Seven Sharp: Good, for a rehearsal

16:00, Feb 04 2013

Just before the first ad break, Jesse Mulligan - the most comedic of Seven Sharp's trio of likeable hosts - quipped that the show was "going really well, for a rehearsal". I glumly nodded in agreement.

But of the many problems with the debut episode of TV One's new "primetime current affairs show", I think the rapport between Mulligan and co-hosts Alison Mau and Greg Boyed is the easiest to fix. I actually really like Mulligan, Mau and Boyed; give them a few weeks to perfect their interactions with each other, and overcome the awkward silences and teleprompter shenanigans, and the show will start to come together.

In fact, I could imagine the three of them hosting a damn good primetime current affairs show one day. But on the basis of this attempt, I can only surmise that today is not that day.

The stilted discussion and dry attempts at humour only served to accentuate the real flaws that Seven Sharp will need to immediately address: the format seems ill-suited to current affairs, and the approach to much of the content - and to the show itself - seems horribly out of step with TV One's aging core audience.

For a start, viewers don't need social media foisted on them during every transition. "What do you think?" was repeated so often that I can only assume it's a mantra for the show.

But what purpose does it serve? Public discussion does have its place among the news; comments on news stories and blogs (like those offered by Stuff), Facebook groups and Twitter hashtags, and some viewer feedback (Campbell Live, which is an inevitable comparison for Seven Sharp, does a great job of seamlessly working public opinion into the show) are important tools that should be used to their full extent by the public.


But so much of Seven Sharp seemed to be more interested in what the public had to say, rather than what the hosts - and, more importantly, their guests - had to say, that it appears the producers have forgotten why viewers tune in to a show like Seven Sharp (and Campbell Live). We want in-depth comment on the news from those involved in the news.

By the end of the episode, I was starting to think Facebook and Twitter should be lined up alongside RaboDirect as one of the show's sponsors, and wondering if the news would actually be making an appearance at some point.

Oh, there were allusions to things happening in the real world. The opening of the show introduced a viewer poll asking who should lead John Key onto the marae at Waitangi this Wednesday. But then it undid itself with a series of silly suggestions (Paula Bennett, Beth Heke and Hekia Parata) before giving us the option of Titiwhai Harawira, Ani Taurua and .. Nadzeya Ostapchuk. As one twitter commenter noted, "August 2012 wants its joke back".

There was also Mulligan's comical slideshow about the balance of power in the Labour Party cabinet, focusing mostly on David Cunliffe's failed attempt to seize the leadership of the party. I liked it. Though I think I would've liked it more back in November when it was actually happening. Or the interview with Josh Groban that wasted the entire third act of the show. Groban isn't newsworthy just because some public relations firm told you he was, guys.

You know there is a problem with your show when its strongest connection to reality was when Heather Du Plessis-Allan introduced a fluff piece by saying she's "giving the Seven Sharp critics what they want", before launching into a tour of the prime minister's office that was so fluffy it might have been wrapped in a mink blanket. Instead of giving us what we want and playing down to negative expectations, how about blowing us away with some real reporting?

The show does have promise. The middle section of the show, which profiled a former soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, was the kind of story - albeit not really current - that shows of this stature should be tackling. More of these reports, and less interviews with second-rate stars, should be the order of the day. And I'm sure it won't be long before the producers on Seven Sharp work that out for themselves.

As I say, I have every confidence that Mulligan, Mau and Boyed will figure it out; they're too talented, individually and collectively, to let that first episode be their legacy. But if it's going to become a serious "primetime current affairs show", then they need to get their fingers on the pulse quick, and start taking things seriously more often - because the show we've seen is not something I imagine most people will be interested in watching long-term.

What did you think of the first episode of Seven Sharp? Do you agree with my thoughts on the show?

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