The primetime current affairs interview is the heavyweight contest of screen broadcasting. They can woo hearts and minds, speak truth to power, turn elections, end strikes, enrage or reveal subjects, and enshrine or tarnish reputations. This collection puts the spotlight on iconic Kiwi contributions to the genre, from headline-making clashes (Muldoon versus "smart alec" Walker, Clark versus "sanctimonious little creep" Campbell, Pilger versus "just read" Hill, Conner versus Holmes) to warmer encounters (David Frost charmed by Big Norm Kirk, Paul Holmes bemused by the Ingham twins).
Like many other current affairs shows in the 70s, Tonight had a fairly brief existence, but it provided the forum for this infamous battle of wills between journalist Simon Walker and Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. It is May 1976, and Walker is daring to interrogats Muldoon about his claims of a Soviet naval presence in the Pacific, and New Zealand's vulnerability to Russian nuclear attack. Muldoon grows increasingly annoyed and bullish at being asked questions that are not on his sheet: "I will not have some smart alec interviewer changing the rules half way through."
On 09 July 2002 the ruling Labour Party was under pressure on the Genetic Engineering (GE) issue, when John Campbell confronted Prime Minister Helen Clark over the suspected release of GE corn seed in 2000. In a 3 News special a fired-up Campbell, informed by Nicky Hager's yet-to-be-published Seeds of Distrust, alleged there had been a cover up. Upset at what she perceived as an ambush, Clark reacted tersely; she later labelled Campbell a "sanctimonious little creep". With a general election looming, the encounter was dubbed 'Corngate'.
The very first Holmes show. In this famous interview, Paul Holmes asks American yachtsman Dennis Conner to apologise for cheating in the America's Cup. Conner storms out, making headlines the next day and giving the new show a ratings boost. The NZ Herald described this interview as "an aggressive, overly-mannered encounter interview rather than a thoughtful interrogation, a ratings-generating event rather than a genuine, tenacious journalistic grilling." It was a style that made Holmes famous.
"You waste my time because you have not prepared for this interview. This interview frankly is a disgrace." This is an excerpt from Kim Hill's infamous 2003 interview with John Pilger, award-winning journalist, author and documentary-maker. Via satellite link from Sydney, Pilger discusses Middle East politics. He says what he would do about Saddam Hussein, and what he thinks about sanctions against Iraq. An angry Pilger says Hill is not asking informed questions. Hill pushes Pilger's book across the desk. Pilger implores Hill to: "Just read. Read. It takes time."
In this famous edition of current affairs show Gallery interviewer Brian Edwards turns conciliator in a long-running industrial dispute. Post Office workers had imposed a go-slow after wage negotiations broke down. Producer Des Monaghan managed to get the Postmaster General Mr McCready and Mr Reddish of the Post Office union into the studio together. In the interview’s final minutes Edwards forced an agreement between the two men to stop union action and go back into mediation. This programme won Edwards a Feltex Award for ‘Best Performance as Frontman’.
On June 4 1976, Gordon Dryden hosted Abraham Ordia — president of the African Supreme Council of Sport — for a public forum on New Zealand’s sporting ties with apartheid South Africa, which would result in an Olympic boycott by African countries the following month. The debate erupted into what the Auckland Star called “a diabolic confrontation between Māori and Pākeha”, with Dryden frequently pleading for civility. Weightlifter Precious McKenzie, MP Richard Prebble, activist Syd Jackson and Donna Awatere-Huata are among those in the audience, making their feelings known.
New Zealand politics was a gentler art in the pre-Muldoon early 1970s, when superstar English TV interviewer David Frost made the first of two series downunder. Here he talks to Prime Minister Norman Kirk, and opposition leader Jack Marshall. Kirk is assured and statesmanlike (an act that proves hard for Marshall to follow) as he discusses topics ranging from supporting beneficiaries, to opposing French nuclear testing. ‘Big Norm’ purposefully talks about being in the job for another 25 years. Tragically, he died in office 13 months later.
'Our people' at Holmes' 1997 Christmas party included tearaway teenage twins Sarah and Joanne Ingham. Earlier that year the sisters had stowed away on a Malaysian container ship after Sarah had fallen for a sailor. The 18-year-olds made global headlines when they jumped overboard off the Queensland coast, supposedly swam through shark and croc-infested waters and spent two weeks in the bush, before being found and deported back to Nelson. As Holmes tries to elicit soundbites the notorious lasses display the laconic style that made them Kiwi folk heroes.
In this feisty late 1976 The Friday Conference interview, host Gordon Dryden holds Prime Minister Muldoon to account over his 1975 election pledges. Dryden challenges Muldoon’s touting of freedom (amidst price freezes, wage controls and an All Blacks tour to apartheid South Africa), and the PM's description of himself as a liberal (with heated talk about insults traded during the Colin Moyle affair). Dryden evokes the spectre of the McCarthy era, and a pugnacious Muldoon invokes “the ordinary bloke”. Muldoon later refused to be interviewed by Dryden again for the show.