“The appointment of Henry, many felt, doomed the show from the start,” writes Lee Zachariah, in a feature that asks “What went wrong at Ten Breakfast?”
The controversial New Zealand broadcaster’s role in the embarrassing nosedive in the Australian breakfast show is central to Zachariah’s piece, written for Encore and republished at the Mumbrella site.
A billboard tells a thousand words. In this one, a tall handsome man holds his hand over the mouth of a shorter, less handsome one, as a blonde presenter laughs uproariously and another smiles blankly at the camera. Ten was entering the race for the breakfast TV audience, the billboard told us, and it was placing all of its chips on a man whose number one selling point appeared to be a case of halitosis.
One “regular Breakfast guest who prefers to remain anonymous”, is blunt:
The problem was in the casting of Paul … Paul is not a big, promotable brand. In fact, Paul is worse than any other brand you could have found in Australia. No-one knew who he was, and the moment anyone did Google him, all you could find were videos of Paul being a dickhead. So that’s the worst possible way of introducing him.
TV comedian Chas Licciardello says Henry provided plenty of material to lampoon – but they had to check their coverage:
We were actually pulling back significantly on our Paul Henry coverage, because Paul is a little bit like heroin when you’re doing a media critique show. It’s very easy to get addicted. But if you have too much Paul Henry, as Breakfast discovered, you end up dead.
But it may be simplistic to blame Henry, Zachariah concludes:
It’s tempting to see Paul Henry as the ultimate smokescreen. His hiring, his ‘outrageous’ on-air rants, his bloated salary seemingly contributing to the demise of the show, made it easy to lay the blame at his feet. Encore contacted Henry’s management but he declined to be interviewed.
Ultimately it was Ten executives that hired Henry, and they did so as part of a broader plan to pull audiences away from behemoths Sunrise and Today.
The idea to enter the breakfast television market may not have been doomed to failure, but the execution was.