The final TVNZ7 Backbenches

June 27th, 2012 at 10:35 pm by David Farrar

Just finished watching the final episode of , well on anyway. I watched in on TV, as the Speights Ale House was crammed to capacity. A fair bit of the show ended up being filmed on the pavement outside after a fire alarm went out, providing an exciting end to the show on .

It is possible the show may get picked up by another broadcaster, but for now anyway it has ended after four and a bit years.

In the main, I’ve greatly enjoyed the show – both as a viewer, and occasional participant.    The after show drinking sessions ending up at Hummingbird have also been good!

I thought I would first start with the good. The two producers – Caroline and Mary-Anne – are always friendly, always professional, put together an excellent production and two really great people to boot.

The combination of Wallace and Damien worked well. Damien’s humour and Wallace’s engaging style produced a very watchable show.  I said to Wallace some years ago that one day I could see him on Close Up. I still hold to that view.

The floor manager and technical staff did an excellent job of live broadcasts from a non-studio. The Backbenches pub was a great venue for the show, as has been Speights Ale House for the last three weeks.

I think it was a great thing that we had a show, where any member of the public could turn up at the pub, and see four MPs debate the week’s issues, and meet and chat to them before hands and afterwards. There are few countries that have their MPs so accessible. I recall one show on a day the House rose early, and there were over 40 MPs at the Backbencher.

I also think the show was great for MPs, especially well backbenchers. Previously some MPs would never have to debate on live television until they were a Minister – and normally only if they are in the crap! It’s good training for MPs.

So many good things about Backbenchers, and I will miss it. But there were two or three issues which did detract from it.

The first is the behaviour of some in the audience. We saw this tonight where they booed and hissed as Peter Dunne got introduced. I will heckle (hopefully something humourous) an MP when they say something worth heckling, but would never ever boo or hiss an MP – as would be the case for most people. But the partisan activists who regularly jeer, boo and hiss those they disagree with did the show a dis-service. And if no other broadcaster does pick up the show, then I happen to know their behaviour has been an element in that. Certain broadcasting executives have commented on some of the appalling rudeness.

Linked to that, is the composition of the audience has changed over the four years. There has always been a hard core group of activists from the right and left who have turned up, which is good. But there used to also be a lot of non-activists turn up, who just wanted to experience the show. Over time it seems there were fewer of those, and the audiences became more and more the partisan activists.

Another issue for me has been the composition of the panels, since the 2011 election. The formula has always been one MP per party. Up until the 2011 election this would normally mean two Government MPs and two Opposition MPs. After ACT lost all their backbenches in 2011, the result has been almost every panel has been three opposition MPs and one Government MP. It could have been worth allowing two MPs from National, or alternatively having just three MPs on the panel, so it is slightly less lop sided.

As I said, it is possible Backbenches will continue on another channel. I hope it does. While I have highlighted some issues (I’d solve the booing issue by having the cameras do close up focuses on those doing it), I definitely think overall it has become a fun part of New Zealand politics.

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29 Responses to “The final TVNZ7 Backbenches”

  1. chris (647 comments) says:

    It is possible the show may get picked up by another broadcaster

    It won’t, because it won’t rate. Most people don’t give a crap about this sort of programming. I am pretty interested in politics myself and have watched *some* of a couple of episodes (when there was nothing else on), but it’s not something I want to watch normally.

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  2. LeftPilot (60 comments) says:

    Hopefully it does get picked up, although I’m doubtful. Backbenches along with 7 Days, The Nation, Q & A and Media7 have been the only things on NZ Television that have interested me when I have been in NZ on holidays. As much as I dislike Sky and it truly is awful in NZ their Android app did at least help for alerts to when these shows were on.

    That said the two NZ Sunday Movies on One were a real treat. Well produced about real stories in NZ. All is not lost I guess, just perilously close.

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  3. Rex Widerstrom (5,013 comments) says:

    Were there ever any ratings done? Because the usually dull and earnest Q & A on ABC in Australia rates a sufficiently large proportion of the audience.

