Here is no news: A retrospective on coalition night television

by Diana Wichtel / 01 November, 2017
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As we waited, the only show on telly was Winston Watch. Photo/Getty Images

Paddy Gower demonstrated that, regardless of what’s happening, his controls are set at Armageddon.

Ask and you will get knocked back. Seek and, well, good luck with that. Knock and the lift doors will be closed upon you. That was the situation for our plucky media as the nation waited for Winston Peters to announce the new government.

“What can you tell us?” demanded Newshub’s Melissa Davies in the studio, as reporters reinvented the Seinfeldian concept of television about nothing. “I can’t tell you much,” said Lloyd Burr, a political reporter who seems to live for lift doors to close on him. His reckless encounters with Winston were a highlight of election night and he was back for more. He brought random breaking news. “I’ve heard murmurs that some clapping was heard from the Labour Party offices. So that’s something to think about.”

There was a false Winston sighting. “It’s just a guy here to maintain the lift.” Then there was Burr’s plinth monologue. A platform had been placed in front of the microphone to be used for the announcement and then taken away again. “So that was a little scandal regarding the plinth.”

Meanwhile, TVNZ’s website offered a video of 1 News’s Katie Bradford and Corin Dann lolling despondently in chairs at Bowen House, doing some sort of homage to Waiting for Godot. Dann: “Look, I dunno. I dunno.” Bradford: “We don’t know. That’s the problem.” This drove Dann into an involuntary critique of the state of serious journalism these days. “We shouldn’t be saying that,” he fretted. “We’re supposed to be telling people stuff.”

In the absence of anything remotely news-like, there was the Vietnamese-soup monologue. “Winston’s having Vietnamese for lunch. Breakfast … I wonder what he’s thinking as he does that?” mused Bradford. “The most important takeaway – he’s not having takeaways – is that it’ll be a couple more hours,” declared Dann. They were there to ensure it seemed much, much longer.

Back at Newshub, Three’s political editor Paddy Gower demonstrated once again that, regardless of what’s happening in what passes for reality in his world, his controls are set at Armageddon. “Still we wait! Still the drama continues here!” An update on the clapping was neatly combined with a Three game-show promo. “They were actually clapping about Family Feud, before 6pm!”

Finally, some action. The Greens were discovered to be “making a beeline for the Beehive!”. Winston Watch kicked up a notch. Burr: “Those are the elevators he’s expected to leave in! It’s like elevator roulette!” By this time, atmospheric interference or the steam rising from Gower broke up the picture, making him look like a malfunctioning hologram. It would explain a lot.

Finally, Winston materialised and the rest is history, with a touch of Married at First Sight, as commentators pondered the personalities involved in the coalition: were they compatible? Was there chemistry? Would they keep their vows?

Over on Seven Sharp, the normally untroubled Mike Hosking visage looked almost as distressed as his jeans. His impressive range of appalled expressions launched gleeful memes, though he was possibly trumped by Paddles, the polydactyl First Cat.

Despite the hours of nothing, this election’s disruptive MMP antics were made for television. As Jacinda Ardern put it, “I found out at the same time as the rest of the country.” What a strange, sometimes endearing little nation we are. When an Australian journalist called Ardern’s office to check on how to pronounce her surname, the Prime Minister-designate answered his call. Former PM Helen Clark tweeted, “That’s New Zealand!”

It’s early days, but one positive outcome of the change might be that certain talkback hosts will think twice before referring to Ardern, or anyone, as a “chicky-babe”. As for the vagaries of MMP politics at the edge of the Earth, there was an email on Breakfast with some useful advice on how to weather them: “Moaning won’t help,” it read. “Suck it up and give it a chance.”

This article was first published in the November 4, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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