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A message from the future: The Project is going to be just fine

Rumour has it that when Mark Weldon threw Campbell Live down a well, a tearful John Campbell cursed the 7pm slot on TV3: Road Cops, Come Dine with Me and Story have all met grisly fates there since. But last night Spinoff prophet Calum Henderson watched a live dress rehearsal for The Project, and predicts the curse will soon be broken.

Watching The Project promo that came out the other week, the one with everyone singing and dancing about how “it’s not the same old song and dance,” left me with more questions than answers.

Like… was that a promise or a threat? Exactly what kind of song and dance were we talking? Parris Goebel and The Royal Family or the drunk dad who shouts “somebody spin my feet”?

It came nowhere near answering the original question on everyone’s lips since Three’s latest 7pm current affairs show was announced last year: what the heck is this so-called ‘The Project‘ going to be like?

Last night I watched a live dress rehearsal of The Project. I saw the future. Now I have the answers.

The simplest way of describing it is probably as a fusion of Campbell Live’s heartfelt current affairs with the off-the-cuff humour of 7 Days. That sounds bad, I know, like some kind of Frankenstein’s monster. But somehow, against the odds, it works.

The episode started with the day’s big story: the Port Hills fire. Kanoa Lloyd anchored the segment with Hilary Barry-esque empathy, and a young reporter in Christchurch did a sensational live cross which will criminally only ever be seen by the 30 people in the studio audience.

After the break the rest of the day’s headlines (some serious ones, then some funny ones) provided an opportunity for the others behind the boomerang-shaped desk – Lloyd’s co-hosts Josh Thomson and Jesse Mulligan, and guest host Jeremy Corbett – to jump in, and for the conversational tone the show is aiming for to take hold.

The Project’s Josh Thomson avin’ a laff (Photo: Three)

The inverse of most other 7pm shows, The Project’s hosts seemed more comfortable when chatting than when reading from the autocue. Their friendly dynamic meant the chat was often funny – particularly Thomson’s surreal anecdotes – but in a different, more naturalistic way to the relentless riffing on a show like 7 Days.

An entertaining bit on cats (are they good or bad?!) led into an interview with Gareth Morgan’s right-hand-man and Mt Albert by-election candidate Geoff Simmons, who toed the OPPORTUNITY PARTY line and argued that cats are indeed bad. It wasn’t exactly a searching political interview in the Campbell Live mold, but you get the feeling that between them the hosts could definitely surprise a few people in that respect.

For the final third of the show Peter Helliar, Rove’s old mate and one of the hosts on the Australian version of The Project, squeezed a fifth chair behind the desk to be the studio guest.  He is not the only person from the Australian show who has come over to get the New Zealand franchise up and running – behind the scenes every effort is being made to bring it as close to the standard of the original as quickly as possible.

The Australian Project’s Peter Helliar avin’ a laff (Photo: Three)

The Project has been in hard out rehearsal mode for the last fortnight, and they have treated this week as if the show was already on the air. It’s good, especially in the way it deftly steers between serious and silly, but it’s still getting there. Monday night’s episode may or may not go completely smoothly. But it’s the kind of show that, as a viewer, you don’t really want to go completely smoothly. Energy and spontaneity are far more important.

On my way to the studio I started thinking it’d be funny if I slammed The Project, just tore it to shreds before the first episode had even gone to air. The opening paragraph could be something like ‘The Project? More like The Reject. Three’s new 7pm current affairs show is dead on arrival.’ Poor old Jesse Mulligan would read that and just burst into tears.

But now that I’ve seen the future I can’t do it. It’d be too big a lie. Instead all I have is a prophecy: in the future, Three’s 7pm current affairs show is actually bloody good.


The Project premieres 7pm Monday on Three

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