    There’s also a Catch-22 about such things; a show screened on relatively obscure channel will inevitably attract a much smaller audience than if it were on a more mainstream channel because it draws on a smaller base. Exposing backbenchers and third party MPs to public scrutiny is a worthwhile contribution to democracy; it’s to be hoped it – or a reworked version of it – finds a home somewhere.

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  4. Monique Watson (1,062 comments) says:

    I went along through 2009 and 2010 and loved it. It was a great show. the presenters were down to earth, hard case and very good off the cuff. One classic show, during NZ music month, Wallace asked Peter Dunne if he liked Gin Whigmore. Peter responded, ” She’s a good singer, but I don’t go her tatts (tattoos)”.
    The look on his face when Wallace asked Peter for clarification, had he said “tits”. :) And his wife is such a lady!
    i had the feeling it was hijacked as an ideologues hangout through 2011. you stopped being able to request a table for dinner and get a good view of the show from your table.
    You were kept from the view of the proceedings by a layer of ferals and students.
    Good luck to every involved. The perfect vehicle would be if it got picked up by the print media so you could view it embedded as part of, say the NZ Herald front page.

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  5. mikenmild (12,313 comments) says:

    Seeing National always sent along anonymous backbenchers, why would the producers have wanted to double the boredom quotient and lower the intellectual ability of the panel?

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  6. Pete George (23,793 comments) says:

    Sad to see the end of Back Benches, I think DPF has covered this well.

    There was more to be sad about than it ending. As DPF describes, there was a very rude crowd introduction for Peter Dunne. But there was more.

    Before it started Clare Curran tweeted:

    @clarecurranmp
    Peter Dunne has a cheek turning up to #backbenches how’s he going to spin it? #SaveTVNZ7

    And she didn’t reply to my tweet questioning this. I presume he was invited. And she wasn’t.

    And Back Benches closed with Jacinda Adern on “I’ve been thinking” which demonstrated that she doesn’t think much. She addressed Peter Dunne, asking him to use his casting parliamentary vote to sdave TVNZ 7. How does she think he should do this? There has been no votes on it as far as I’m aware.

    It didn’t look like Adern had been thinking. She mostly uses memorised phrases, this was a thoughtless close to a normally great wee programme.

    Back Benches – sad to see the end #2.

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  7. BeaB (2,164 comments) says:

    I too hated the booing and the glee with which the shouty MC jumped on any slip of the tongue. It always had a very undergraduate air and an unpleasant feel of bear baiting.
    Doubt it would appeal to a wider audience. NZers hate unfairness.

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  8. Grendel (1,013 comments) says:

    i am glad to see it go personally.

    I’ve tried to watch it a few times and had considered going to it (before having watched it) based on what had been said here, but after watching it a few times (well trying to) i would never set foot there.

    1. the topics are always slanted to the left. whenever i read the synopsis of the topics its slanted left, which means the national, act etc people have to fight just to claw the discussion back to neutral before they can even really debate. a true debate program would give you a 50/50 approach to the topic. but its not how it happens.

    2. the shrill invective of the left is bad enough online, with the standard and their scum friends doing their best to drown out dissenting views through banning etc. the few times i wathced there was mild heckling for the left people, but you could still hear them and they could actually speak. conversely the national, act, or UF person always gets drowned out under invective, booing etc. why bother?

    3. its not a debate, you have 3 people from the left, plus the hosts, plus the crowd all on one side, and one lonely mp on the right on the other. you watch the foetus MP, or adern or any of the greens get as much time as they want to tout their rubbish with no questioning of the most obvious hyperbole or bullshit by the hosts, but the national person gets hardly any time after they have to keep restarting due to the crowd noise. not worth the hassle.

    it was a nice idea, but it needs to be left to die off.

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  9. mikenmild (12,313 comments) says:

    Grendel
    I think you saw the inevitable result of senior opposition MPs debating with il-informed backbenchers. It would be good to see a political show where Minsters go head to head with their opponents, but no government would ever buy in to that concept.

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  10. Pete George (23,793 comments) says:

    Grendel – It still think th concept is good. There’s certainly room for improvement, and a balance across parties rathr than off parties would be a good start.

    And demanding respect from the audience – that’s as much up to the parties an MPs as the organisers though. It would only take MPs to openly ask for showing respect for the forum.

