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The end of Back Benches

Written By: - Date published: 9:35 am, June 28th, 2012 - 30 comments
Categories: tv - Tags:

Back Benches was a brilliant show. A lovely amateur air that never became awkward thanks to the unflappable humour of Wallace Chapman and Damian Christie. I never got along in person but it was a great watch. And it was clear that it was the audience that made it. They brought a vibrancy and a direct interaction for the politicians that no other show has.

It’s a sad world where the self-indulgent wankery of Media 7 gets to live on where a show that actually provided a public service as well as being good entertainment gets canned.

The last show was classic Back Benches. A massive crowd packed in to the new pub with the Backbencher closed by fire. Peter Dunne was greeted with a minute of massive boo-ing – the man must have stab-proof hair to face that kind of overwhelming criticism and not realise that some serious self-reflection is in order. Wallace naturally tried to control the boo-ing, but what can you do? The audience spoke. 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.

The debate was good and feisty. Turei, Harawira, and Ardern had some great lines, although Harawira needs to get that gay marriage policy sorted – the Overton window has moved.

There was a great moment when Wallace called Ardern the Labour leader – having the previous week attributed David Shearer’s New Zealander of the Year award to David Parker!

Dunne tried to bore you to death, while Burrows was his usual nutty self – he denied that there are 200,000 children in poverty! Then he told us how lucky we are to have National because government debt is low by international standards before turning around and saying that asset sales are needed to control government debt. Burrows is great because he tries to run the government lines but does it so badly that he reveals to everyone that they are lines. He did everything but drop his cue cards!

An MP can get away with running lines in an interview with a journo who’s only half-awake and doesn’t know the facts but in front of an audience of half-soozled political watchers, it just doesn’t fly – the moment a stock line starts to come out, the boos start. Good MPs learn; Nats don’t.

And, then, the fire alarm went off and they had to evacuate. But in that great, by their bootstraps, way, they kept on filming and interviewing the MPs out on the footpath. Hilarious.

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. I think it’s great that the last show didn’t opt for soppiness, that the arguments were still there, and the audience told the MPs exactly what they thought of what they said.

Let’s hope we’ll be saying Back Benches again before too long.

(PS. I love Farrar whining about the audience in his post on the last show: ‘there should be two National MPs – lolz, ho quickly he’s forgotten that National had a policy of not putting MPs on the show in the 2008 campaign; ‘the audience has become too partisan’ – people with political opinions taking an evening out to attend a political TV show, who would have guessed?; ‘they shouldn’t have booed Dunne’ – yes, they should have, if no-one else provoked that response even from audience members on the other side of the spectrum, then the problem is with Dunne. But, then, of course Farrar hates the audience, he would prefer to pontificate and only listen to the sound of his own voice. That’s the liberal elite for you. Maybe Russell Brown will have him on the new Media 7 … I’ll never know because, like everyone else, I won’t be watching.)

30 comments on “The end of Back Benches”

  1. dd 1

    I like backbenchers.

    I also like media 7. What don’t you like about it?

    • felix 1.1

      Nothing wrong with it, but it’s a bit like one of those middle aged Grey Lynn dinner parties where everyone pretends they’re a lot less conservative and staid than they really are.

      • Johan 1.1.1


        What you just said is the whole problem about TVNZ7. It is seen as a channel for white liberal lefties who think they are the centre of the world and always want someone else to pay for what they want.

        • Colonial Viper

          What weird stereotypes you have in your head.

          Are many of these people supposedly gay as well?

        • mike e

          nothing like the SCF bailout though yohan .
          Or the 43million dollars for TV3
          Or the 10’s of millions thats going to be spent brain washing the publiic who don’t agree with asset sales..
          oh the price of freedom!

