Opinion: The Henry/Dix show is (sadly) a daily ratings hit

A new and popular television show is taking off in this province and the bare production values belie the fact that hundreds of people are behind its runaway success.

I am referring to the televised (and livestreamed) daily briefings on the COVID-19 crisis by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix.

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What started out as an idea that would make an appearance from time to time has now become a six-days-a-week tour de force that is must-see viewing and listening for a public that unquestionably has an insatiable appetite.

The briefings occur in the legislature press theatre. When they began some weeks ago, they were jammed with reporters and staff. I usually sat in the front row because Dr. Henry is so soft-spoken it was difficult to hear her from my usual seat in the back row.

But now the press theatre is near-empty. Social distancing rules mean reporters are on a phone line. The only people in the room besides Henry and Dix are a moderator, a pool camera operator from one of the television stations, a government camera and a couple of technical people.

Nevertheless, the work that takes place before these near-hour long briefings begin is impressive and enormous.

Public health officials and health authorities amass statistics from one day to the next about the virus and its spread.

The testing has gone from less than 1,000 in one week to almost 4,000 a day.

The overnight data is given to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control for analysis and by early afternoon most days, Henry has in her hands the numbers. She usually arrives at Dix’s legislature office about an hour before the briefing so the two of them can plan that day’s presentation.

When they first began, the briefings covered a wide range of issues. However, they are now more focused on the spread of the disease itself and the measures taken to contain it or to slow its spread.

How popular is this new show? About 200,000 to 250,000 people tune in when they are aired on Global’s Noon newscasts (usually on Saturdays) alone. During the week, the daily audience appears to be well in excess of 100,000 when all stations and livestreams are included (and excerpts are all over the nightly newscasts, which is another one million or so).

Every day my email inbox swells with 50 or so requests from folks to ask a question (I usually get to ask one of the 12 or so questions during each briefing, since I am a member the legislature press gallery) on their behalf.

Now, I hope this new show does not run for much longer. When it disappears from the airwaves, it will be a sign we have finally flattened the curve, and our physical distancing will have paid off.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

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