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Television: A Week of It – Newsworthy’s Late-Night News Snacks

Calum Henderson watches Newsworthy every day for a week, to see how TV3’s late night current affairs show manages to balance both the credible, the incredible, and Gene Simmons.

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MONDAY

Walking home from the bus stop, a long-haired orange cat followed me all the way to the front door. He wandered around the flat for a bit, sniffing around the wardrobe, under the bed – even helping himself to a drink from the shower floor. My girlfriend tried to give him a bit of fish off her dinner plate. He respectfully declined, however he did take up the offer of a seat on the couch. We watched the end of The Block. Then, without provocation, he hissed at both of us and left.

Maybe 20 minutes later, people started tweeting that there had been an earthquake. Could the orange cat have sensed this? Was his violent hiss intended as a warning that we were in grave danger? Hard to say.

Newsworthy begins at 10:35pm, and the earthquake is the lead story of the bulletin. The story is that there was an earthquake, but that was it. Nothing else had really happened. Nothing fell down.

The big story today is that Chris Cairns is in court in London accused of perjury. Tova O’Brien gets the sound bite of the day from Lou Vincent as he arrives to give evidence. “How are you feeling about all this?” she asks. “Ah, first in to bat, hopefully it’s a green one,” he chirps back, a cricketing analogy which sounds carefully premeditated but still doesn’t really make any sense.

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A woman drowned, a boy has died, house prices are going up. In short, Newsworthy’s bulletin feels like a leaner, cooler reboot of the tired old 6 o’clock news, with a younger, cooler cast.

Cool, as in, they don’t sit at a desk. Instead Hayes and co-host David Farrier sit on waiting room chairs behind a sort of large, triangular… surface – slightly too high to be a coffee table but slightly too low to be a desk. On it are propped two iPads, and beside those, each presenter has tidy stack of paper.

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Hayes has good, newsreaderly posture, but Farrier keeps slumping in one direction or the other. It’s like he’s on a long car ride and just wants to fall asleep, but every time he does his head snaps forward violently and wakes him up. They almost definitely get phone calls about this.

In the second half of the bulletin, Christchurch-based reporter Ben Irwin approaches the Wizard of New Zealand with a question of grave national importance: are the All Blacks cursed to lose to France in the World Cup quarter finals, just as they did eight years ago, and is there anything we can do to help?

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Well, a chant won’t work, says the Wizard, not from this far away. Irwin produces a dossier of photos he’s printed out of that fateful day back in 2007. There’s one of Wayne Barnes, and one of a young Richard McCaw in tears at the press conference, still wearing that infamous grey jersey. “It wouldn’t do you any harm at all, actually, to burn those,” the Wizard suggests.

They set fire to the sheets of A4 in the Wizard’s bird bath. “Spell be undone,” bellows our national magician. “May the grey never be seen again, may this never happen again!”

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“Can I just say, I worry about Ben sometimes,” Hayes admits back in the studio. “All the way down there in Christchurch…” she trails off. Farrier agrees. “Yeah, he’s lonely down there. He just wanders off and does… that was quite an amazing story.”

We see out the episode with the weather graphics. We soar high above a beautiful, digitally-rendered Aotearoa as dark animated rain clouds piss down on almost every major centre.

TUESDAY

The Cairns trial continues today, and Tova O’Brien is back outside Southwark Crown Court with the latest. Lou Vincent’s back too, mumbling something indecipherable as he blows past her. Is he still batting? Did he get his hundred? Or is today the second innings and he’s sitting on a pair. There’s a mysterious figure in the background of O’Brien’s shot wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a long coat, carrying a briefcase and what looks like a McDonald’s takeaway bag. Maybe he knows.

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As a bona-fide idiot, I traditionally find ‘World’ to be the most boring part of the news, but I like the World section on Newsworthy. I’ve figured out it’s because the graphic at the bottom of the screen is designed to look like tabs on an internet browser. Given that I often stare dead-eyed and hopeless at an internet browser for up to 16 hours a day, I find this comforting on some subconscious level.

