Next week on August 11 TVNZ’s Breakfast show turns 25 – a quarter of a century on air!
Prior to 1997 live weekday morning news television in New Zealand was pretty much non-existent. We were aware places like America and Australia had it, but it wasn’t on the NZ public, or media radar.
The only similar programme I can think of in terms of live production in the mornings with such a long legacy is What Now! which has been going on Sunday mornings (originally on Saturdays) for almost 40 years.
1997 was long before the 24 hour news cycle, the spread of the internet (we still had dial-up at our house until the late 2000s) and social media, so if there was live television on New Zealand televisions in the morning it was either an All Blacks game / the Olympics on the other side of the world, or something very bad had happened locally.
Today breakfast news often sets the televisual tone and topic for the day – Covering what has happened at home and overseas during the night, outlining important events that are expected to occur locally that day and interviewing those involved. The lunchtime bulletin at midday acts as a progress report and the traditional 6pm news – the pinnacle of New Zealand’s news landscape for generations almost acting more as a roundup and post-mortem of the day’s events.
Breakfast’s first of many hosts in 1997 were Mike Hosking and Susan Wood.
Breakfast felt cool and new. It was off the cuff, like local breakfast radio, but larger, more dynamic and on screen. Live filming made it feel more genuine, original and informal than the polished, rehearsed news bulletins.
This was also before Hosking’s career and ego made the Fourth Circle of Dante’s Inferno look like broad daylight. He was more down to earth and even, dare I say it, “cool”(?) then, to the point where he was (good naturedly) parodied on What Now and the local comedy skit shows of the time.
I had dreamed of being part of TVNZ, or just TV IN NZ, ever since I was a kid growing up watching What Now, After School, Telethon, Town & Around, Children of the Dog Star and the plethora of fantastic, locally produced shows that were created in that golden era of NZ television production – the 1980s.
Watching Breakfast brought this dream into adulthood. I remember seeing a Christmas “Behind the scenes” segment at the end of the first or second season that made me want to get into television again (and develop a brief televisual crush on a bespeckled reporter named Pippa).
I’d been working in radio only a year or two before and this looked like the next logical, aspirational goal.
I never got near that goal.
And now as a parent the chances of watching Breakfast much on my mornings off are few and far between, as my daughter usually wields the remote and The Moe Show, Bluey, or more recently YouTube and Disney+ rule our sole television screen, so I seldom get to see much of the show past 7am.
Missing out on a large chunk of Breakfast’s mid to late 2000s and 2010s wasn’t all bad – I did miss out the majority of the supernovaing of Hosking and Henry as hosts and their cults of “(TV) personality”.
But Breakfast did at least go where many other TV shows had never gone before – Regional New Zealand!
On the Road
With it’s early morning hours Breakfast is unlike many NZ television shows, and unlike most New Zealand media networks simulcasting across New Zealand, it actually gets out there amongst the locals and different locations across the country on a regular basis.
Breakfast has made it to Napier on a couple of occasions, broadcasting live from the Soundshell on Marine Parade, showing off our region and stunning live sunrises over Hawke Bay.
These shows usually had one of their cast inevitably be dressed up in Art Deco attire, or some similar interactive performative element. It’s certainly something associated with the city due to the architectural style at the time of rebuilding after the 1931 earthquake, but for us locals it began to feel a bit forced, twee and repetitive, after a couple decades of being ever-present and ever-pushed by the city council’s promoters, Art Deco devotees and local tourism organizations.
Their roving reporters and weather people often get out and about, too.
The morning after the deluge of Napier’s November 2020 floods Breakfast’s Matty McLean was reporting live from a semi-submerged Whitmore Park in Marewa – the suburb hardest hit by the flooding as well as visiting and interviewing those whose homes were effected or damaged by the flooding.
This provides an important, tangible connection with viewers as it proves (at least some of) “these Auckland media people” are actually real, and not just some disembodied and disenfranchised voice or face that only exist in the form of broadcast media.
During the nation-wide Covid 19 lockdown of 2020 the show helped provide a steady stream of news, information and, most importantly, personal connection at a time when we were all quarantined at home.
During that period Breakfast even had viewers Zoom, or Skype in to be “guest weather presenters” and do the forecasts for the show.
My Twitter friend, and fellow tall, hairy Andrew F, Andrew Feldon, who runs Mouthwater Coffee in Palmerston North was one of these Sky Soothsaying Skypers. It was like l’d almost fulfilled my dream vicariously!
