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Battle of the Bulletins: Campbell Live

Current affairs TV returned from its summer holiday last Monday, when One’s Seven Sharp and TV3’s Campbell Live came back to our TVs. We watched both shows and analysed their comebacks across 10 key areas. Here’s Alex Casey’s take on Campbell Live.

What’s New?
There are two unavoidable additions to the slick green kingdom of JC for 2015. The new font hits you right in the face straight away, a soft kind of silvery-blue bubble writing that you might see on a shower gel, or an easy listening radio station. It’s a ‘fun’ font, sure, but less authoritative than the last. John Campbell has also grown a sparse salt, pepper and turmeric beard. It’s sheer enough to disappear at times, leaving a loveable aura of fuzz around his sunbeam face.

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Best feature?
The most affecting segment for me was Wednesday’s almost-real-time story about a huge blaze in a Christchurch residential area. It was pure Campbell Live territory, lending a loving hand and, literally, a shoulder to cry on to those in need. Jendy Harper headed down to wait on the street corner with helpless homeowners as flames licked dangerously near. News quickly spread that one house had completely burnt to the ground. A man with singed hair and weepy eyes, Bruce Hobbs, was wringing his hands nearby, convinced it was his. “I might be wrong” he said tearfully, “wouldn’t it be nice if I was wrong?” He wasn’t wrong. He lost everything: his home, his motorbike collection, and assumedly the cat and budgie he said were trapped inside. It was a raw story and harrowing to watch unfold. The tragedy was only alleviated by the hope that Campbell Live will get behind and sort this poor guy out like they always do. I’ll be watching out for him next week.

Worst feature?
The first episode of the year included an absurd story about an ex-The Hangover 3 stunt driver who had the idea to deliver coffee by drone. Basically he had just 3D printed an irritating-looking cupholder thing to precariously transport boiling liquid not far enough above the heads of innocent bystanders. When asked if he had any aspirations to start a business in the near future, he said not really. When safety officials were asked if this would ever be allowed, they said not really. End of the story, right? Wrong. Let’s get him in the studio to deliver John Campbell a beer to his desk.

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Host editorials?
John Campbell tends to deliver his sincere to-camera piece at the start of the episode, updating on unfolding stories or back into one of Campbell Live’s endless charitable endeavours. His most heartwarmingly Campbell-esque one this week was a throwback to an old classic: the boy with the buck teeth. Last year, the show ran a campaign to get Evan Hills in braces. They raised $100k in donations to Wish For a Smile that got many other kiwi kids braced to the nines. The collection for the foundation continues this year with JC’s beard – viewers are invited to text in whether or not he should keep it (at 50c a text). Despite the comedy beard, it’s all sincere as hell. He’s even got his joyful wet eyes on. I’m all in – if I only I had some extra phone credit.

Newsworthiness:
We had heart attack drivers, bush fires and beard dilemmas, but there was nothing remotely linked to any wider current affairs from the week. Sure, it’s always good to talk to Don Brash around Waitangi Day, just like it’s always good to talk Brian Tamaki the week before the Pride Festival – but Campbell Live never felt quite timely enough. The story about cops frequently speeding over the summer limit came two days after it expired, which is a damn shame because it would have been excellent ammo against any rogue holiday fines. As for international news, I think the most global we got was Shane Jones talking about his holiday to Seychelles next week.

Self-referentiality:
John Campbell doesn’t tend to talk about himself too much, instead projecting nothing but unbridled interest in absolutely everyone and everything around him. That’s why we love him – because he loves everyone. He only mentions himself a few times in relation to his beard – the hot topic of the week – and how much he hates it, “it looks like I’m about to buy a sports car and do some nefarious activity in it!”

Host activity:
John Campbell’s best time in the field this week was spent with Don Brash, driving him to Orewa 11 years after his infamous speech claiming that the Treaty was a “plaything”. It’s an excellent segment, if only for the hilariously mundane roadie situation paired with a quite tense argument about indigenous rights in New Zealand. It was Campbell at his best: sharp, articulate and refusing to back down. All whilst manoeuvring Auckland’s busy motorway.

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Once they arrived, Don Brash and Gareth Morgan had a full showdown. Campbell was ever the excited ringleader, deftly able to get everyone laughing at the end of an discussion that normally ends in someone getting mud slung at them. I don’t know how he does it.

Go-to Subject:
Food, glorious food. JC and the gang have made a real trend out of throwing to a food-based story when the going got tough, and the sad old stories started to deflate the joyous bubble font. On Tuesday we had a story about a woman who had a heart attack whilst driving, quickly followed by cameraman Billy Weepu in Wellington chowing down on tacos for free taco Tuesday. He has eaten 13 by the end of the episode.

On Wednesday we moved jarringly from the man whose entire life had just burnt to the ground to a reporter making people eat marmite flavoured bagel crisps at a night market. The conclusion was this: the marmite bagel crisps were good. “Marmite is good” said a powerful vox pop.

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Outside Star Power:
This week was absolutely studded with New Zealand stars. The wonderfully grim Don Brash roadie on Wednesday was just the start of our ascension into Kiwi Celebrity Heaven. Later in that episode, we stopped by Shane Jones’ house because he was having an early Waitangi party and, why not? The camera swoops inside to watch the live band – oh, it’s only David Shearer on guitar and Billy TK Jnr on vocals. Take that X Factor NZ.

On Thursday Ali Ikram went pig hunting with Brian Tamaki, a deeply troubling segment that was not for the faint of heart. I can still hear the screaming. For the sports fans, Friday’s cricket match featured Richard Hadlee, Brendan McCullum, The Lathams and Ali Ikram’s straw fedora which, it could be argued, is the most famous and valuable cameo of all.

Found talent
During Campbell’s aforementioned call to arms against buck teeth, we revisited the orthodontist to check in with Luke. Ronald Sluiter, his dentist, was chilling in the background eating a pie in the hallway for the entirety of the kid’s interview.

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Also a huge shout out to the Ngaruawahia bridge jumpers, who rocked Campbell Live to its very core with some of the best soundbites of the week. In the quite typical “youths up to no good” story including council experts and even police fearing for the young boys safety. They explained themselves succinctly enough.

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With the rest of the segment scorning them and reaching the conclusion that no sanctioned council diving platform would be built, the group had a cheeky response to the stuffy bureaucracy: “we’ll always find a way in… because we’re Maoris.” It was playful and fun, instantly shooting down the endless white-haired man talking heads we had just wasted 10 minutes watching. To borrow a phrase – it was marvellous.

Watchability:
I struggled to keep up with Campbell Live, and found myself pretty drained by the end. It’s quite an emotional rollercoaster – hurtling between bagel crisps and sick children, drone coffees and house fires. Honestly, I feel better for it. Campbell Live seems genuinely interested in all of its subjects – going beyond mere reportage to effect stories and, at times, become the story. It’s just a shame that the powerful moments felt lost at times between the more gimmicky throws to taco eating contests. Even the taco moments, though, are met with utter delight by all those involved. Whatever it’s covering, it never feels bored.

My other criticism, and this might be greedy, is that I would have liked to have seen John Campbell out and about more. His roadie row with Don Brash was incredible, and a just little too short. Overall, Campbell Live might not deliver “current affairs” as much as promised, but it does shed light on everyday New Zealand issues on a loving platform of unabashed sincerity. Tell you who else deserves a platform – those bridge jumpers of Ngaruawahia.

Campbell Live screens weeknights on TV3 at 7pm

 

 

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