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One of tonight’s World stories is about Playboy magazine and how they’ve decided to stop publishing nude photos. “Nudity is no longer commercially viable,” reads Farrier, “because every sex act under the sun can now be obtained on the internet for free.” We cut back to the studio where Hayes subtly nails a classic newsreader reaction face.

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Newsworthy is described on its Twitter profile as being a convergence of “the credible and the incredible.” Tonight’s two big stories are an interview with a Black Power life member about the gang’s Wellington chapter swearing off of P – a follow-up to a story Hayes did for 3D earlier in the week – and a report on a duckling that fell down a drain.

When the news came in at 4:30 that afternoon, “most of us were quite busy,” Farrier explains. “But not boring old Ben Irwin.” He rushed down to the scene in suburban Christchurch to find a fire truck and at least three news cameramen waited patiently for something cute to happen. He interviewed the member of the public who witnessed the duckling slip through the grille and placed the emergency call. Then he reported: “Tragically, this cute fluffy animal story didn’t have a happy ending.”

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This cute animal story ended with a fireman pulling the limp, ghostly corpse of a duckling from the drain, it’s fluffy yellow down slick black with oil. “There was a very strong smell of petrol,” he reflected. “Poor wee thing…”

Farrier emits a low, pained groan. Hayes laughs, but it’s not a happy laugh. Shit that was dark.

WEDNESDAY

The orange cat returned today. He followed my girlfriend home and jumped up on the bed while she put the freshly-washed pillowcases back on the pillows. He seemed to be having a really nice time, but then his ears pricked up, and as quickly as he arrived, he was gone. What had he heard? What potential danger could he have been trying to alert us to this time? I went back to watching The Block. The way I saw it: if I died, I died.

Newsworthy offers few clues as to what the cat could have been trying to communicate. It seems unlikely he had been following the Cairns trial, where Lou Vincent has returned for his third and final innings, or that he had strong feelings either way about David Seymour’s euthanasia bill. Perhaps he just wanted to draw our attention to Wilhelmina Shrimpton’s report on the obesity epidemic facing New Zealand’s pets.

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“Your cat had an obesity problem for a while,” Farrier accuses Hayes back in the studio. What? This is – excuse the pun – huge. “I switched her from the normal biscuits onto the light biscuits,” Hayes pleads. “This cat was disgusting,” Farrier explains. “So huge. It’s name was Mini. It was not mini.” ‘Was’? Is Mini dead? Hayes: “She’s been on a diet and she’s looking great.” Phew. Thank Christ. Maybe the orange cat is Mini, desperate for a decent meal.

The meat in the middle section of tonight’s news pie is low-grade international filler, something about an old battler who got lost in the Outback, and a dry American report on yesterday’s Playboy news. It does at least provide a bridge to a much better, funnier and more insightful take on the subject, written by producer Jono Hutchison and online editor Hayden Donnell and published on the Newsworthy website earlier in the day.

THURSDAY

“It’s Brendon McCullum Day here at Southwark Crown Court,” Tova O’Brien begins her report on the Chris Cairns trial, making it sound a lot more festive than it probably is. There are no Brendon McCullum masks being worn by anybody in the background, no fake sleeve tattoos featuring roman numerals and the robot from Queen’s News of the World album cover. In fact, the concourse behind her is completely empty.

When you actually sit down and watch the news every day for a week, you begin to detect and appreciate its rhythms. In any given bulletin there’s dozen different rhythms playing all at once, all with different time signatures. It’s a horrible din, and most of the time you just want to cover your ears with your hands and shout “STOP.”

Brook Sabin reappears with an update on the Prime Minister and everything he’s not doing about the New Zealanders in detention centers on Christmas Island. He’s actually quite good. Sabin, I mean. I feel bad for mentally affixing Corkery’s “puffed up little shit” epithet every time I hear, read, or write his name. I wonder if she feels the same way for saying it in the first place.

After the break, Hayes interviews climate change campaigner Tim Naish to find out: just how fucked are we? It’s an important conversation. Regrettably, it goes in one ear and out the other, and is completely overshadowed by what comes next.

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“This whole thing started weird,” Farrier begins his narration, as KISS bassist Gene Simmons orders him to lean forward so he can comb his interviewer’s hair, “and it stayed weird.” He’s not wrong. In the past Farrier’s ‘weird’ celebrity interviews have sometimes felt a little contrived, but tonight the only person in the room being intentionally, embarrassingly quirky is his interviewee.

