Banter: musings from TVNZ's Batt cave disappoint
REVIEW: It seemed like the perfect launching pad.
Jono and Ben and 7 Days are on their annual winter hiatus and Clutha-Southland MP Todd Barclay had provided perfect political debate fodder just hours earlier.
Unfortunately, thanks to an unwieldy format and uneven tone, Banter failed to deliver on its promise on debating and discussing "the trending topics that matter to young Kiwis".
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In a pre-recorded opening to this live show, host Tim Batt was at pains to point out that this was a programme with no writers or researchers (it also lists as many lawyers as production assistants) – it showed.
TVNZ also displayed how they'd spared no expense on the Duke show by placing Batt and his three guests – ACT MP David Seymour, Green candidate Hayley Holt and radio DJ Matt Heath – in a cramped studio that must have last week been the broom closet for the vast What Next? set. The director and camera operators stuck to wide shots to try and give a sense of space, but all that did was emphasise how much Heath looked like he needed a Fidget Spinner to relieve his boredom.
In fact, Seymour was the only one who could be satisfied with his appearance (Holt just looked like she'd rather be back asking the questions on Back Benches). With a perma-grin applied to his face, he got to beam about Barclay's bad judgement ("he's pretty screwed"), then ingratiate himself towards PM Bill English and plug his End of Life Choice Private Members Bill. He also asked the best question of night, challenging Holt to say what she would give up to pay for an extra refugee to enter the country. However, like most of any attempt at debate on the half-hour show, it was cut off by Batt before it spread, using phrases the host had clearly learned by watching John Campbell in the past week.
Comment on Barclay naturally made up a large portion of the show, although any serious discussion was somewhat undermined by the decision to award him the inaugural parliamentary Top Dog Award for having the "cojones" to front the media just before the Beehive's "witching hour" – the 6pm news.
Heath finally got to chip in on the debate that had dominated the weekend – The Edge's prank on Simon Barnett. "Commercial radio is all about humiliation," the Hauraki breakfast host advised, before alluding to lost bets and permanent scars that he and Batt had inflicted on one another. He also chimed in on Barclay (and no doubt caused a few pitchforks to be raised) by suggesting that ordinary Kiwis don't care about what he's done because Clutha-Southland was "50 years behind the rest of the world". Heath then revealed he had a grudge against the area because he'd been accused of spreading nits while briefly attending Stirling Primary School.
Earlier, Batt attempted to show how even-handed Banter was going to be by praising Newsroom, making fun of the Stuff comments section and suggesting that NZ Herald website had run out of news because they had run an article "yesterday" on what a volcanic explosion might do to Auckland Harbour. Now, unless their new website engine is in a more parlous state than everyone thought, this was "faked" news, as that story was from weeks ago, although it did provide Batt with his best gag of the night – "who'd rather be in the harbour now, Nicky Wagner?".
But, in what was otherwise a fast-paced show for short attention spans, the strangest thing was the middle IMO (In My Opinion) section, where our host launched a Guy Time-style diatribe against private prisons. It seemed interesting and well-researched, but went on far too long and rambled like one of those Ronnie Corbett stories he used to deliver from his big chair.
And it reinforced that this show was neither Back Benchers or 7 Days, but more like uneasy hybrid of Three's The Panel and TVNZ's own Seven Sharp – but with the extra swears that airing at 8.30pm allows.