The final TVNZ7 Backbenches

Just finished watching the final episode of Backbenches, well on TVNZ7 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 TVNZ7.

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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