People think Campbell Live is John Campbell.
“Shall we see what John’s talking about tonight?” they say to each other in living rooms across the country every evening. But, as John is always at pains to make clear during the show, it is made by a team.
Not only that, he has a boss – his formidable executive producer, Pip Keane, who is as famous for her desire to stay behind the scenes, as she is for her tenacity and journalistic skill.
When told this story won’t just be about the show’s host, but also her, she protests, “I don’t like stories about me.”
“I feel like it’s more a story about Pip,”says John.
Even people who have heard of Pip don’t know much about her. So… she’s from Wellington, she’s 39, has a husband, Marc Hinton, and a daughter, Taylor (6). And like many old-school TV journalists, she began in print.
“I started work doing an internship at The Evening Post,” says Pip.
“But there was no job there for me after that.” That’s when the trademark tenacity came into play.
“I knew where I wanted to go, so I kept harassing [editor] Mike Forbes at the Sunday Star-Times. He actually sent me a typed letter, which read, ‘You aren’t going to stop harassing me till you get a job, are you? Okay, you can start.’”
John smiles. “If you were hiring journalists, you’d hire the one who was the biggest pain in the arse about getting the job, because they are absolutely like that in the job,” he says.
But when Pip’s newspaper boss, John Shaw, moved to TV One’s Holmes, things changed.
“He kept ringing and saying, there’s a producer’s job here. Come to TV,”
Remembers Pip. Eventually, she said yes. “I ended up on Holmes in 1999.”
One thing led to another, and at the ripe young age of 27, she was invited to be executive producer.
“I said, ‘No way.’”
But she eventually relented and distinguished herself in the role, before joining Holmes for the ill-fated move to Prime TV.
“I’m a loyal person – I felt at the time that he’d been given a rough deal and said, ‘Well, if you’re going, I’ll go,’ and that all fizzled out after six months.”
It was the right time for Pip to have a baby.
“A couple of weeks after having Taylor, I was ready to return to work,” she says.
So, by the time she was 18 months, Pip was at Radio Live, producing morning news. Then, she got a call from TV3’s Mark Jennings, inviting her to Campbell Live.
“TV was what I loved and it was too good an opportunity, so here I am.”
Childcare was an issue, so a nanny was employed.
“Marc’s a sports reporter, so he’s away all the time, and you can’t just pick up a child from daycare in this job. You can’t be anywhere at a set time of the day.”
That’s a reality John is all too familiar with.
“It’s pretty brutal on parenting, this job. It’s tougher than it ought to be.”
“I make sure there is mum-and-daughter time,” says Pip.
“And often there’s no choice, because Marc’s away. But it works out. He has some days off during the week, so one of us is around most of the time. I’ve never felt she misses out. If I did think that, I wouldn’t be here.”
John also values weekend time with daughter Alex (12) and son James (10).
“They’re lovely kids. I love them so much. My little boy is still at primary, while Alex is at high school.”
Pip’s work week is about 70 hours, so she makes sure she takes a couple of decent holidays a year – and “I collapse most weekends.”
“I’m so singular on the weekend,” says John. “I don’t like to do too much at all. James has rugby – the joy of that! Alex and I will go and get a little cup of coffee and talk nonsense.”
It’s hard not to describe Pip and John as a dynamic duo.
“There’s a real mutual respect,” says John. “We have complementary strengths. I’m not a great risk taker.”
“I’ll come up with a hare-brained idea,” says Pip, “and he’ll go, ‘But…’ and there will be a good reason for that.”
“And Pip’s skills as an ideas person, a motivator, and as someone who drives everyone out the door are formidable. Pip has strengths I don’t have at all.”
“We do the best we can every night and have quite high standards,” adds Pip.
“Even nights where we’re not quite sure about the programme, John makes it great.”
The focus on high standards has paid off for TV3, its parent company’s receivership notwithstanding.
“We pay our way. We run at a profit,” says John, with some pride. And Seven Sharp, with its focus on younger viewers, “has helped us,” says Pip.
“It gave people a reason to change – to shop around. We haven’t changed what we’re doing.”
“In May, we had our two highest-rating shows ever,” says John.
“We had our highest-rating week ever and our highest-rating month. It’s the first time we’ve outrated TVNZ at seven in the network’s history.
“When we started, TV3 gave us the gift of this time slot and there was lots of intervention. People saying, ‘Why don’t you try this?’ And you’d end up screaming. Then we became part of the furniture. No-one gives us advice any more.
“Plus, we have a singular and tenacious EP – so we’re very true to ourselves now.”