      • Matthew Hooton 1.1.2

        That’s very funny and very accurate. The policy for those of us from Epsom is that, to attend a Grey Lynn dinner party, it is necessary to go to Zambesi and spend more than the per capita GDP of most sovereign nations on a shirt that looks sufficiently old and torn that you look sufficiently poor, casual and liberal-left to be accepted at the dinner party at the $2 million villa (also rennovated to look sufficiently poor, casual and liberal-left) — but there is never any problem fitting in because, by the third bottle of $120 Waiheke red, the conversation usually turns to the overburden of taxation and which private schools over on our side of town are best.

  2. Carol 2

    Let’s hope we’ll be saying Back Benches again before too long.

    How? Whats the plan? I noticed Clare Curran made a good suggestion in Question time a couple of days ago:


    Clare Curran: Following the axing of public broadcasting television channel TVNZ 7 on 30 June, will he commit to reserve spectrum for a public service or non-profit public interest television channel for the future; if not, why not?

    What about getting behind Triangle going digital and nation-wide? Triangle continues to broadcast some really good, relatively cheap, local current affairs, plus international news programmes. And some of the local programmes then get put online, like Bomber’s shows.


    • dd 2.1

      Could Maori Tv not pick it up? I can’t imagine the budget for the show is that huge….

      • ghostwhowalksnz 2.1.1

        Sky TV is looking at it . Not really a specialist show for Maori TV

        • dd

          With some slight adjustments it could slide in. Probably need a new co host along with other changes. But I could see it working.

          It could be on prime i guess.

          • felix

            Yeah and if you change the focus of the show from politics to cosmetics it could probably fit on the new Shopping Channel too.

  3. js 3

    The last Court Report tonight should be good. And I hear that KimDomCom was in the audience for the last Media 7 taping last night. All those TVNZ7 shows (including the Good Word, Hindsight etc) show that NZ can do inexpensive, relevant and entertaining television. Without constant intrusive advertising. Will be sadly missed. I thought jacinda’s final comment on Backbenches last night was brilliant – just taking an extended commercial break until the Labour/Greens government brings back public broadcasting.

    • aerobubble 3.1

      Its innovative television and like most innovation, it must move aboard to get funding.

  4. Hilary 4

    I think it is a bit counterproductive to have a go at Media7. As a viewer I like all the NZ-made TVNZ7 programmes, including that lovely old fashioned crafty one. Media7 worked hard to find a temporary home. But this is a fight for ongoing secure public broadcasting and it would be more effective to be as inclusive as possible.

  5. Rosie 5

    Had always wanted to watch TVNZ7 and couldn’t until our very old TV gave up the ghost and we got a new telly and have since been able to pick up some extra free chanels. Only got to see two episodes of Back Benches and really loved it. I like it how the poli’s are put into a natural social setting, (the Kiwi pub)and removed from their minders. Also enjoyed many other good programmes on 7, including secrets of the seven sisters about the history and function of the oil industry. And now its almost all over!

    Aerobubble refers to innovative televsion above, and innovative anything is the enemy of the nat govt. No wonder they canned it. They don’t want NZers questioning, thinking and reflecting. Just dumb us all down with endless celebrity ‘reality’ contests and US cop shows.

    • aerobubble 5.1

      Its well remarked that we are an innovative nation and we don’t translate this into businesses.

      TVNZ7 is soon to be yet another example of this.

      Backbenches is cheap TV compared to The Nation and Q&A, and much better since they don’t have journalists talking to journalists like they all know stuff, were original, and not rewarded for their positioning in the meme market place by institutional parties.

      Why exactly are, for example, we finally building a highway system at the start of peak oil? because too many eminent people pooh pooh any idea that they don’t yet have a financial angle on, and since most innovation produces yet to be rewarding products and services, there’s no financial angle for power brokers. Its called conservatism, and its endemic in our business elites, often the placeholders of also rans throw backs thrown out of EU, US, OZ because of they were too conservative.
      Hired by NZ firms who desperately want to keep capital growth up even at the expense of long term stakeholder interests.

      So yes, welcome to NZ, its yet another lost opportunity from the same talking heads that use the same tired old arguments to stop any bulb of innovation in its tracks.