The Dream Team
I had a recurring dream last year in which I got to meet John Campbell in person. I’ve interacted with him on social media several times, but never “IRL” (“In Real Life”, #Hashtag, YOLO GST, PhD etc…)
In the dream I meet John on set or behind the scenes at Breakfast and he promises to get me on television, either Breakfast, or my own show. It’s unclear how, or why as the dream ends about this point and the details disappear with conciousness.
Many in TVNZ’s news and current affairs talent pool have gotten their big television break, or at least worked on Breakfast at some stage in the past quarter century.
From fame to infamy and, in some cases later on in their lives or careers, being enabled to be purposefully inflammatory and even outright conspiracy misinformationy a number of people have presented and been involved in the show, but my favorite core presenters over the last 25 years has been the most recent lineup of Indira Stewart, Jenny-May Clarkson, Matty McLean, Melissa Stokes and John Campbell.
When he left the show to pursue more in-depth journalism with TVNZ, John gave a marvelous parting monologue pointing out the diversity of the show and his fellow presenters – Te Reo now being an integral part of the show’s vocabulary, the advancement of LGBTQI+ rights, recognizing the wrongs of racial discrimination and actions like the dawn raids of the 70s, and the importance of inclusiveness and multiculturalism to modern New Zealand society and media.
The more readily outraged out there would call this “woke”, or “PC gone mad!”.
It’s recognizing injustice. It’s being sympathetic, empathetic and supportive. It’s shining a light into dark places that need illumination for the wrongs there to be exposed and righted.
It’s human, it’s New Zealand, and it’s beautiful.
Not a dry eye in the house.
Love your work, team!
NZ’s Next Top Breakfast Presenter
The presenter they brought in to fill John Campbell’s immense shoes (and incredibly stylie socks) didn’t last long and the fallout of that is still ongoing.
Other media networks gleefully trumpeted imminent doom for Breakfast on the eve of it’s anniversary, but that was simply never going to happen.
One fewer host does not a Breakfast show un-make.
It may be worth remembering that the stars of some of these networks had significant roles on Breakfast or with TVNZ in the past, which aided them getting where they are today. Crying “nepotism!” now may not be the stable moral high ground they think they are on.
But it did expose something that had been quite obvious to outsiders for a while now: That, like other NZ media networks, TVNZ’s talent selection processes, in this case at least, had been less than open or diverse.
The chances of Andrew from Palmy and/or Andrew from Napier getting any full-time job in television despite their best weather presenting, writing, or Tweeting efforts are microscopic compared to a favored few who somehow seem to get multiple hosting rolls across multiple networks and multiple media formats without the amateur meteorological, journalistic and social media skills, or talent.
Here’s to Another 25 Years!
Here are my suggestions for how Breakfast can keep going for another 25 years:
1/ Keep Broadening the Talent Pool:
The show has proven how reflecting a wide cross-section of New Zealand society and cultures is an important part of a truly representative media.
We constantly hear the term “a plurality of voice” bandied about in terms of goals for New Zealand media.
To me that means voices (plural) from all walks of life, from all across New Zealand on the airwaves.
To media executives in recent decades it means the same few voices simulcast across the country on a plurality of stations and frequencies who used to have their own individual voices, or the same people who host a nationally broadcast radio show in the morning being given another platform on national television in the evening, or vice versa.
This isn’t a true “plurality of voice”, and it certainly isn’t fair on all the voices we don’t get to hear.
2/ Keep Getting Out There!
The world is a much smaller place than it used to be.
Television shows that “had” to be produced in Auckland no longer do. Providing you have a good internet or satellite connection you can record and broadcast from anywhere – Even Hawke’s Bay!
Spreading assets across the country also means less chance of disruption if unforeseen circumstances cause one centralized studio to be out of action.
The rapid advancement of technology also means it is far cheaper to run and maintain small-scale broadcast facilities in multiple locations. Imagine what a difference to our viewing and listening landscape reinstating teams of TVNZ and RNZ reporters across the country (not just in the main centers) would make to the diversity of news coverage!
These ideas are particularly relevant given the upcoming merger of Television New Zealand and Radio New Zealand has a strong emphasis on public broadcasting and Public Interest Journalism. There is more impetus than ever before for more NZ media to spread their wings like Breakfast has done and rove across the country telling locals’ stories.
If they need someone extra in Napier I know a guy… Even if he has a voice for television and a face for radio…
So happy 25th birthday, TVNZ Breakfast!
Here’s to another 25 years of informing, entertaining and exploring Aotearoa!