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Three’s 6pm news bulletins through the years (Image: Tina Tiller)
Three’s 6pm news bulletins through the years (Image: Tina Tiller)

Pop CultureFebruary 29, 2024

‘Through good times and bad’: The colourful evolution of 6pm news on TV3

Three’s 6pm news bulletins through the years (Image: Tina Tiller)
Three’s 6pm news bulletins through the years (Image: Tina Tiller)

Following the announcement that Newshub is set to close at the end of June, Alex Casey takes a journey back through TV3’s 6pm news from the channel’s launch in 1989 to today.

The news itself became the big story yesterday when it was announced that, under a proposal from its parent company, Newshub would be closing down. “This is not the story we thought we’d be covering today,” said Samantha Hayes, as the first two items of the Newshub bulletin covered its own closure. “It’s absolutely heartbreaking,” added Mike McRoberts. Tributes have poured out from colleagues past and present, who have said they are “heartbroken”, “gutted” and “devastated”. 

It’s an announcement that has also shocked everyone in the wider media. “I find it [Newshub] an embodiment of New Zealand: smart, open-hearted, honest.  So this news is really shit,” wrote Hal Crawford, former Newshub news director. “TV3 represented an electric and charismatic challenger to the hegemony of state-owned and controlled media,” reflected Duncan Greive. “New Zealand’s media landscape just got that little bit colder and less colourful as a result.”

As the end of a 35-year era looms, let us look back the history of the charismatic, colourful and sometimes unconventional 6pm news on TV3. 

1989: It starts with Sherry

On November 27, just a day after TV3 launched with this thrilling package including Dave Dobbyn, the log flume and grannies showing their bloomers, 3 National News began. It was hosted solo by Philip Sherry, whose statesmanlike style and extensive work on National Radio and TV1 had earned him the nickname “Mr Credibility” in the industry. “Through good times and bad, New Zealand put its trust in this man,” booms a promo from the time, “now… he’s back.” 

The first bulletin was very much in keeping with that no-nonsense approach that Sherry was known for. The big issues of the moment were the murder of a British tourist, funding shortages in schools and people poaching Kiwi (complete with a scarring “reconstruction” of a shadowy man dragging a soft toy Kiwi carcass). Greg Clark read the sport and Belinda Todd did the weather – “not exactly T-shirts and jandals weather, especially in Wellington.”

But it’s the final news item of the day that is particularly relevant: the huge “vote of confidence” in TV3 following its debut. “All five and a half million shares offered in a public float have been fully subscribed,” read Sherry. “And a strong positive response from the community as this new era in television was launched.” In the package, journalist Janet McIntyre asked TVNZ director general Julian Mounter if he thought there was room for two competing news networks. 

“I personally think one of us is going to struggle,” replied Mounter with a smirk. “I hope it’s you, and you hope it’s me.”

Just six months later, poor ratings for TV3 saw Sherry replaced by newsreader Joanna Paul, who had previously been presenting the breakfast news bulletin. She told NZ Herald that the role was an “indescribable high for me as a broadcaster, a woman and a Māori”. In conversation with Screen Talk in 2011, she said “there was nowhere we could go but up, we couldn’t go down, because we were already on the bottom.” 

Joanna Paul in 1990. (Image: YouTube)

Having a Māori woman reading the news in 1990 wasn’t the only trailblazing move made by TV3 in the early days. In 1991, 3 National News was extended from 30 minutes to an hour bulletin, a groundbreaking evolution that One Network News would not adopt until 1995.

1992: John Hawkesby has it in the bag

Broadcaster John Hawkesby replaced Joanna Paul in 1992, fresh from hosting TVNZ’s game show It’s In The Bag. “Why do I feel passionate about 3 National News?” he asked in this snazzy 1994 promo. “I know how much our reporters put into bringing you New Zealand stories… We lead from the front, newsmakers talk first to 3 National News.” 

For the next six years, Hawkesby had it in the bag, completing a hat trick of Best Presenter wins at the TV awards from 1995-1997. Elsewhere in the bulletin, a young John Campbell delivered the subtle flourishes that distinguished a lively TV3 from its state-owned rival and forged his soon-to-be-beloved persona. “No we haven’t seen Winston today,” he said on election night, 1996. “In fact there’s been more sighting of Elvis in Tauranga than there’s been of Winston.” 

John Hawkesby in 1996. Image: Youtube

The election package paints an image of 3 National News as a cheeky and charming news product. A wry voiceover noted the way in which Act party supporters, forced to evacuate due to a fire alarm, had to mingle with “fainting fans from a nearby rock concert”. Campbell launched into a “Christian analogy” before sprinting away at a sighting of the NZ First leader, and the Topp Twins’ Ken and Ken delivered their own “hard-hitting” commentary on Helen Clark. 

“Bloody good captain isn’t she?” said Ken. “She’s a political goddess, Ken,” said Ken. 

1998: John and Carol, the first dynamic duo

When Hawkesby returned to TVNZ in 1998, it was time for a revamp. The network dropped the “national” to simply become 3 News, and welcomed Carol Hirschfeld and John Campbell as the first co-anchors in the channel’s history. “Good evening,” began John Campbell during their first bulletin, “the war paint’s going on and the drums are beating as the government agrees to commit New Zealand troops to the fighting force being assembled against Iraq.” 

For the next seven years, the pair were side by side for everything from the 9/11 terror attacks to judging giveaways for Ice TV. But perhaps the most defining 3 News story from this era was the explosive interview about genetically modified corn between Campbell and then-prime minister Helen Clark. “He is rounding into the early era of his cult status as a probing, fearless interviewer,” Duncan Greive wrote of Corngate-era Campbell. “You can feel the heat.” 