    I’d rather see that than have it discarded. The public needs more chances of contact with and exposure of MPs.

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  11. freemark (647 comments) says:

    I remember years ago being asked on the street on camera by Backbenchers something along the lines of what I thought of Helen Clark (at the time of Winstongate) Not sure if it played, but loved being able to comment.. (liars, corrupt, jail..etc were my words as I recall) Are the episodes available for viewing online anywhere?

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  12. backster (2,194 comments) says:

    You haven’t commented whether or not the barmaids are friendly.

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  13. Pete George (23,793 comments) says:

    It’s interesting to see the Greens applaud the poor behaviour and promote ignorance on Back benches.

    The other four MPs all got applause, including the Nat – only Dunne has acted in such a way as to prompt a polite, middle-class Kiwi audience to boo.

    It was only the impolite [part of the audience who booed, not the whole audience. I don’t think Greens had it that stacked.

    The show ended with some heart-warming statements and some hypocritical crocodile tears from Dunne who said it was a tragedy to see TVNZ7, even though – as Ardern pointed out – as Minister of Revenue, Dunne was the only one in a position to make a difference.

    More Green booing that’s uncalled for – the polite part of the audience acknowledged Dunne’s final words apropriately.

    And I’m still waiting to see how Dunne was in a position to make a difference. What difference did Turei make? Maybe she can wish Curran’s bill is drawn from the ballot today, but that’s far too late to save Back Benches.

    Whale keeps calling Labour the nasty party, he overdoes it but to an extent he’s right. There’s plenty of it – from MPs and from supporters on blogs.

    But there is also nastiness from the Greens, as evident here. Even though they try and disguise it. James?

    http://thestandard.org.nz/the-end-of-back-benches/

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  14. alex (304 comments) says:

    @PG – Peter Dunne fully deserved to be booed after selling out his constituency by voting for partial asset sales. More people have signed the petition in Ohariu than in any electorate. The booes were a sign that he is dog tucker in 2014.

    [DPF: Nonsense. The party vote in Ohariu is massively National. Dunne has kept his word. He explicitly said he would vote for the sales. The reason there are more signatures in Ohariu is because Labour has targeted that electorate to collect them]

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  15. RRM (10,097 comments) says:

    Well said – some political nutters need to learn when to chill the f*** out and have a drink.

    The TV broadcast van outside the door of the Speights Alehouse blocked half of Tinakori Road and created a hell of a queue of stationary cars, I hope the footage was worth it…

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  16. Pete George (23,793 comments) says:

    alex – Dunne remained true to his word after his electorate voted him in. That some people have protested and some have signed the petition means little.

    Greens seem to have no idea what is involved in being an electorate MP and a number of Greens have said that the list is what matters, electorates should be redundant. So I’m not sure why Greens think they can speak with any authority on electorate matters.

    Greens used to have a reputation of being a bit different but nice. Jeanette Fitzsimons symbolised this well, it was easy to respect her even if you disagreed with her.

    If Greens try to treat forums and opponents as “dog tucker” too much they could get savaged themselves. You reap what you sow.

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  17. Brian Smaller (3,965 comments) says:

    What channel was it on?

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  18. Pete George (23,793 comments) says:

    What channel was it on? 77

    Ironically last night during Back Benches they were runing cross promotions for other TVNZ channels. From what has been said TVNZ didn’t promote TVNZ 7 from anywhere let alone with cross promotions.

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  19. Joe Hendren (4 comments) says:

    “We saw this tonight where they booed and hissed as Peter Dunne got introduced. I will heckle (hopefully something humourous) an MP when they say something worth heckling, but would never ever boo or hiss an MP – as would be the case for most people. But the partisan activists who regularly jeer, boo and hiss those they disagree with did the show a dis-service. And if no other broadcaster does pick up the show, then I happen to know their behaviour has been an element in that. Certain broadcasting executives have commented on some of the appalling rudeness.”

