Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Bill Ralston has finally been dumped by TVNZ.

The news is out and so is Ralston.

There is justice in the world. The former Metro editor who presided over a slump in circulation from 21,000 to 14,000 an issue and was rewarded with a job paying megabucks at TVNZ has finally been sacked for presiding over an equally catastrophic collapse in ratings with the State broadcaster. It could not have happened to a more deserving candidate.

I have to confess that I have only spent a few hours in Mr Ralston's company and during that time I found him to be as pleasantly vacuous as he always appeared to be on television. His Ralston show was somehow meant to be a combination of humour and politics in a cheap chat show format which typically relies on the wit and imagination of the host.

But where Rove McManus has discovered a completely new approach to television: delighting in the triumph of the common man over the tyranny of televison by taking the piss out of the high and mighty, Ralston presumed only that he and his co-hosts were the high and mighty by dint of scoring their dog-in-the-manger spot on state funded broadcasting. The result was a show of forced good humour punctuated by observations of the bleeding obvious.

The simple fact is Ralston does not have it. He is a product of Auckland media politics and he has no connection with the rest of the country. His response was to wrap television around his own world trying to create a cult of Auckland celebrity which simply does not square with New Zealand's solidly egalitarian ethos.

Who will replace him remains to be seen. TVNZ is an odd fish in the world of television. A state broadcaster almost entirely reliant on commercial funding with, until TV3 began making serious inroads, a huge share of the national advertising market. On the one side it is beset by Wellington politicians who would prefer the state broadcaster to behave more like a state broadcaster (but who don't want to put up the cash) and on the other side the simple fact that by dint of geography the scope for competitive entry into the Auckland free-to-air TV market is enormous.

TV3's success has largely come from its Campbell show which is driven, it has to be said, by some core strengths in good old fashioned journalism. That these have paid off is a testimony to the patience of CanWest management and to the dedication of TV3 journalists.

It would be nice to think that TVNZ might find a management team who can get their heads out of TVNZ's snakepit of bitchiness and egoism and focus on their customers: the people of New Zealand. The only apalling thought that however suggests is that the people of New Zealand may look for a return of their former favourite:Paul Holmes!

Now that would be truly revolting.

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