Review: Paul Henry’s Paradise

He promised us a positive but hard hitting show aimed at finding the truth about where we are as a nation coming out of Lockdown. But, as Mark Jennings writes, Rebuilding Paradise with Paul Henry, didn’t live up to the hype.

Paul Henry will not be happy. His return to New Zealand television last night was lame. Very lame.

MediaWorks will be disappointed too. Free-to-air TV has been boring of late and Henry’s return after his retirement to Palm Springs and trans-world boating adventures brought a bit of buzz to the network.

Innovation in news and current affairs seems to have receded at the same rate as local TV’s profitability. The Project, Seven Sharp and Sunday are formulaic. The late evening bulletins are condensed versions of 6pm and the breakfast shows battle on. If it wasn’t for Ardern and Bridges regularly turning up at an early hour to be tested by Campbell and Garner, these shows would drift right off the radar.

Rebuilding Paradise with Paul Henry sprang from the crisis wrought on us by coronavirus but the restrictions that came with Covid-19 might have kneecapped Henry and his concept.

Normally, when a guest steps into a studio with Henry they feel his energy. They are often lulled into a false sense of security by his charm, even though they know it might not end well.

They are there to perform, debate, defend and entertain – and Henry helps them do that.

It’s why so many interviewees end up liking him and coming back for more, even if they have been roughed up.

None of this, unfortunately, works when you are on the end of a Zoom call or standing outside your house staring into the black lens of a live field camera.

Henry’s magic is suddenly dissipated by the distance.

Sir Michael Hill was not a good choice of first guest, despite being a household name.

If the 81-year-old jeweller has a vision for rebuilding New Zealand, he didn’t articulate it.

Henry let Hill, coming live from his Queenstown golf course, ramble on for an eternity (in television time) about the fire that destroyed his house 40 years ago and motivated him to become a successful businessman.

When asked what the future will be like in his own area of expertise – retail – Sir Michael made the hardly astounding prediction that more and more people will shop online.

Henry inquired what will become of Queenstown, now that international tourism is dead? The positive, said Sir Michael, is that it will return to the good old days where the locals ruled the roost. Years down the track, when tourism recovers, he hoped the visitors would be “rich people.”

Henry reprised a few old tricks from years gone past in an attempt to spark things up. Between interviews he read out twitter comments criticising his return to TV and duly scoffed at them.

The visual gag came into play too, with screengrabs of people on Zoom calls with silly backgrounds. Port of Tauranga CEO Mark Cairns was shown with a fish appearing to come out of his head. Slapstick rather than sophistication.

The show’s second interview was with Julie White from Hospitality New Zealand. The difficulties of putting Zoom interviews on television were fully exposed. The sound quality was bad and White was sitting too close to her laptop camera.

The sector she represents has been pummeled to the point where 40 percent of bars, restaurants, cafes and entertainment venues could go under.

Henry tried to throw a little petrol on the fire by suggesting the industry had too many participants anyway and the “spoilers will have to get out”. But he was so timid - perhaps he has become woke - that White brushed him off, saying most people in the industry ran sound businesses. She called for the Government to introduce a code of conduct for landlords, claiming 50 percent of them were “unhelpful”.

Henry is conducting the interviews from behind a desk that looks like it has come straight from the gaming floor at Sky City casino. To go with it, his cue cards resemble giant betting chips or maybe large drinks coasters from Speight’s brewery. They have stars on them, perhaps to represent the Southern Cross. Henry always likes to have the New Zealand flag represented in some way on his set.

The final interview in the half hour show was with sociologist Professor Paul Spoonley from Massey University. Henry put it to Spoonley that if the lockdown went on much longer there could be some sort of civil disobedience. Spoonley agreed that if the country started yo-yoing between alert levels then trust in the Government and health officials would evaporate and dissent would rise. It was gloomy stuff – not rebuilding a positive paradise.

Some shows take time to find their feet and this could be the case with Rebuilding Paradise. Henry has a deep understanding of television and he would have called his small team together last night to demand better. He will also demand more from himself.

Monday night’s show needs to improve. It needs the old Paul Henry back.

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