A call is out for Paul Henry to fill the TVNZ gap left by Mark Sainsbury.
Auckland-based celebrity agent Karen Kay told NBR ONLINE she backed Mr Henry's return to TVNZ.
"Paul would be marvellous. He would be a great replacement," Ms Kay says.
She says there are few people in New Zealand who could lead a 7pm slot, and Mr Henry is her pick.
Mr Henry is contracted to Channel Ten in Sydney and TV3, but contracts can be broken.
Next in line Ms Kay rates Mike Hosking, Marcus Lush, Susan Wood and even Paul Holmes.
Mr Henry has yet to return messages left for him in Sydney today by NBR ONLINE.
TVNZ is expected to axe Close Up at the end of the year – a move that could see the return of Paul Henry to New Zealand.
The move, officially still at the proposal stage, also means the future of its presenter Mark Sainsbury is in doubt.
“It’s the death of serious nightly current affairs in TV1,” lamented Bill Ralston, former TVNZ head of news and current affairs.
Close Up has run for eight years, with Mark Sainsbury a presenter for the past six.
ABOVE: Annual ratings. Source - Nielsen Television Audience Measurement. Click to zoom
However, though a ratings winner for its 7pm slot, falling ratings have placed the show in jeopardy and the subject of it and Mr Sainsbury the subject of much speculation.
It also raises the prospect of former Breakfast TV host Paul Henry making a controversial return to New Zealand from Australia, where his appearances on a similar breakfast tv programme on Network 10 have been less than successful.
This morning TVNZ says viewers are seeking “something quite fresh and different” in early evening current affairs and the current show had “run its course”.
“We want to reinvent the early evening slot, to present the stories of the day in a way that is very different to what has gone before,” TVNZ head of news and current affairs Ross Dagan says in a statement.
“Everyone on the show is aware that traditional current affairs formats are losing favour with audiences, and this team has set the bar for what’s possible.”
TVNZ says it will not be releasing details of the proposed new show at this stage, but Mr Dagan paid tribute to Close Up’s 16 staff, including Mr Sainsbury.
“As presenter Mark Sainsbury has done a fine job and has earned a deserved place in television history through his coverage of some of the most significant issues in New Zealand’s recent past,” he says.
Mr Ralston, now a media commentator, declared the move “the death of serious nightly current affairs in TV1”.
He is not hopeful of Close Up’s prospective replacement.
“It will be more populist entertainment likely to bomb like a dog. It’s all good news for John Campbell at rival TV3 show Campbell Live,” he told NBR ONLINE.
Mr Ralston, who was TVNZ’s head of news and current affairs during the Helen Clark era, says TVNZ management has “always loathed news and current affairs”.
However, the industry veteran doubted today’s announcement will open the doors to a quick return to TVNZ for Paul Henry.
“He’s under contract on TV3 and has a job till the end of the year with Channel Ten,” he says.
Mr Henry – in a meeting – could not immediately take NBR ONLINE's call to Channel Ten today.
Mr Ralston says it is “sad” for Mark Sainsbury after his “professional and loyal service” but also “sad for New Zealand viewers who will miss out on having a choice in current affairs”.
In future TV1 would go for a “lighter presenter”.
Prompted as to whether this might mean a fresh role for Breakfast weather presenter Tamati Coffey, who now presents New Zealand’s Got Talent, Mr Ralston referred to Mr Coffey having a politics degree.
And prompted as to Mr Coffey’s stand-in, Breakfast weather presenter Sam Wallace, Mr Ralston says: “You are thinking down the right path. The name I have heard is Pippa Wetzell.
"Think of the Breakfast show at night, with a lot of discussion on Hollywood,” he says.
TVNZ began consultation with affected staff this morning, aiming to announce an outcome by Mid-October.
Spokeswoman Megan Richards told NBR ONLINE consultation was a legal process, which is why the network could not comment on any successor show.
When asked if a new show meant the return of Paul Henry, Ms Richards laughed and says Kim Dotcom had also been suggested to front it.
“There will be a million and one suggestions, but we cannot talk about that as well. There has to be a legitimate opportunity for staff to comment about what might be a better solution.”
Content is key
Media commentator Martin Gillman says by announcing it might cancel Close Up without saying what it will be replaced with, TVNZ could actually be signalling to TV3 the programme is under review.
"There's a reasonable chance that as a result, TV3 will review the format of Campbell Live, and we end up with another situation where we've got two similar programmes."
However, Mr Gillman says programmes such as these are always under review anyway, and TVNZ just probably want to get rid of Mr Sainsbury.
"The format of the 7pm slot hasn't changed essentially for 25 years, and it needs revitalising.
"I would suggest it would be a more real-time, viewer participation sort of project which utilises social media more."
Mr Gillman says while popular presenters such as Paul Henry may be lured back, the presenter alone is unlikely to have a big effect on the success of the show.
"The key issue is the content, not who presents it."