Top talent marooned in no-man's-land
There can't be many countries in the world where a new television show provides major headlines.
But that was the case with the debut of Seven Sharp, TVNZ's new nightly current affairs show. Though "current affairs" is probably a bad term, as Seven Sharp mixes comedy with interactivity, chat, what's new on the net, celebrity interviews, gossip ... oh, and a bit of current affairs.
The Seven Sharp team remind me of those gregarious people in the office, with names like Darryl or Karen, who are always the first to send you a funny email or crazy YouTube clip. You might think that on Waitangi Day, the content of John Key's speech would be more important than what Bear Grylls is up to. Welcome to the world of Seven Sharp. To be fair, I don't normally watch television at 7pm, and I was never a fan of the now-lamented Close Up, so I am not the best judge. But if Close Up felt glib and shallow last time I watched, in comparison with Seven Sharp it was War and Peace.
The jokey opening on Seven Sharp where comedy meets topical news is great on a show like Seven Days, but here it's not funny enough to be satire or with enough content to be news, so we are left in light entertainment no-man's-land. This is Fox News without the Right-wing bias. Even the gaggy font used in the tweets and captions that flash on to the screen scream out "we don't want to be taken too seriously".
This is a pity, because Greg Boyed and Ali Mau are excellent broadcasters who have shown in the past that they can handle hard news and interviews. And Jesse Mulligan performs well on the excellent Seven Days. So I don't blame the talent, it's the producing that's the problem. Seven Sharp is overproduced to within an inch of its life. As you watch a flaccidly populist clip on food, you can almost hear Karen and Darryl sitting in their focus groups saying, "I rilly love MasterChef, so sum cooking stuff would be awsum".
So how did TVNZ current affairs become so un-newsworthy? While some may see Seven Sharp as a new low, it's actually the thick end of a long wedge. Is Seven Sharp really that different from Breakfast, known in our household as What Now For Adults? After having to suffer the Right-wing Gospel According to St Paul Henry, we now get 12-year-old reporters bungy jumping off buildings or whatever the gag du jour is for that morning.
Many of the same people who have harshly criticised Seven Sharp have been greatly lamenting the passing of Sir Paul Holmes. But surely there is a link? The infamous Dennis Connor interview was when television current affairs in this country started to really put prime-time ratings above content. Private programme sponsorship and stories about fluffy animals followed. Not that I'm entirely blaming the late Sir Paul for the situation - Kiwis loved him and watched in their thousands.
Luckily for the people who like their current affairs political and gagless, there is Campbell Live on TV3. Thanks perhaps to the Christchurch earthquake, this show seems to have gained a new life recently. What a strange situation we have in New Zealand television. We would expect our state-owned broadcaster to be authoritative, serious and just a little bland at times - a bit like National Radio. And we would expect our private network to be putting hard issues and politics aside in order to razzle-dazzle, yet the opposite seems to be happening at 7pm.
All those dear old people who lament how tabloid TVNZ has become may find they really enjoyed the advocacy journalism of Campbell Live - if only they knew how to change the channel to TV3. And then there's the problem of what these bookish intelligent folk would watch on TV3 when Campbell Live finished. Crime Exposed? World's Deadliest Roads?
Meanwhile, I've found the perfect new viewing interface for 7pm. It's educational and highly authoritative. You can enjoy it in strong sunlight and it's endlessly stimulating. It's called a book.
The Dominion Post