Back Benches is back on the box

by Fiona Rae / 17 May, 2017
Back Benches, Wednesday.

Back Benches, Wednesday.

Unruly pollies will be point-scoring in the election-year Back Benches. 

Remember the days when an interview with the Prime Minister of New Zealand was prime-time viewing? When a testy exchange between Rob Muldoon and a young Simon Walker, in which Muldoon described Walker as a smart-alec interviewer, was big news? Good times.

Welcome back, then, Back Benches (Prime, Wednesday, 9.35pm), the show that separates the charismatic from the pedestrian, the quick-witted from the dull, the pompous from the unpretentious. Where politicians must think on their feet in the court of public opinion: a pub.

Well, that’s the theory, anyway. Back Benches, which has been on air since 2008, is frequently chaotic and often raucous. Filming in a bar – the iconic Backbencher in Wellington – may seem like a good idea, but the way the noise can build makes it perhaps one of the trickiest live presenting environments on New Zealand television. New presenter Charlotte Ryan, who joins old hand Wallace Chapman, relishes walking into the fire.

“I’m looking forward to it,” she says. Really? “I love wrangling people. I’m a mother; you kind of learn to deal with chaos.”

Ryan’s career began in radio, but she made the switch to television as Paul Henry’s social-media maven. After stepping back from breakfast television’s family-unfriendly hours, she can be heard on RNZ National talking about music on Nine to Noon, but that experience on Paul Henry is a good foundation for what’s to come.

“Paul Henry really liked me being one side of the fence so he could be the other and we could argue,” she says. “I like debating, so I really enjoyed that sort of discussion, especially live on air.”

Like Damian Christie and Hayley Holt before her, Ryan will be out among the hoi polloi, asking opinions and gauging reactions, while Chapman conducts the interviews.

“I represent the public, in a sense. I’ll be asking what the people want to hear and talking to people in the audience.” It’s a good year to be making a political TV show, that’s for sure: election year and John Key’s gone.

“There are also interesting things going on within all the political parties at the moment,” she says. Besides housing, immigration and the environment, there are bound to be “interesting scenarios popping up daily”, not all of them serious. “We definitely would have featured Bill English’s spaghetti on the pizza.”

This article was first published in the May 13, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Get the Listener delivered to your inbox

Subscribe now

@nzlistener @nzlistenermag @nzlistener

MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


How to lose weight without a diet
87141 2018-02-25 00:00:00Z Nutrition

How to lose weight without a diet

by Jennifer Bowden

"The irony is the intentional pursuit of weight loss – dieting, in other words – is actually a predictor of future weight gain."

Read more
Baby boomers are rethinking retirement for a later-life reboot
87313 2018-02-24 00:00:00Z Social issues

Baby boomers are rethinking retirement for a later…

by Sally Blundell

The biggest cohort of baby boomers is reaching retirement age – and many are not planning a quiet dotage.

Read more
School shootings and Russian indictments
87455 2018-02-24 00:00:00Z World

School shootings and Russian indictments

by Joanne Black

Slaughter in a school and Russian social-media mischief: the US is under siege.

Read more
Beck to go back to basics at Auckland City Limits
87417 2018-02-24 00:00:00Z Profiles

Beck to go back to basics at Auckland City Limits

by James Belfield

Before headlining Auckland City Limits, Beck talks about celebrating his musical past on stage and on record.

Read more
Islands of the Gulf: How the Hauraki has changed
87427 2018-02-24 00:00:00Z Television

Islands of the Gulf: How the Hauraki has changed

by Fiona Rae

A broadcaster revisits her mother’s iconic Islands of the Gulf TV series to see what’s changed since the 60s.

Read more
Hokianga's Wild West fest's unusual way of fundraising
86388 2018-02-24 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Hokianga's Wild West fest's unusual way of fundrai…

by Peter De Graaf

Once a year, the Wild West saddles up and rides into Waimamaku for a day of highway robbery.

Read more
Back on track: $60m to go into regional rail
87519 2018-02-23 14:43:30Z Economy

Back on track: $60m to go into regional rail

by Jane Patterson

Five regions will receive just over $60 million for rebooting rail in the first chunk of money from the Provincial Growth Fund.

Read more
Ricky Houghton is about finding innovative solutions to the issues facing Māori
87510 2018-02-23 14:21:31Z Profiles

Ricky Houghton is about finding innovative solutio…

by Clare de Lore

No government on their own can fix the problems facing Māori in the Far North, warns Local Hero of the Year Ricky Houghton.

Read more