The Politically Incorrect Show - 08/02/2002
Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, Barbara Walters, Larry King ... the bright stars of American TV news & current affairs have one thing in common apart from their talent: their maturity. Their literal physical maturity. They're all over fifty. They're kept on because they rate well. American viewers - even youthful ones, it seems - like their news presenters & interviewers to project a certain gravitas, a seasoned aura. Such an aura cannot be contrived. It comes from years of experience, observation & accumulated street-smarts. The networks pay their stars great fortunes for it.
On Wednesday, I returned fleetingly to NZ TV screens to pay tribute to a fallen colleague, Angela d'Audney. It was poignant for me that she had died that morning, Waitangi Day - she & I co-presented TVNZ's first-ever Waitangi Day coverage to come from Waitangi itself in 1990, the occasion being the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty, the programme being Eye Witness News.
In the years that followed, I lost track of the times Angela got dumped. Not because she didn't rate well - she consistently did; nor because she wasn't up to the job - she was the best; but because she was too old. Too old, in her forties. This morning, the New Zealand Herald included the following in its obituary:
"'When I got biffed from Eye Witness News in 1990 it was a terrible shock,' she wrote [in her autiobiography]. 'I'm a realistic person so I accepted that when I got older there was every chance I'd be replaced with some young dolly-bird, but I'd always thought I'd have until 50 before I needed to worry about that.' D'Audney wrote that she was 'devastated & angered' by the decision to replace her with Cathy Campbell & Anita McNaught. 'They're both perfectly nice people & I haven't got a bad word to say about either of them,' she said. 'But they simply didn't have my breadth of experience, my skills, my track record. I belonged in that chair next to Lindsay Perigo, not them.'"
Lindsay Perigo recalls EIGHT people, not three, occupying that chair during his tenure in HIS chair, as TVNZ went on a dolly-bird spree. Perigo, some might recall, finally vacated his chair in exasperation, muttering something about "braindead."
Angela, by contrast, kept coming back in spite of everything. After her last dumping, the Herald informs us, "TVNZ offered her a contract - but no job & no money - which gave her access to the TVNZ doctor, clothing & a hair appointment every two weeks." Dear God in Heaven! Can you imagine ABC putting Barbara Walters out to pasture on those terms? A fortnightly hair appointment in the make-up room?!
No, I'm not suggesting TVNZ was obliged even to employ Angela, let alone pamper her. But in a half-decent culture it would WANT to. America still admires & adores its tall poppies, whatever their age. New Zealand cuts them down at the first opportunity & keeps cutting them down if they dare reappear. Is there anywhere else on earth where the country's first woman TV newsreader, one of its most loved TV personalities & best all-round broadcasters, at the height of her powers, would be sent on her way with ... a haircut? Because she was over fifty?If there is ... well, THAT would be news.
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