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Battle of the Bulletins: Seven Sharp

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 Duncan Greive’s take on Seven Sharp.

What’s New?

Toni is more pregnant, so there’s a new human growing before our eyes. Other than that Seven Sharp is largely as we left it last year. Most comparable shows (Holmes, Campbell Live, Close Up) spend their entire run with less key personnel change than Seven Sharp experienced in its first couple of years, so that’s probably a good thing.

Best feature?

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“Maybe we should look at it as a way forward?”

Mike Thorpe’s report on a former car wrecker’s yard which has become home to at least 20 people in Christchurch. The place looks more like a favela than anything we would recognise as housing in New Zealand, and his piece was for the most part balanced and thoughtful. It was only when the hosts chimed in that things got weird and a bit gross, with Hosking saying the landlord should just be left alone, because the roughly $3500 he earns each week means “he’s not coining it, is he?”

Street was equally blasé: “Maybe we should look at it as a way forward – as a solution” to Auckland’s housing problems. Later in the week Hosking would scorn the “so-called” housing crisis, suggesting that Matrix’s $190,000 homes show how the market fixes these problems. That is not a meritless argument, but it requires passion and persuasion in its pitching. Hosking’s air of sighing condescension and very public Drake-like lifestyle (trading in his Maserati for a Ferrari etc) make him seem like a bored tourist at the human zoo in segments confronting poverty or deprivation. On partisan radio that’s fine. In human interest TV it mostly comes off as heartless.

Worst Feature?

A tie between Street’s Heidi Klum-in-undies feature and Emma Keeling’s All Blacks-in-undies feature. Each dutiful segment in its own way an ad for undies, each featuring a subject overexposed to the point of translucence and each devoid of a spark of life or humour.

Host editorials:

Seven Sharp tends to close on a brief opinion piece delivered straight down the camera by Hosking, Street or both. Street did an impassioned and worthwhile one about the lunacy of Australia’s prosecuting a father for supplying medicinal cannabis to his dying daughter. Hirsute Hosking peaked with his dismissal of Gareth Morgan’s newfound zest for the Treaty, saying “Gareth looks like a bald guy with too much time on his hands,” which is both a good line and a classic Hosking ad hominem. Because even though there are solid intellectual arguments on both sides of Morgan’s crusade, who the hell can f***ed articulating them?

Newsworthiness:

This was the most egregiously deficient area of the show. With the exception of some worthwhile Waitangi Day reportage (delivered on Thursday, because the Sevens was on Friday and is obviously more important), nearly every other segment had no real current affairs hook. The felt like they had been recorded over the previous month to ease back into work. This isn’t a criticism of any individual piece – by and large the reporters went out and found good stories – just that when taken together there was a giant hole in the middle. Mike Sabin? He did not feature. Russel Norman’s resignation? No comment. Tim Wilson (underused – too clever for the format?) did a fun piece on the Christchurch sex romp, but even that was short and oblique, rather than revelling in what was, like it or not, the biggest story of the week.

Self-referentiality:

No one loves talking about Seven Sharp more than Seven Sharp. Oftentimes it felt like the brief throws to Hosking and Street were to allow us into their lives so we could hear about their plans for Waitangi Day (Mike: staying in) or domestic dramas (Street likes nude undies, her husband doesn’t) – a thread of ongoing soap opera to let the show battle Shorty as much as Campbell Live. We also had a deeply weird bit where Wilson and a mariachi band stalked Hosking as he drank coffee and bought kale because he turned 50 or something. Elsewhere Seven Sharp bought a kid a computer. Hosking received a pair of signed undies. Street was hit by a cricket ball. The show’s key area of reporting is inescapably itself.

Host energy:

Unlike Campbell Live’s John Campbell, who seems to relish the opportunity to get out into the field or take on a big name interview, Hosking and Street rarely leave the studio to report. Perhaps Hosking considers the task beneath him? The result is that the show feels a little shapeless in terms of its focus. Whose agenda drives it? Who owns this show? Two years in and we still don’t know.

Go-to Subject:

This week, it was about health. Mental health, via a dude running 50 marathons in 50 days for suicide awareness. Child health, via a legitimately heart -breaking then -warming story about an absolute gem of a kid with a backwards foot attached at the knee. And ‘alternative’ health, featuring a dude walking to Wellington (everyone was pounding the pavement, it seemed) to raise awareness for… how vitamin c can beat cancer?! Even though the story was disclaimed (“We have to note here that research has still to prove a link between vitamin c and curing cancer”), there seemed something irresponsible about giving such a dangerous idea largely uncritical airtime.

Outside Star Power:

The ABs and Heidi Klum were it. Basically the only way prominent people were making the show this week was if they were in their smalls. Other than that, Gareth Morgan was talked about but not talked to (“Are we a little bit over Gareth Morgan?” wondered Hosking, both rhetorically and royally). This was a shame, as having Morgan and Hosking debate the treaty would’ve been A+ entertainment (thanks to each’s open contempt for the other’s ideas) with an outside chance of a real issue being discussed. If only he’d been prepared to strip…

Found talent:

There were a few good Kiwi jokers uncovered by the Seven Sharp team, including an extremely alert man living in the Christchurch slum, but the best character was found at Waitangi by Jehan Casinader.

He had wild hair, a blue shirt and carried a sign which read ‘Stop Treaty Breachs’, and had views as curious as his spelling. Casinader enquired about the target of his ire. “It’s these dark people who aren’t Maori,” he yelled. “Well I’m a dark person who’s not Maori,” Casinader replied.

“I’ve got to think that while they’re here they must be raping and pillaging us. Why else would they be here?… I’m just talking about the dark races,” our redneck blundered on. “Why are they here?” It was rambling and horrible, but riveting TV. This followed a piece explaining our changing demographic shape as a nation, an implicit argument for tolerance with infographics and stop motion Lego.

All this worthwhile and entertaining television was spoiled somewhat when they gave Hosking the opportunity to interview Casinader about his time up at Waitangi. “You were asked if you were a member of Isis,” said Hosking. An opportunity to discuss racial stereotyping? Well, no: “Are you a member of Isis?”

Casinader looked simultaneously revolted and resigned. “I’m not,” he replied. “Are you a member of the National Front?”

Fair question.

Watchability:

I approached my week watching Seven Sharp with excitement and dread. It felt good to have something big and very public to write about, but what if the show really was as diabolical as we’ve been lead to believe? I found it both better and worse than its reputation suggests. Better in that the show is pacy and well produced, and most importantly there is actually very little of Mike Hosking’s sneering indifference. He doesn’t work hard enough to be particularly present in the programme, so that while his obnoxiousness is an unavoidable element, it doesn’t dominate.

But for a show which is nominally about current affairs, about digging deeper into some of the stories which make up our news cycle, there was very little that was particularly current, with the lack of in studio interviews particularly glaring. Despite that the actual field reporting was more often than not good and thorough. If only the hosts would work as hard as their reporters, then, Seven Sharp might actually be worth your time.

Seven Sharp screens on One, weeknights at 7pm.

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