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Group Think: Doorstep Duels and Comedic Chemistry – What Did We Make of TV3’s Story Premiere?

TV3’s brand new 7pm current affairs show Story debuted last night. Duncan Greive and Alex Casey break down the crucial elements of the show with very big shoes to fill. 

Story is a show with extremely high stakes. It’s no exaggeration to suggest that as the show goes, so goes Mark Weldon. That’s not necessarily fair – he has a phenomenally difficult task, turning around a young demo TV station, which lost arguably its biggest asset (Home & Away) during a recent receivership. So far, his tenure has been mostly characterised by failures: low ratings, national treasures expunged. But if Story’s a hit, then it’s something like vindication for his most criticised of moves. A big new show, with a lot riding on it. How’d the first episode shape up?

HOSTS

Alex on Heather:

Basically, If Heather du Plessis-Allan turned up on my doorstep with a fuzzy microphone I would probably throw up. Sure to surpass Jehovah’s Witnesses in ‘Most Doors Slammed in Face’ by episode three, Heather feels like the power jacket-wearing heroine we need right now. Following up the hidden camera revelations that realtors are giving priority to property investors, she stormed the front doors of the accountable with all of the urgency that this hot-button issue requires. No time to waste, no friendly knocks, just “Heather du Plessis-Allan from TV3’s Story here”.

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In the studio, she balanced authority and warmth, slipping almost imperceptibly off-script to make a deadpan joke about Duncan Garner harbouring illegitimate children. The press release hammered it home, but their similar sense of humour really does add an exciting and unexpected chemistry to the show. But her cool comedy isn’t without purpose. Calling out Garner for cutting her off mid-sentence in a deceptively jokey way, HDPA provided what I would like to claim (whilst cringing) as the first “yaaas queen” moment of Story. It was a fist pump for every woman who has even been left, mouth agape, halfway through an important point that was rudely interrupted. I mean, she did cut off Carey Smith from Ray White several times, but even superheroes have their flaws. / AC

Duncan on Duncan:

Two years ago I pitched a small feature on Duncan Garner to Simon Wilson at Metro. He said he already had someone on that job, which I thought distinctly odd. Who really cared about the drive host of the then also-ran talk radio station? Then Braunias’ instant classic drunken night with the guy came out, brilliantly distilling what is so fascinating about Garner as a broadcaster and a human.

Story is like his radio show concentrated into 22 furious minutes, with its male anchor looking instantly at ease and deeply engaged. Rightly so – he finally has a primetime vehicle for all that frustrates and infuriates him, and a co-host every inch his equal to accompany him into battle. His piece on the ankle bracelets was both interesting and flawed. Flawed because one disgruntled employee doesn’t add up to a scandal. But Interesting because the core point matters: is it right and sensible that minimum wage contractors are our first responders when a dangerous man goes wandering? He made the issue pop, made it resonate, as he always does.

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His off-the-cuff editorialising will likely bring over-reach – but everything is forgivable with Garner, somehow, because you get the sense he approaches it all with the mythical kiwi battler firmly strapped to his back. A ludicrous idea which nonetheless gives him a sincerity matched by almost no one on our televisions. / DG

STORIES

Heather Du Plessis-Allan’s real estate scandal was a perfect opener. The housing bubble is being inflated through many valves by many pumps. But our media has focused almost exclusively on government policy and foreign speculators. And the situation’s victim’s – young people, mostly. It’s true that there are regulatory issues at play, and the situation for 20- and 30-something’s plain sucks.

But there has been little interest in a close examination of two sectors whose interest the current climate serves: banks, whose loan-books have expanded mightily; and real estate agents, whose percentage-based commissions have similarly swollen. Du Plessis-Allan and her colleagues found a ground level way into the way the frothy market is impacting human behaviour, and then confronted the man whose agency was behind one particularly depressing example of it. Simple and gripping.