John Campbell and Carol Hirschfeld during thier first broadcast. (Image: YouTube)

Despite being dubbed a “sanctimonious little creep” by Clark, Campbell continued to host 3 News alongside Hirschfeld until 2005, when they both moved to his 7pm show Campbell Live. Their final episode together can only be described as extremely crack up. Incoming host Mike McRoberts roasted Campbell’s endless grey suits, as Hilary Barry roasted Carol Hirschfeld’s big hair. All the while, the backing music was ‘Just the Two of Us’. 

“We want to offer a heartfelt thanks to our producers, our reporters, the editors, the directors,” said Hirschfeld. “Make up,” added Campbell, “because I needed it badly.” 

2005: Welcome to the Hilary and Mike show

The promo for this iteration of 3 News, hosted by Hilary Barry and Mike McRoberts, adopted the tagline “leading news journalism” and seemed especially jazzed about satellites. “Our satellite technology gives us the freedom to report live in all kinds of conditions,” said Barry. “So if the weather is news, we can take you right to the heart of it.” McRoberts concurred: “We will bring you news and weather like no one else.” 

What their satellites couldn’t forecast was just how many memorable moments would be produced from this era. Barry famously anchored 3 News’ rolling coverage following the devastating Christchurch earthquakes in February 2011, later revealing to Stuff that her lower lip was quivering throughout the broadcast. “I felt this weight of responsibility to do a good job and not to lose it,” she said. “You don’t have the right to get emotional because you are sitting in a studio in Auckland.”

While also inching ever closer to the mother of the nation status, one previously held by TVNZ’s Judy Bailey, Barry also carved out a unique comedy space for herself on 3 News, flubbing her way through the weather report not once, but twice. “I’ve got to read to the pictures, haven’t I?” she giggled, while Campbell gave her a slow clap from the Campbell Live desk. That playfulness continued in the 3 News studio with surprise snorts, camera confusion and even “home boners”. 

Hilary Barry and Mike McRoberts. Image: Youtube

Who can forget Pam Corkery’s infamous utterance of “puffed up little shit” at the launch of Internet Mana in 2014, or Paddy Gower’s viral “this is the fucking news” moment, that didn’t actually ever happen on the news? It wasn’t all levity though – Barry found herself choking up while reading the news of Campbell Live’s axing in 2015, and was later photographed carrying a case of Moet to mark the exit of then-Mediaworks CEO Mark Weldon.  

On January 31 2016, newsreader Melissa Chan-Green introduced a story that marked “the end of an era” for the network. “This programme is the very last to be known as 3 News,” she began. “From tomorrow, our daily news and sport will be known as Newshub.” 

2016: Newshub marks a new dawn

February 1, 2016 saw the launch of Newshub, what we now know is likely the final iteration of TV3’s 6pm news offering. Merging 3 News and RadioLIVE into “a multi-platform TV, radio and digital news service”, the announcement post said that “Newshub will focus on providing the latest, most up-to-date news, in-depth coverage, breaking alerts and more, providing audiences across all platforms with stories and information relevant to them.”

Hilary Barry and Mike McRoberts returned to the desk in a revamped studio, but something was amiss about the figures in the new background. “On the wall behind Hilary and Mike, a disturbing alternate drama was playing out: a depressing play about a newsroom in a dystopian future,” wrote Hayden Donnell for The Spinoff in 2016. “All three are men. They remain through the whole broadcast, staring unblinking at their computers.” 

Putting the “huh” into Newshub. (Image: Newshub)

Perhaps it was those slow-moving digital men that saw Barry depart the network a few months later for TVNZ. “Hilary, you’ve been with us here at Mediaworks for 24 years, and over that time you have become such a much-loved part of this family,” said an emotional McRoberts. “For me personally, it has been such an honour to spend the last 11 years with you, and I know I speak for everyone when I say that I don’t know what life is going be like here without you around.” 

Eventually the tears dried and Barry’s seat was filled by seasoned TV3 journalist and former host of 3D and Newsworthy Samantha Hayes. Since then, notable moments from the Hayes/McRoberts Newshub era have included a man getting a tattoo of Patrick Gower’s “this is the fucking news” moment, Tova O’Brien’s hilarious National shambles story, and McRoberts surprising Hayes with flowers before she went on maternity leave

In another quietly groundbreaking move (or the absolute end of times, depending who you talk to) Hayes and McRoberts shook off the stuffy newsreader-as-robot-chained-to–desk mythology to both appear on absurd reality competitions while also presenting the news. In 2018, Hayes won Dancing With the Stars NZ with a dazzling contemporary number, and McRoberts sang ‘Footloose’ while dressed as a giant Orange Roughie on The Masked Singer NZ in 2021. 

Sam Hayes and Mike McRoberts. Image: Newshub

McRoberts also opened up about his own te reo Māori journey in the Three documentary Kia Ora, Good Evening in 2022, revealing his anxiety over saying the titular phrase live on air. “I felt really proud to do so but I felt really anxious about it because I am Māori and I didn’t have te reo,” he told Newshub. “I would sit out the back of the studio going over and over in my mind the vowel sounds. It was terrifying.” 

It’s a good reminder, as we reach the end of Three’s vibrant and sometimes unconventional history, of the real humans that exist behind the headlines. Thousands of people have worked on the 6pm bulletin over 35 years, and 300 current journalists, producers, editors, camera operators and other staff could be losing their jobs. “I just feel so incredibly sad,” posted Hayes on Instagram yesterday. “I love making live television. I love doing the news, and so we’ll keep doing it until the lights go out.”

“See you tonight at 6pm,” she added. 

Keep going!