    Hang on – are these the same broadcasting executives who schedule trash talk shows like Donahue and Jeremy Kyle where judgemental audience behavior is openly encouraged? The behaviour of the backbenches audience is angelic by comparision. Such broadcasting executives clearly have not seen the efforts that Wallace and Damien make at the start of every show to convince the pesistant heckers they will probably not be heard. The sound dynamics of the venue also make a big difference as to what can be picked up on air.

    DPF I think you miss the point about Dunne – its significant that Chester Burrows did not get a similar reaction – Dunne should not expect polite applause irrespective of his recent political actions – otherwise the value of genuine applause, such as he gained for his planking efforts, would also be devalued.

    Backbenches ratings potential on a major channel should not be underestimated. If it is not picked up by another channel, I would wonder if the execs really understand the audience and percieve that the advertisers are only interested in a much more narrow demographic (eg the reason the high rating Letter to Blanchy got canned)

    A big thanks to Wallance and Damien and the team for hosting such a great show. Backbenches will be missed, and I really hope backbenches will continue!

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  20. alex (304 comments) says:

    @ PG & DPF – You are making the rather big assumption that National supporters are all behind asset sales. Furthermore, its pretty clear that Dunne will be held to account on this one. Even if it doesn’t cost him his seat, he will have to wear the tag of being the deciding vote in favour of asset sales. Did you see Tom Scott’s cartoon in the Dom on this point?

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  21. Pete George (23,793 comments) says:

    You are making the rather big assumption that National supporters are all behind asset sales.

    I haven’t made that assumption at all.

    I think a few opponents are making a rather big assumption that all those who poll against asset sales are as strongly against as some politicans are strongly pushing for a political advantage..

    I also think that many opposing asset sales preferred to have asset part sales + National rather than no asset sales and Labour+Greens+NZF+Mana. Which suggests that many are only moderately or slightly against.

    When you start to believe your own hype about simple poll numbers in isolation you can get false expectations of levels of real support.

    And when people realise that the Norman fed line of “selling all the assets” is bull, and that less than half of a handful of 3% of total assets are being sold – then the anti credibility takes a further hit.

    Someone I know (very well) was against the sales until they saw John Key explaining on Campbell Live, and they could then see some of the benefits and have changed their mind.

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  22. Francis_X (147 comments) says:

    @ David – “But the partisan activists who regularly jeer, boo and hiss those they disagree with did the show a dis-service. And if no other broadcaster does pick up the show, then I happen to know their behaviour has been an element in that. ”

    Crap.

    If the show doesn’t get picked up, it’s a purely commercial decision. Don’t get your own partisan politics get tangled up with commercial imperatives. You above asll people should know that partisan activists and the realities of the bottom line are mutually exclusive.

    @ Pete George – You really are full of it Pete. As can abject apologist, you are without peer. Do the honest thing and join National and then we can assess you accordingly.

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  23. Pete George (23,793 comments) says:

    Francis_X – very strange comment. I only apologise when I make mistakes. I think an apology from you would be appropriate.

    I have no inclination to join National. I prefer independence, so I can act (and sometimes criticise) honestly, on what I think is most important to me.

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  24. Damian Christie (10 comments) says:

    If I may add my two cents.

    The imbalance on the panel is obviously not of our making – we didn’t lose Act all its seats bar one MP (who has no interest in coming on the show). But I do recognise that it is extremely tough on the National MPs, having to effectively defend Government policy against a 3 pronged attack. Even when the Maori Party or Peter Dunne is on the show, there’s no guarantee (certainly with the former) that they will take the Government’s side on many issues.

    We’ve been trying to balance this somewhat by having more Govt-friendly guests in the audience for me to interview – people like Charles Finney on Asset Sales, Stephen Franks on minimum wage etc.

    I agree that the audience tends to be stacked more in favour of the left – let’s say for argument sake it’s 1/3 Nats, 1/3 Greens and 1/3 Labour, then there’s a 2:1 imbalance. Not much we can do about that – it’s a free show for anyone to come along. Quite frankly I’d prefer there were a few more non-partisan people in the audience myself, as it can get a bit predictable – “So, Jordan Williams, what do you think about ….”

