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No news is bad news: power ranking the high summer morning shows of our key news broadcasters

It’s been a long, lazy summer for many of our morning news outlets, which are finally set to return on Monday after a month off air. But who provided the best holiday cover for Hosking, Ferguson, Barry and the rest? Duncan Greive grades the breakfast news stand-ins.

Thanks to the internet and aeroplanes and probably My Food Bag or something, New Zealand today is a bit less like a lonely spectator gazing through the misted up window into the fully sick party that is ‘the world’, and more of a vague acquaintance who came with someone else but sure is taking advantage of the free punch.

Anyway – the point of this dumb metaphor is that we’re mostly like everywhere else now, fancy enough and modern enough that the tyranny of distance isn’t nearly so tyrannical and we have almost all the appearances of a grownup country. Except for one thing: over the Christmas break, our broadcast news shows get really weird. At best, they devolve into a homelier, more relaxed version of their normal selves. At worst – well, you’ll see.

The point is that our high summer programming can feel like the last bastion of the old, provincial and affably incompetent New Zealand we have convinced ourselves was some kind of utopian paradise, despite all the evidence to the contrary (dawn raids, Africa boycotting the Olympics because of us and thus allowing Dick Quax to win a distance running medal, Muldoon). To some that is probably cute – why shouldn’t we take a break and chill out when the temperature rises and the Black Caps are making improbably comebacks?

Well, because the world hasn’t stopped, dammit! The Trump train is at the station with ‘mind the gap’ coming through the tannoy. Our brand new PM is in Europe trying to figure out what Brexit means for us and whether Europe is ready to play nicer on free trade. It’s a goddamn election year and important stories like ‘has Andrew Little stopped wearing glasses’ need to get to the people.

So I’ve decided to revive our maligned power ranking format to assess the five main broadcast news outlets’ morning programming over summer. I do this while fully aware of the giant glaring hypocrisy contained in The Spinoff conducting this critique despite having shut down for two whole weeks over Christmas and new year (except Emily Writes’ parents section – kids never take a day off). We’re just a poxy lil website, and besides, Stuff and the Herald kept the content mines running 24/7 throughout, so online media is definitely exempt from the critique.

Here then are my rankings of our high season morning programmes, based on some cursory listening and a few chats with unnamed colleagues, ie Toby.

1. Newstalk ZB

Programming: The Mike Hosking Breakfast with Rachel Smalley

Verdict: The only programme which actually improved during the break, ZB’s Mike Hosking Breakfast returned a week earlier than most of the pack on Monday, but with Rachel Smalley. She is that relatively rare creature on ZB – opinionated, but without an obvious dog in the hunt. She made fun of Family First, sharply interviewed both Little and English and generally acted like we were a proper country with real news still happening. It’s been good hard news and key issues canvassed even-handedly, without Hosking condescendingly deigning to explain why views differing from his own are so very dumb. Keep her on year round!

Mike Hosking That Was

A genuine image from Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking page, 2017.

2. RadioLive

Programming: Breakfast with Mike Puru and Trudi Nelson

Verdict: Poor Mike Puru has had a pretty shithouse couple of years – dumped from both the morning madhouse and The Bachelor in quick succession, and losing YesShop, his beloved infomercial gig. But the loveliest man in New Zealand showbiz isn’t crying about it. Instead he’s reinventing himself, sliding up into news on RadioLive. He and Trudi Nelson – another radio lifer taking a rare stint in primetime – have been superb over summer. Their personalities gel well for this period: Mike the goodtime guy counterweighting Trudi’s more dogged lines of inquiry. Sometimes it got a little tense – like when they interviewed Col Chapman, the guy hired to help track down the sailing dad who took off with his daughter. Trudi asked some uncomfortable yet necessary questions about daughter Que’s relationship with her mother; Mike sounded like he was trying to fly out of the room using his ears and hands. But mostly they’ve hit the right issues in a style both easygoing and substantial.

3. TVNZ1

Programming: Dickinson’s Real Deal / Jo Frost’s Family Matters

Verdict: Dickinson’s Real Deal is like Antiques Roadshow but with more chavs and less quids, which is great, obviously. And anything on earth featuring Nanny Jo is going to be that ultra-rare combo of nourishing and entertaining TV, so if you’re going to entirely abdicate news then you could do a lot worse and not a lot better than this pair of diamonds.

(L-R): Rachel Smalley, David Dickinson, the Ninja Turtles, Mike Puru, Supernanny Jo Frost

(L-R): Rachel Smalley, David Dickinson, the Ninja Turtles, Mike Puru, Supernanny Jo Frost

4. TV3

Programming: The Mo Show / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turles

Verdict: I have three children and so have a highly developed part of my brain which allows me to tune out all children’s programming, thus I can’t tell you a lot about either of these shows. Ninja Turtles were definitely cool in my day though, and the fact TV3 is developing The AM Show, its 38th new news product in the last 18 months, kinda gets them a pass on just completely skipping out of news here and letting the kids have a bit of morning telly.

5. RNZ National

Programming: Breakfast/Summer Report

Verdict: Have mornings on RNZ National actually delivered a worse news programme than ninja turtles? Probably not. But it’s the contrast with Morning Report, consistently New Zealand’s best news product, which has been so shocking. It’s truly been like being fired back in time to some bad parody of Old Zealand. “On this day in 1778, James Cook discovered Hawaii,” we were told the other day, while on the same day in history “settlers” established the first penal colony in Australia. The breezy obliviousness to the fact people were already there isn’t defensible in 2017, and that kind of “who cares” attitude seemed to infect a lot of the content. Boring comedy, bad songs and some quite good student radio documentaries padded it out – Breakfast is a sort of Valentines-style buffet of filler which, frozen budget or no frozen budget, just does not cut it any more.

The quality lifts dramatically from 8am when Anusha Bradley hosts Summer Report, but it’s weird that we should have to wait till then to get any proper current affairs, and it feels a real squeeze at an hour long. It’s hard to understand why RNZ would cut back the length and depth from last year’s show, which ran for two hours from 7am with two presenters, given the entirely predictable nature of the January news agenda in 2017.

The worst part is that RNZ is still doing great work – this piece naming all the NZX companies with all-male boards from this morning being only the latest example. It’s just that almost none of it is showing up on their flagship show.

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