Media

John Campbell’s roving days over

The life and times of John Campbell have taken another turn with TVNZ’s decision to put him on Breakfast.

The move is hard to fathom on a number of fronts.

Why would you put one of your highest-paid stars on an off-peak programme? Especially, one who said less than a year ago he desperately wanted to escape the confines of the studio.

Campbell left RNZ’s Checkpoint programme to get away from the daily grind of a current affairs show but now he’ll be getting up in the dark every morning to do the same thing all over again.

Either Campbell is missing the daily adrenalin shot of live broadcasting or TVNZ wanted more for the money it’s paying him and lacked another viable option to fill the breakfast slot.

Campbell’s new role was revealed at the same time as Jack Tame announced he is moving from Breakfast to Q & A - TVNZ’s political interview programme.

The PR around this was very odd and, on the surface, almost incompetent.

First, it was announced by Tame and not Campbell or TVNZ’s head of news, John Gillespie.

Thursday’s Breakfast programme finished with Tame confessing he had issues with his work/life balance and a desire “to get stuck into politics.” He was sorry to leave the Breakfast whanau but he was off to Q & A.

There was no sign of Campbell, who as the major star should’ve been at the forefront of the announcement.

Second, the changeover is happening on April 29. Positional switches like this are usually decided and announced months in advance – not a mere 11 days before.

Third, the TVNZ media release was a shocker. At the top were file photos of Tame and Campbell stitched together. It had all the hallmarks of a last-minute scramble. Normally, there would have been a group shot of a smiling Campbell and a happy Breakfast team of co-presenters.

Campbell’s quote was clearly not written by him.

"It's a privilege to be part of New Zealander's first news source of the day, bringing viewers breaking coverage from overnight, sharing stories that matter from around the country, and giving people a voice."

It is off the shelf anodyne, something Campbell is not, and it contains a grammatical error that Campbell would never make.

So what's going on? Well it’s hard to work out and TVNZ hasn’t yet offered much of an explanation.

Tame might want “to get stuck into politics” but he has no background in political reporting.

There is nothing wrong with him as a journalist or interviewer but politicians appearing on Q & A are hardly going to be shaking in their shoes at the prospect of being interviewed by him.

Tame versus Peters or Jones? Tame versus Jacinda or Robertson?

Getting in the ring with Campbell is another matter. He has a string of knockouts to his name. From memory only one politician, John Key, has managed to score a decisive points victory over him.

Scrutiny of Parliament and politics would have been advanced to a greater degree if Campbell had been put into Q & A.

It could’ve become the equivalent of the BBC’s Hard Talk programme. A must watch interview show on Monday nights. He could even have done it while retaining his roving reporter's role.

The media release says Campbell will continue to work in the field but in reality that won’t happen. After getting up at 4am or earlier, doing three hours of live TV and then debriefing with the show’s producer, Campbell will be heading home to Grey Lynn for a lie down. Mike Hosking, Paul Henry, Hilary Barry, Toni Street and Tame will all tell you how tiring it is to host early morning TV.

Of course, Campbell will anchor from the field on days when there is a major event or a big breaking story, but, in reality, these are few and far between.

It’s possible that cost saving was a motivating factor in TVNZ’s decision. Campbell won’t be replaced in his current roving reporter role and with Corin Dann, the former host of Q & A going to RNZ’s Morning Report there is a big salary saving.

The economics of breakfast television in this country have been declining for years. Serious news junkies have migrated online or stayed with RNZ’s Morning Report or Newstalk ZB’s Hosking.

MediaWorks would not have its The AM Show if it wasn’t simulcast on radio and tapping into that revenue source.

The heady days of Hosking and Kate Hawkesby or Henry and Pippa Wetzell pulling in 300,000 viewers to Breakfast are long gone. This year, Breakfast and AM’s combined audience is averaging around 160,000.

The picture is worse in the commercially important 25-54 demographic. Breakfast averages 30,000 viewers and AM about 28,000.

The low ratings and the closeness of the race will be worrying TVNZ.

Whether TVNZ has thought about this or not, Campbell’s arrival at Breakfast is going to mean something changes.

Either Campbell metamorphoses into Mr Light and Fluffy to fit the show’s current vibe or the show changes into something more serious and hard-hitting.

Given Campbell’s experience, intellect and personality it’s likely to be the latter.

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