Rough justice as viewers get sharp on social media

16:00, Feb 08 2013
Seven Sharp
SEVEN SHARP HOSTS: Greg Boyed, Alison Mau and Jesse Mulligan.

Sometimes you just have to love the hubris of self-promotion, a case in point being the launch of TVNZ's new Seven Sharp programme this past week.

Even before the first story was introduced the three nice presenters (two of whom actually have some journalistic ability) had firmly established the hip, with-it, cool credentials of the programme by telling us they were all about social media.  Viewers were encouraged to tweet, blog, post and Facebook about the stories they covered.

I was so impressed by all the references to social media (which is kind of a dumb term because all media by its very nature is social in one way or another) that I decided not to watch the programme on Monday night and instead went on to the Seven Sharp Facebook page to see if viewers had decided to drag themselves away from the goggle box and get hip with Ali and Jesse and Greg in cyberspace.

It seems thousands did, in fact tens of thousands but that might have been because the boffins at TVNZ decided to take all the Facebook likes of the old Close Up programme and make them likes of Seven Sharp.  This made some people very angry and they wanted to unlike Seven Sharp.  But the vast majority of people just wanted to say, in one way or other, how crappy they thought the programme was.

If the volume of comments on social media was the measure of success for the programme then the producers can take a bow - if content was more important they should be dusting off their resumes.

Tacky, puerile and crap were all used to describe the show and inevitably there were numerous calls for the return of Mark Sainsbury and pledges to switch to TV3 forever.  It was the social media equivalent of being gang raped by an angry mob in some Middle Eastern town square.

But, of course, Seven Sharp was back the next night with its three presenters (one of  whom is some sort of comedian) smiling at us and each other and not looking at all like they'd read any of the thousands of negative comments bagging them and their programme the night before.

They still wanted us to tweet and post and blog and tell us what we thought of the programme because they are so interested in what we think and so responsive to our input ... not.

Several Facebook comments made reference to the late Sir Paul Holmes, mostly to the effect that he'd be spinning in his grave had he lived to see Seven Sharp go to air. 

I somehow doubt that.  When the Holmes show debuted back in 1989 it attracted the very same sort of criticism Seven Sharp now faces.  It wasn't serious, it was too flashy, the presenter was up himself and it wasn't real news.  

Had the internet existed then, I'm sure the Facebook comments would have been just as vitriolic and numerous. I myself prepared a critique of the first week of the Holmes show for Morning Report and was given the daunting task of ringing the brash new host to put some of the criticisms to him.

He never forgot it and wound me up mercilessly about it every time we met for the next 20 or so years.

But the massive turnout at Holmes' funeral yesterday is proof that success in television is not about high-minded editorial integrity or holding those in power to account, it is about entertainment and giving an audience someone to cheer for and someone to boo at, even if the person being booed at is you.

Thanks to the internet and social media we will never have a media presenter the equal of Paul Holmes again. Audiences and markets are too fragmented to allow another to dominate the media landscape the way Holmes and his show once did.

His successors, as the past week has shown, have to work with social media, which is a far more fickle and capricious beast than the nation of relatively dormant couch potatoes who first watched Holmes 24 years ago.

If they have half the chutzpah of Holmes, Ali and Jesse and Greg will keep smiling while the audience rants and raves.

After a while we'll get used to their scripted ad libs and simplistic interpretation of complex stories and what some call crappy and puerile and childish will simply become the new normal.


The Dominion Post