TV Review: Hosking Henry
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What do Mike Hosking, Paul Henry, Sean Plunket and Guyon Espiner have in common with John Campbell?
What do Mike Hosking, Paul Henry, Sean Plunket and Guyon Espiner have in common with John Campbell? They are the white guys who hold the other white guys (who run the the country) to public account in live interviews on the main networks in New Zealand. The difference is Campbell will tell you he’s a Lefty and the others… well, they are still at the 25th Anniversay of the Backbone Club, or being schmoozed by Sky City, or driving sports cars over pedestrians and cyclists, or whatever. Apart from the brazen partisan shennanigans of Henry, that group won’t be caught overtly displaying any party colours. The politics however is reactionary and the orthodox right – so blue it is purple. Anyone listening to their hostility to the marginalised and the unquestioned endorsement of capitalist enterprise will quickly grasp the yuppie credentials and their upper-middle class urban background and outlook. So the main conduit – but more accurately described as a filter, choke-point or sphincter – between the small collection of individuals in power and the people of the country are these right wing white guys.
They are all part of the same establishment. They are independent, their media organisations are independent - but, yeah, nah… not really. Frequencies, subsidies, regulations, advertising, access to authority – the media organisations are entwined with cross-interests and conflicts with politicians and business because they are pillars in the same house. Sure, they are free in a technical, legal sense - and they defend their right to publish whatever they want when they are attacked - but the basis of their news narrative and editorial critique of the system and of society is entirely in lockstep with the ideology of the state and its ruling elite, and to that extent they are not independent but rather co-dependent or inter-dependent. They will not collapse their own house. An interview in which a Minister in this National government is seriously challenged has been a rarity with the notable exception of Campbell.
These guys have relationships with their media bosses, with their subjects and with their audiences – not all of which is clear to the latter group. It is an incestuous arrangement. The audiences in their channels are relatively static compared to the fluidity of movement between the former groups. Someone like Willie Jackson can be a broadcaster, a subject and a media owner. Someone like Hosking (and Paul Holmes before him) can usually be heard on the talkhate ZB radio stations in the morning and on TVNZ One network in the evening attempting the same pat rednekkery on Seven Sharp with only Toni Street for balance. Espiner has gone from TVNZ to TV3 to RNZ, Plunket was RNZ now Radio Live, Henry has been - like he is on air - all over the place. Revolving doors for the right personnel across multiple platforms: think Bill Ralston and his trail of mongrelism from TV3, TVNZ news and Metro magazine; think the Espiner brothers. Think
parliamentary press gallery. Think Duncan Garner’s Bellamy’s chin. These are communes, clubs. The hive inside the Escher cube.
All of which means I find myself with less and less inclination to devote any time to their predictable, pre-packaged programmes. The only reason to watch Hosking on Seven Sharp and Henry on his own show is the novelty value – which after the first week has already worn off.
Hosking makes Henry look benign and open-minded, such is the gleefully unconcealed hate that runs rampant through his mind and out of his mouth. Why put up with that abrasive delivery of toxic misogyny, racism and bigotry? Bad enough this is all wildly populist. Hosking has his blue eyes to commend him, but little else from what I have seen of him in this format. Hosking can be a devastating interviewer (his demolition of Rodney Hide when he tried to front and defend his perk-taking was a high point on Close Up), but playing Mr Nice Guy and sharing the gig with another two is awwwwwwkwaaaaard. Hosking lacks Henry’s impish charm and anarchic streak that would otherwise let him get away with his waspish behaviour – but out of Hosking’s mouth it is nasty rather than merely flippant. Brusqueness and dismissive is second nature to Hosking, but he also does a mean turn in rude and cruel as well.
Henry has managed to kill off the institution that was Nightline whilst keeping it’s formula of leading in with straight news and then starting to get freaky. It has a Nightline vibe which is why I have not mourned for a show that has been there as one of the network’s flagship shows since the start of TV3 in 1989. Its spirit seems to have continued.
Henry and his cool, subdued set repose him in a favourable light. We are hanging out in Paul’s groovy underground chill lounge. So far, so hip. All manner of transgressions and irreverences are already forgiven at that hour – we are more likely to hear his OCD rantings than we are to hear about OECD rankings and we are more likely to appreciate it what’s more. At a point we share the madness – feel part of it. All of which is acceptable on TV3 because of their latitude and their experience with the unconventional and the spontaneous. TVNZ’s last attempt at anything approaching that latitude was of course Henry and his Dikshit diplomatic incident and his subsequent departure. That was a round peg trying to squeeze onto a very square hole. From what I have seen The Paul Henry Show is a late night variety show in the comedy genre rather than a current affairs programme and should be judged as such. Trying to critique his fawning interview with the PM on his first show, for example, is not really worth the effort. In the same way the PM’s appearance on the Letterman show wasn’t really worth the effort to review either. It’s pure entertainment.
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