    I also, EVERY SINGLE WEEK, point out that we want respect from our audience towards our MPs. I encourage clapping and cheering of things they like, and discourage booing and jeering, and certainly yelling shit out (it just adds to the din and can’t be heard on TV). In my experience (and generalising wildly), the right-wing seem to prefer yelling stuff out, while the left-wing boo en-masse.

    I don’t accept that Wallace and I treat the MPs differently or with more favour depending on their party. Personally I’ve been accused of being a lefty and a tory by various BB followers, so I’m happy with that.

    Regarding the topics – and in some ways the crux of all this – in response to Grendel who said “the topics are always slanted to the left”, well, I don’t agree at all. We choose the topics that are the topics of the week, and maybe come up with one more that’s floating around. We try and ensure that not all of them are ‘political’, i.e. drugs, some sort of awareness week or other – but of course anything can be turned political where there’s a will. But, for instance, last night’s topics, Economy, Education and Liquor – all with a 2008-2012 sort of a slant on it, were by no means “lefty” topics. Unless I’m really seriously missing something.

    What needs to be realised however, and this was brought home to me when I watched some of our first shows from 2008 earlier this week, is that a certain amount of focus and discussion is always going to be on what the Government is doing. The satire (or whatever you want to call my Newswrap) will always be poking fun at those in power, because there’s little or no point sitting there deconstructing Labour policy when they’re in opposition, just as on Q+A we don’t seek interview with the Opposition Spokesman on Education, we go to the Minister. Looking back at shows from 2008, having a crack at tax hikes (or refusal to lower taxes), various ‘nanny state’ initiatives, on a panel where it was One National, One Act and One Labour Government MP, we could have equally been accused of being too right wing.

    But whichever way it goes, 3 on 1 in an argument doesn’t work, no matter how correct the 1 person is, you’ll never win. So we need to work out what to do in future. I don’t think we can shy away from the big topics (i..e asset sales for instance) because that would just be ridiculous; it seems a bit weird having 2 Nats on; and we wouldn’t want to end up being accused of ‘going easy’ on the Government by asking patsy questions etc.

    …if we have a future of course. I hope we do, and cheers to those above who’ve said nice things, and DPF for your continued support.

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  25. bhudson (4,741 comments) says:

    It would be good to see a political show where Minsters go head to head with their opponents, but no government would ever buy in to that concept.

    I think you’ll find they do mikey and it’s called (colloquially) Question Time. Its ont’ telly too…

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  26. pclarebu (2 comments) says:

    I watched the show a few times and yes it was good entertainment – but as soon as it becomes a vehicle for partisan politics which along with religion is based on faith rather than logical thought or exploratory discussion it ceases to be such challenging entertainment.

    I rather enjoy a couple of shows I have seen where they get people to swap argument sides from what they believe in. It teases out the variety of possible points of views – recognising in that in most cases that issues are complex, and expands issues from the one line position statement which is all the normal media channels can manage.

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  27. big bruv (14,211 comments) says:

    Damian Christie.

    “…if we have a future of course. I hope we do, and cheers to those above who’ve said nice things”

    How about asking the people who’ve said “nice things” to fund another season of your show then instead of demanding that the tax payer fund it.

    I for one will not miss the show, despite what you have to say the show had a huge left wing bias and was nothing more than a free party political broadcast for the parties of the left.

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  28. mikenmild (12,313 comments) says:

    Where did Damian demand taxpayer funding?
    As for the bias, his explanation makes good sense. There usually tends to be a perceived bias from the media against the political incumbents – cheerleading rarely makes for good journalism, criticism is what is required.

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  29. Philg54 (5 comments) says:

    Still waiting for your reply DF about some Sky content being available to all viewers. You did not reply, I presume, because you were incorrect in this fob off response. Your arguments are reminiscent of the slippery-ness of your leader. Sounds ok, upon closer examination, total smoke. Anyway your party has seen fit to execute our only quality FTA public broadcaster. Your Party will count the electoral cost. And you can tell your friend Craig Foss that Parliarmentary TV does not count as a FTA quality broadcaster! Will you censor this post? I await with interest on your take on freedom of speech. It would seem that anything not right wing is seem as left wing and not worth air time. Watch out Radio NZ. The Nats are watching you! ( and strangling your funding). Good night DEmockary in NZ!

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