“Pick those fucken feet up in the air,” Simmons orders Farrier, forcing him to proffer his jandals for the camera. He may have a point – from a sartorial perspective, jandals with jeans is probably ‘bad’. But to show off your own footwear as “manly heterosexual boots” is an odd boast. As Farrier observes, we “appear to have caught Gene Simmons on a weird sort of gay joke buzz.”

The rock icon churns through his pre-rehearsed one-liners, punctuates his thoughts by dismissively telling Farrier “you wouldn’t understand,” and lamely signs the interview off with: “it was a delight to speak to me.” We cut back to Hayes howling with laughter, and she sums it up accurately. “That was awful.”

FRIDAY

Tova O’Brien was arrested overnight for using a GoPro in a restricted area of Southwark Crown Court. In her defence she told police “hey, lighten up, it’s Brendon McCullum Day,” and they let her go. No mention of the incident in her report for Newsworthy tonight, but her cameraman does strike the jackpot with a sad, lonely shot of Cairns as he passes an ironically-sloganned lorry.

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Another thing that happened since this time last night is that Farrier wrote and published an account of his Gene Simmons interview on the Newsworthy site. It was one of the best things I read all week. It explored the bizarre phenomenon that is Simmons, gave an added insight into the difficulties of the interview, and reflected on his own role as an interviewer:

When I first started my job as an “entertainment reporter”, I sometimes took the easy route and used the editing booth to make a mockery of the people I’d just interviewed. Some of them were good buggers, like Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance. While he, like Simmons, chose to wear sunglasses indoors – the two men could not have been more different. Gerard didn’t deserve my sarcastic voiceover and judgmental calls.

When it came to editing my time with Gene Simmons, I don’t think I’ve ever been more honest. The Gene Simmons you saw is the Gene Simmons I got.

Tonight’s is the best Newsworthy of the week, which is a shame because Friday episodes are likely the ones the fewest people will see. Jesse Peach does a weird, cool news quiz segment. He ends up in the middle of a forest near Wellington, where members of the public have reportedly been attacked by falcons.

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Farrier goes to visit New Zealand’s best singer Wayne Anderson – “the polar opposite of Gene Simmons” – who has recently moved house (within the Papakura District) and has just finished the mammoth task of reorganising his vast record collection. Anderson rose to public attention with the aid of a documentary series which blurred the line between fact and fiction and trod all over that between affection and mockery. In the past, maybe this piece would have taken a similar approach – the easy route – but it’s better than that.

He looks around Anderson’s perfectly-catalogued and alphabetised collection and asks, genuinely: “are you OCD or a perfectionist?” The singer replies: “I have Asperger’s, so that would probably account for some of it – but I call that an advantage.” Anderson takes him through to the kitchen and opens the cupboard to reveal row upon row of compact disc cases. In his voiceover, Farrier admits: “I still don’t know where Wayne keeps his food.”

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The week ends with a new segment: a short Friday video by hilarious Instagram dude Ra Pomare. It’s funny and topical and stupid. It’s highly ‘snackable’. It’s probably the future of broadcasting. It’s definitely the exact type of thing the show should be featuring.

Newsworthy’s basic formula – a front half loaded with a tidy bundle of the day’s news, a back half open for longer and/or weirder pieces, and a web presence which frequently and meaningfully intersects with the on-air content – appears pretty solid and versatile. It’s easy to forget that the show has only been on the air for a matter of months. They’re clearly still adding, subtracting, refining things – and these days that’s a process which, really, ought to be never-ending.

*

It took me five days to notice that there wasn’t any sport news on Newsworthy. As soon as the penny dropped I felt fucked off in a way I couldn’t properly articulate. I wanted to riot, to pummel on the doors of TV3 at approximately 10:50pm every weeknight until they finally showed some bloody All Blacks updates. Worse still, I could start a boycott. But the thing is, when I thought about it, I hadn’t really missed it at all. Who would have thought?


Newsworthy airs on TV3 sometime around 10.30pm weeknights

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