‘Good Night to Good Morning’ is a three part series farewelling the iconic TVNZ variety show. In part two, former employee Robyn Gallagher recalls how Good Morning once enthralled a nation.
For three years in the late 2000s, I worked on Good Morning. It was easily one of the most enjoyable – but dramatic – jobs I’ve had. I was there at Good Morning’s peak, when it had become a three-hour show with three presenters (Sarah Bradley, Brendon Pongia, Steve Gray, and later Hadyn Jones) and dozens of regular guests. Good Morning had it all: chefs, psychics, stylists, animal experts, and of course Astar.
The first thing that needs to be said is: the production team were super smart. They were some of the coolest and most driven people I’ve come across – and mostly young women. It takes effort and skill to make 15 hours of interesting live television a week.
I looked after Good Morning‘s website. It was hugely popular, thanks to the massive recipe archive. Recently one of the many food photos I took for the site went viral. It’s the banana candle, a recreation of a recipe from the 1970s cookbook Be Bold With Bananas. Just look at it. Where will we ever see culinary creations like this again?
Good Morning didn’t normally get hate mail, except from one demographic – the sick businessman. At home on the couch, he’d be watching TV and be shocked – genuinely shocked – that there was a three-hour programme that didn’t cater to any of his interests. So he’d fire off a Vaporub-fuelled email of complaint. Maybe TVNZ missed a trick by not having a version of Good Morning made by men, for men. Though Good Morning did have the hallowed Men’s Panel, offering a weekly dose of blokish insight for the mostly female audience who would otherwise be starved of male opinions on television.
But those letters were in the minority, often lost under those from stay-at-home mums thanking GM for giving them three hours of adult life during the day, old people who decorated their envelopes with dozens of 1c, 2c, and 5c stamps from the ’70s, and the Christian lady who’d send in handmade Valentine cards with a fold-back window revealing a picture of Jesus. Yay!
Good Morning was filmed at Avalon Studios, in the middle of bleak suburban Lower Hutt. There was nothing out there, just houses and the occasional Armed Offenders Squad call-out. With its long empty corridors, the building, which by then was virtually abandoned by TVNZ, was like a ghost town. Seeing another person in a hallway always felt like that scene in The Quiet Earth when Bruno Lawrence realises he’s not the only human left on Earth.
Good Morning would always be mocked for the advertorials (and they were all about as cringe as they could be), but the advertorials paid the bills. It meant that GM had a bit more freedom to loosen up with its other content, and could get away with segments like Dame Margaret Sparrow talking about vintage birth control or Steve Gray’s 15-minute interview with the poet Sam Hunt. It’s not the sort of content that would normally get an airing on any Television New Zealand show, but Good Morning always managed to sneak in little moments with less mass-market appeal.
I became immune to the thrill of celebrities within a week of working there, but I still found myself fangirling for three quite different guests of the show: Savage, Nik from NZ Idol series two, and former Reserve Bank governor Alan Bollard. I cannot explain that last one.
For a couple of years Good Morning ran a talent show called Find A Star, intended as a low-budget version of Got Talent. While the two winners were forgettable, the runners-up both went on to bigger things. The first year’s runner-up was Upper Hutt singer Renee Maurice, who went on to win the third series of New Zealand’s Got Talent, and the second year was Mahalia Simpson, who just this year came fifth on The X Factor Australia.
I feel like I should throw in some celebrity gossip, but the only thing I can think of is the time when Delta Goodrem asked for a fruit platter in her dressing room, which caused a fuss because guests didn’t normally ask for fruit platters. In the end, some bits of chopped up fruit were hastily assembled. But Delta should consider herself very lucky that she didn’t end up with a platter of banana candles.
As for controversy, you know the time when Brendon farted in the craft segment? It never happened. Seriously, it was dubbed in for a skit on Eating Media Lunch (and is obviously fake when you watch it and know). But many viewers swore they saw it live and it would regularly be cited as conclusive proof of how awful Good Morning‘s presenters were.
Outside of our little Avalon home, people could be quite snobby about GM. Their reaction would either be “Oh, I don’t watch it”, as if somehow the show was a failure because it was on when they were at work. Or there’d be great disappointment when the person realised that Good Morning wasn’t the one with Paul Henry. But whatever – they were the ones missing out on the unintentional physical comedy of Good Morning’s exercise segments.
Good Morning always seemed like a show that would be there for people at certain times in their lives – the bored student needing some ironic entertainment before lectures, the stay-at-home mum needing the feeling of adult company in her otherwise kiddy-centric days, or the retiree who just liked watching that nice Simon Holst making corn fritters.
It’s sad that Good Morning is ending. How will the old ladies use up their stamps now? What will the snotty businessmen rage against from their couches?
But television keeps changing, and what worked in the 1990s or 2000s isn’t necessarily going to work in the 2010s. Just as some stay-at-home mums eventually go back to work, it now feels like it’s time for that morning timeslot to move on to a different role.
The final episode of Good Morning airs this Friday at 9am on TV One.
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 all Spinoff coverage of Good Morning here.
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