As a child, Riccardo Salizzo wanted to be prime minister, though later he settled for journalism instead. After proudly failing the journalism course at Auckland Technical Institute, he began as a newsreader and sports journalist in 1982, at Whakatane's Radio 1XX. It was the first of a number of jobs in private radio.
The sports-mad Salizzo then spent time six months in Italy (Salizzo is part Italian), playing rugby with Casale Rugby Club. Then he and future wife Cathy Campbell found work at a radio news agency in London.
When Salizzo returned to New Zealand in 1986 he got a job at TVNZ, filling in for sports journalist Jane Dent. He was soon working for the broadcaster full-time, and in 1988 did his first stint reading live sports news.
Salizzo was soon most recognised for his frown — even getting heckled about it at rugby matches. "But I’ve been frowning all my life," he told a New Zealand Woman's Weekly journalist in 1989. "It’s something I feel comfortable with." Still playing rugby, he argued that journalists who are heavily involved in sport ultimately need to decide whether to become sports journalists, or keep playing at top levels.
In this period he left TVNZ to form production company Pasta Productions with then All Black winger (and future Auckland Blues coach) John Kirwan. The pair’s first venture, video The Good, the Bad and the Rugby, featured Kirwan giving an often light-hearted behind the scenes account of the All Blacks' 1989 tour of Wales and Ireland. After selling more than 40,000 copies, it won a local award for 1990's bestselling sell-thru video. Follow-up volume Blood, Sweat and Touring explored a 1990 All Blacks tour of France.
In 1996 Salizzo launched the much-imitated SportsCafe. As much about entertainment as sports, the show’s live format mixed topical sports talk, music, comedy, and occasional mayhem, the latter often thanks to co-host and Nude Day enthusiast Marc Ellis (with Salizzo as a mostly lenient officiator). Originally broadcast on Sky Sport, the programme later transferred to TV2.
SportsCafe stood out partly for the sheer quantity and variety of its on-air talent. Over the years the presentation team has included creator Salizzo, All Blacks Ellis and Eric Rush, musician Graeme Hill (aka Graeme Humphreys), ex-quiz show host Lana Coc-Kroft, 'That Guy' humourist Leigh Hart, and model Eva Evguenieva (Eva the Bulgarian).
SportsCafe went off air in November 2005 with scenes of the presenters destroying the set, alongside music by the Dance Exponents. After a three-year break "for reconditioning", Salizzo succumbed to calls to relaunch the show in 2008 — and again in 2011 for some live streamed episodes, timed for the Rugby World Cup — after checking that the team still clicked. In 2008, Salizzo was vague about the likely on-screen talent: “Negotiations are continuing with 'That Guy’s' agent, Eva is busy with university studies and will pop in when she can, and Marc says he will be there, but you can never really trust him.”
Salizzo has also had a longtime involvement — including filling in occasionally as a presenter — on freewheeling, five nights a week sports show The Crowd Goes Wild.
After producing 2014 rugby show Engage, he interviewed 60 prominent New Zealanders for I Know This to be True. The compendium of life lessons was released as both a book, and a TV One documentary. It was born as a fundraiser for music foundation Play it Strange.
TVNZ News Reference Library
Kerry Harvey, 'Ric Salizzo's doco I Know This To Be True shares life lessons of notable kiwis' (Interview) - TV Guide, 22 September 2016
Shannon Huse, 'The joker returns' (Interview) - The NZ Herald (View section), 4 July 2008, page 4
Leigh Parker, 'They’re a team - in more ways than one' - The New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, 14 August 1989, page 12