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Garner’s story centred around a hidden-identity whistleblower with a bad attitude and a mixture of valid and silly points. It contained one unchallenged assertion which didn’t really pass the sniff test: if someone’s open to bribery, the difference between $15 and $25 an hour probably isn’t going to move the needle. But he followed it up with a strong interview, and rightly called out the broken language of the public sector PR teams, a favourite saw of his.

The final story was light relief of a sort – on e-sports, explained through a viewing in downtown Auckland. But it was smartly reported, showed the increasing participation of women in the scene, and didn’t ever contemplate the kind of cheap ‘lol nerds’-style jokery that it might’ve attracted on other shows in other eras. / DG

STYLE

The show takes the booming, aggressive approach Garner pioneered as TV3’s chief political reporter, and directs it to whatever issue screams the loudest. I can imagine journalists of a particular era or disposition being troubled by the hidden cameras, the disguised identities, the doorstepping, the confrontational interviews. In a perfect world, maybe you avoid those tactics. Or avoid using all at once.

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But we’re asking Story to attract eyes and attention in 2015, when attention spans are as short as they’ve ever been, and the alternative is breezy non-news. So Story tries to attract us with current affairs which is boisterous, loud and plain-spoken.

Most interestingly, thus far it’s conducted largely at ground level. Instead of another set of real estate stats, we saw an agent behaving badly. And instead of a minister versus an opposition pol, or a chamber of commerce wonk versus a union head, we saw a business leader under hot lights. The private sector, which employs us and pays taxes and is the biggest part of our economy, is oddly absent from much of our current affairs at times. Maybe that won’t be the case on Story.

On last night’s evidence, the show looks like it’s going to do things differently on any number of levels. It won’t be for everyone. But then, bland ubiquity was everyone’s fear going in. So to my mind the rough edges and sharp elbows are a good and exciting sign. / DG

LOOK AND FEEL

The background reminded me of being really drunk in a rain-spotted taxi on a ride home from time. Where am I? What are all these hazy lights? What time is it? Did I actually just see Hilary Barry or did I dream the whole thing? The set doesn’t feel particularly welcoming, but then this isn’t the cushion-laden Kiwi Living lounge. Story feels authoritative without being condescending, relatable without being trivial. It’s a very fine line, drawn perfectly smack bang in the middle of dangerous escaped convicts and a weird underwater shot of fish at Kelly Tarlton’s for some reason.

Much like the set, the music sets a tone that is both moody and momentous, miles away from Seven Sharp’s looped LMFAO and Bruno Mars club megamix. The shapeless guitar that opens the show feels particularly brooding, I hate to use a Batman analogy again but Story feels like Nolan-era Campbell Live. Also, opening the realtor story with Kanye West’s ‘Power’ is the best use of the song since The Social Network trailer. Except this time it’s not about the building of a powerful empire, but eroding the powers that already exist. Marvellous. / AC

MODERNITY

The biggest story here is what in the flying heck is this weird ergonomic computer mouse? Is it even a mouse? Or just a futuristic worm inching its way across the desk?

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Throughout the show, the audience is heavily encouraged to get involved on social media. Having a scan back through, it appears no @ was left unreplied, no Halle Berry gif left unused. A quick look at the hosts’ Twitter profiles yield promising results. Du Plessis-Allan has a baller handle (@HDPA, pretty much @POTUS-level cool) and Garner has a groovy eel in his profile picture. Despite a having a relatively small following, which will only get bigger, Story has got social media nailed. I predict Garner will do a dubsmash video by approximately Thursday.

The inclusion of the the world DOTA championships also shows a deep dive for modern stories that could only be found beneath the Civic Theatre on a Sunday morning. Told with respect and wonder, rather than a po-faced “kids these days” or bemused ivory tower attitude, it really feels like Story does want to tell all the stories. For admittedly selfish reasons, I think they could drop the ‘2-22’ age bracket of this section. With 22 being the official Story cut-off age for kid, and the target demographic being 25-54, light a candle for us 23 and 24 year-olds living in the twilight zone of the Story landscape. I just want to fit in. / AC


Story airs on TV3, 7pm Mon-Thurs, click here to watch the first episode

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