15 Dec 2017

Prime time presenters call it quits

From Mediawatch, 12:13 am on 15 December 2017

Toni Street and Mike Hosking are quitting TVNZ’s Seven Sharp to spend more time with their families - and their respective radio networks. What next for a show that's often in the news because of its hosts?

Mike Hosking and Toni Street eat marmite iceblocks shortly before announcing their departure.

Mike Hosking and Toni Street eat marmite iceblocks shortly before announcing their departure. Photo: Screenshot / Seven Sharp

Whatever big-name local broadcasters do these days seems to make news across the media.

So when the pair presenting TVNZ 1’s 7pm show told viewers on Thursday they were calling it quits after four years, notifications were pinged out to the nation’s phones with the urgency of a tsunami alert. Homepage banners were cleared out to carry the news.

On the same day the government announced its new families package and opened its books for the first time since being elected.

But there was nothing about that on Seven Sharp.

Instead, the show told us how to avoid sandfly bites, ran a feel-good section sponsored by a bank, and Hosking and Street goofed around with marmite and vegemite iceblocks.

The show's forerunners Holmes and Close Up took on the news of the day and forced news-makers to front up.

But the progression towards entertainment over news in the 7pm slot was underway before Street and Hosking took over.

“It was in trouble and the challenge was to turn this show around,” Hosking told viewers on Thursday about joining the show four years ago alongside Street. The show’s ratings picked after they came on board.

But even though their show has dominated the commercial competition at a critical prime time half-hour for TVNZ, both hosts also have well-paid radio jobs each day.

“She’s got radio and I’ve got radio and these are long hours and hard days,” Hosking told viewers.

In the past TVNZ bosses might have found it galling for such prime roles to be considered an optional add-on to radio jobs, but Hosking’s big morning audience on Newstalk ZB was considered an asset. Likewise, Street's morning gig on The Hits.

TVNZ didn't mind Hosking urging Seven Sharp viewers to tune in to hear him on ZB the following morning, even though TVNZ’s own breakfast show also wanted their eyeballs at the same time. Just after he announced his departure from Seven Sharp on Thursday, he told its viewers to tune in for his chat with Paul McCartney on his radio show the following morning.

The TV / radio crossover also gave Hosking a second soapbox for frequent pro-National-led government opinions he aired on Newstalk ZB. The New Zealand Herald (also NZME-owned) gave him another one.

That raised uncomfortable questions of bias for state-owned TVNZ. Never before had one host had such a big and multi-platformed pulpit from which to dispense political reckons.   

But TVNZ was prepared to take the criticism for the sake of ratings. On Thursday’s Seven Sharp, Hosking revealed he had wanted to leave Seven Sharp a year ago, but TVNZ asked him to stay “to do election year”.

While TVNZ’s statement insists the pair have quit to spend more time with their families (and their respective radio networks) can it be a coincidence Hosking departs just as a new political landscape takes shape?

His strident political opinion pieces on Seven Sharp have thinned out post-election and it may have been seen as both a commercial and a political risk for state-owned TVNZ to have an older right-wing host regularly criticising a left-leaning government, especially if the polls proved it was led by a persistently popular PM in Jacinda Ardern.   

On nzherald.co.nz, the headline “Labour's package expected to halve child poverty” was elbowed aside for “Will Hilary take over?” (Hilary Barry - TV stars need no surnames).

But the bigger question is: what will TVNZ serve up to one of New Zealand’s largest prime time audiences?

It could be more of the same with new faces, or it could shape a new show in the new year that deals with more deeply with issues at a time of change under a new government.