      Big cities world because the people who work there, by the time they get to the office, have had to give way, had to tolerate each other, had to more than wish their fellow man well but actively support each other in the rush to the office, to keep the traffic moving, and the city function.
      We have no such luxury, and where we do, the Auckland grid lock is held up yet again by the
      talking heads of journalist self knowledge joining the dots to come once again up with the conservative position, no to the rail loop, they cry. Cities create behavior, multi modal
      transport hubs create lateral thinking. Mono-car cities create linear conservatism.

      We need to break out of the stagnation of our conservative leadership. Yes, that includes Labour
      who brought us the ultra conservatism of them all deregulate and let bankers print money Douglas economics.

      Labour has yet to get an echo chamber of its own to create a new paradigm and it shows.
      So the only answer is to hold our collective noses and vote on mass for the Greens.

      • Colonial Viper 5.1.1

        Why exactly are, for example, we finally building a highway system at the start of peak oil?

        Just for clarity: peak oil doesn’t have a beginning and an end, its just a point in time. Peak conventional oil production was 2005 or 2006.

        By adding in natural gas liquids, unconventional oil etc. we are still producing as much liquid fuels as ever. BUT there is double counting involved in that, and it does not take into account the reduced net energy available to the economy due to reducing EROEI.

  6. Vicky32 6

    Had always wanted to watch TVNZ7 and couldn’t until our very old TV gave up the ghost

    Mine hasn’t yet, so I’ve never seen it, which makes me very sad! It sounds as if it was wonderful..

    • Oscar 6.1

      Even a TV from the 1960s could watch backbenchers with a freeview decoder… What’s your excuse? Are you just another naive kiwi getting ripped off at the local TV dealership thinking they need a brand spanking new telly just to watch digital telly? Pshaw!

      • Rosie 6.1.1

        Oscar, I can assure you I’m not “another naive kiwi getting ripped off at the local TV dealership thinking they need a brand spanking new telly just to watch digital telly”.
        How offensively annoying of you when you have no idea of my circumstances, my smarts, and the myriad of reasons why our freeview decoder didn’t work out for us.
        What the F is wrong with people like you? Why do you have to be such a dick?

  7. chris73 7

    I’m sure it’ll be sadly missed by the dozens of viewers who watched it.

    • Hitch Lives 7.1

      Only dozens were watching? I thought there surely must have been more! Almost that many alone have commented on this very board. On what extraordinary evidence are you basing your extraordinary claim, Sir?

    • fmacskasy 7.2

      Chris73 – Slightly more than the number who voted for ACT last year? Or who now see Dear Leader as the Messiah?

  8. Hami Shearlie 8

    We loved Backbenchers. We have an old Tv but got a decoder and a dish!! It must come back – it was much more popular than many people think!!

  9. cin77 9

    Back benches was cool, I enjoyed seeing politicians away from their natural habitat and mixing with normal people. Good they managed to get some drama into the last episode too, Hone Harawira pulled it to get some alone time with the camera.
    First time I’ve seen Peter Dunnes hair too- that thing should be made a national treasure, its a feat of great architecture, imagine the hair spray involved!

  10. outofbed 10

    Back benchers viewer numbers were more than the readership of the Herald.

  11. Richard McGrath 11

    Back Benches was a great concept and I enjoyed watching several of the episodes and attending on one occasion. It inspired a few election meetings last year in pubs up and down the country. I was involved in one at the Royal Hotel in Featherston, one of the most entertaining evenings I’ve ever spent.

  12. OneTrack 12

    Backbenchers wasn’t that great but it wasn’t that bad either. It should be an easy argument to New Zealand On Air to get them to fund it, either on one of the commercial channels, or Maori TV which is already publicly funded, so should be cheaper.

    • Colonial Viper 12.1

      Backbenchers wasn’t that great but it wasn’t that bad either.

      You miss the point completely. Backbenchers brought a kind of real life democratic and political exposure front and centre on the small screen like nothing else.

      If you are seeking Hollywood gloss, you’re using the wrong criteria.

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