks – the owners of TV3, FOUR and a bunch of hyper-as radio stations – is out of bankruptcy, with new lines of credit and a new CEO. And it’s doubling down on reality.

They’re bringing us so much reality we can finally say goodbye to the last shitty vestiges of our own realities and live forever on The Block.

That show will return, this glimpse into the TV future told us. So will my beloved X-Factor – but with an excitable kid brother named Xtra-Factor on FOUR. Because there was definitely not enough X-Factor last timeThe impossibly magnetic Mel Blatt was live on stage, reprising her role. So too were new judges Willy Moon and his wife (!) (he looks about 14!) Natalia Kills. (I am personally extremely worried about how that particular Hail Mary casting will play out.)

Masterchef will return too, because One didn’t kill it properly. Masterchef rapped on the inside of the casket at its funeral. It came back so quickly no one tonight seemed to quite know what the hell to do with it. They’re just stockpiling assets like the 76ers. They’ll figure it out later.

MediaWorks is buying every franchise going right now. That includes Grand Designs, an ANZ-sponsored vehicle which appears to be grandly designed to get Auckland’s rampant boomers to take advantage of the saggy, functionless equity in their now seven fig homes by doing some wild architectural stuff to them. Whatever. Anything that gets some cash flowing to tradies is fine by me.

It will be fronted by Chris Moller, an “architect and urbanist” (sounds like a helluva line for an online dating profile). Of all the endless starpower we saw tonight, he was both the lowest wattage and the most disturbingly chill. It was like he was negging Sam Hayes (Sam Hayes!) with his ambivalence. It was like he was negging us all. Everyone else who graced the stage (around 200 people no lie) was like Ultimate Warrior-level jacked to be there. Not Chris Moller. I’m watching you, Chris. I don’t get you.

Ultimately who gives a shit about Grand Designs? Tonight was about The Bachelor. It. Is. Here. Perhaps the most perfect combination of cynicism, carnality, puppetry and nation-gripping popularity reality TV has ever created.

For so many of us poor saps it seemed like that ship had sailed. It was a franchise too far for New Zealand. The Ikea of reality shows. The Chipotle of reality shows. A stick to beat ourselves with, to remind us that we’re forever too little to be a real proper country like those bloody Australians.

No more. The Bachelor is coming, and I can’t wait to TV-meet that dude. The show will be all we ever dreamed it could be. And MediaWorks is our dreamweaver – a big media company which seems to be not just acknowledging the coming world, but sprinting toward it. Sure, they might be fully nude, like Will Ferrell in Old School. Like Ferrell, they don’t know whether anyone’s behind them. But you know what? At least they’re running.

Tonight, at a packed and pumped Shed 10 on Queen’s Wharf in OK downtown Auckland, it was like being thrown back in time and blasted into the future. Thrown back to when media companies were vomiting money out involuntarily, and threw the best parties going, with an open bar and free lollies. Blasted to a future where Paul Henry is everywhere all the time.

Where The Edge is a TV channel, a radio station and a website. A website where, as we were told tonight, 100,000 insane zombie New Zealanders went when MH370 disappeared off the face of the earth and they wanted answers. The Edge. 100,000 people did that. Really.

I’m being cynical. It’s easy here, alone in my sad lounge. But it’s not fair. Because this scene – these 1000 or so ad people, 50 or so on-screen celebs and three or so jerk writers – it was inspiring. I felt proud to be a New Zealander.

Because they really went for it. These guys were all in on all things.

The intro featured Rose Matafeo, Guy Williams (he was in everything, always good and is definitely underpaid) and those other guys from Jono and Ben at Ten singing this mental song called ‘3,759,247’ (update: it’s now online). It was about MediaWorks’ cumulative weekly audience reach. It had no right to be anything but terrible. The degree of difficulty on making that not suck was off the goddamn charts. But they pulled it off. No one on earth knows how.

Next the 7 Days crew came on and did some funny stuff about what ratings beasts they are too. It was cool. I laughed. They were a bit sexist and stuff but they’re getting old, so who cares? They won’t be around forever. Dai Henwood made a good joke about R. Kelly (not easy to do).

Then the main event happened. The guy this whole country is somehow obsessed with (despite him not actually having done a successful thing since Breakfast) appeared.

But y’know what? Paul Henry has the X-Factor. He’s real. You, me, and everyone we know might think he’s a bad angel sent to torment us. But that man has some kind of weird sexy starpower juju. I have no clue whether he’s a real life Alan Partridge, or secretly an early Ricky Gervais-level always-in-character genius. He might be both.

Here are some things he said tonight: “This is not going to be a radio show. And it’s not going to be a TV show.” WHAT IS IT THEN PAUL PLEASE TELL US ARGH.

He tells us. It’s neither. It’s Paul Henry, everywhere, all the time. To hear him relate it, he’s some insane cyberwarrior dictator who’s taken over the most private places of our minds and put his hypersmirking face there. He has closed the borders. We’re in now in New Paulland and can only Henry from here.

“You’ll leave your house, and get into your car,” he commands us (don’t miss the anti-CRL message), while some little TV elves bring out a half-car chassis and place it over him and a road scene appears on a screen aft. He asks us to play with our imaginary mind-radios. “There I am. Wow. It’s like you’re still at home,” he says. “But you’re not. You’re in your fucking car!”

At this point my friend leans over and asks if we’re in a fever dream. Surely we must be. Paul Henry is freestyling Paul Henry fan fiction.

The night actually gets cooler and stranger from here. MediaWorks Group Head of Revenue Liz Fraser comes out dressed in blood red and stands stock still with her arms limp at her sides. Like she’s hypnotised. I actually think she’s hypnotising.

She does this diabolical two level speech. On one level she’s talking about all their infinitely splintering multi-channel opportunities to sell sell sell and she pauses and suddenly it’s painkillers and Heineken and chocolate and this drum’n’bass song playing louder and louder and Pebbles Hooper walking past me and images flashing faster and faster until they stop.

On the other she’s fixing the whole crowd with this strange, faraway stare, at once placid and impossibly menacing. It communicates: if you are in sales for MediaWorks you are going to sell like you’ve never sold. Or I will kill you and your whole family. And if you are a media buyer with any interest in MediaWorks you will buy every shred of inventory I have, at whatever price my people say. Or I will kill you and everyone you’ve ever loved.

And then she leaves. She was extraordinary. I saw her, too close, in the crowd later and felt this druggy attraction-repulsion and left the venue as soon as I was able. Her presence alone makes me want to own as many shares in MediaWorks as I could possibly mortgage my children for. It’s not a listed entity.

What else happened? A 25th anniversary celebration of 3 News’ debut, with the delightfully mischievous Hilary Barry and Mike “as I did in Gaza this year” McRoberts. A trailer for a miniseries named Gallipoli which TV3 part-funded, and ended on a sustained shot of a young man’s petrified face as he imagined war and all its looming horror. I felt for the first time in my tawdry life what it must’ve been like to board those boats and nearly wept with the fear and the unknown.

There was more. It went on for 90 minutes. It was the slickest thing (of any stripe) I’ve ever seen done in New Zealand. I could feel our GDP rising. I wanted to work at MediaWorks so badly at that moment that had someone offered me a weekend job cleaning the underside of the Paul Henry All Day All World Breakfast Extravaganza desk I would’ve taken it in a heartbeat.

It was chaotic and often crass but at the same time cool-headed and confident and visionary and almost heroic.

And all this strange stuff is coming in 2015.

I can’t wait.

Keep going!