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A Week of It: Meat Packs, Horrible Buggers and Whistleblowers – The First Week of TV3’s Story

Story’s launch last week was the most important new show of the year for TV3. Duncan Greive watched every episode, and reports on how its first week fared.

MONDAY

The Story starts with some noodly post-rock guitar ambience, which is pretty cool and weird. Gives the whole show a welcome sense of impending doom. Who’s getting doomed on? Turns out it’s Auckland’s real estate agent community, courtesy of a hidden camera sting, conducted by an actor who seems to be aiming for ‘meth dealer #3’ as far as vibe goes. That doesn’t prevent him gaining the confidence of a pair of agents, one of whom promises to bring him a property worth $1m and sell it to him for $800k, on the proviso he’ll flick it on through them a few months later. Seems a little rough.

Heather appears out of the studio and in the streets, trying to chase down the agent. She gets told to get the hell off the property, but not before establishing herself as a terrifying presence that you absolutely would not want on your doorstep. Back in the studio she hammers the head of Ray White, who’s sat in Wellington, gazing into the middle-distance and regretting every step of his journey to that moment.

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It’s a smash hit opening. The show is angry about something important, has actual footage of a bad thing happening, and made someone sit down and cop to their part in it.

After the break it’s Garner’s turn to get wound up really tight. He’s got a whistleblower, in full blackface (not Art Green-style – the disguise-your-identity kid), talking about life as a minimum wage first responder to bail breaches. He’s speaking Garner’s language: “scumbags… a pair of scissors from The Warehouse… they should be kicking down that door”. The bluntest broadcaster on radio has found an angry man for the first episode of his TV show, and made us a good, dramatic piece of TV. Not sure that it was explained in much complexity, but maybe the equation really was as simple as Garner made it seem: offender + scissors = freedom. Doesn’t sound great.

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The final segment was on e-sports, with 200 gamers gathered to the Civic, some having driven up from Hamilton (!) to watch some other gamers play a game. This is the kind of modern communal activity which is rarely covered by media, and runs contrary to the general digital isolationist hand-wringing we tend to get. Nice, sober piece of reporting. You don’t want a whole show like that, but it functioned well as dessert after Garner and Du Plessis-Allan’s protein-packed opening. There was some weird stuff – a bit of Kelly Tarltons for no good reason, some viral video rubbish. But the opening episode was aggressive and direct. Very different to Campbell Live, but Story showed that might be no bad thing.

TUESDAY

The lead Story today is a truly terrible man yelling at a club rugby game, where Jerry Collins’ sisters are playing in his memory. I’m torn on this piece: they point out that they sent reporters to five games over the weekend, yet this is the only guy they find being abusive. So… maybe things are mostly OK? That’s not really news though, is it? That said, this guy is some kind of outrageously evil specimen:

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We kick the can down the road on the previous night’s bailed prisoner story, incorporating another disguised identity interview. It bolsters the previous night’s claims, with bribery now moving from something which “could happen” to something which someone has ‘heard of happening’. Not a smoking gun, but more substantial than day one’s allegations.

After the break, Lachlan Forsyth makes his debut for the week, out cleaning up a rubbish-strewn stretch of Hauraki highway. His style is driven by his getting out in the world – a later piece to camera is shot while riding a bike in traffic. Quality piece, ending with a chap from NZTA agreeing to clean up more often. Result.

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Next though, some hard news: “Is it OK to snack in the supermarket?” Finally! Someone confronts this important issue. Answer: sometimes. This is a very silly piece.

Finally there’s another viral vid, introduced by HDPA thusly: “If you thought you could dance, think again”. Not sure how the logic is functioning there, but no matter – day two is down. It’s a much softer show, but still honeymoon charming with its junk-shop breadth.

WEDNESDAY

“It’s mouldy, it’s damp and it stinks,” says Garner. “Let’s take a look inside.” Our damp, cold housing stock has been a favourite warhorse of his for a long time, and now he’s got a primetime vehicle to indulge it. He’s with a sweet English couple and their waterlogged house, one which is both a complete disaster as a place to live, and also abundantly familiar to anyone who has ever flatted in this country.

He shows us mouldy ceilings. Mouldy drawers. Even mouldy shoes! He also pointed out that you have to pay $705 to the Auckland Council for the privilege of insulating your home, which is definitely a disastrously stupid price. It’s also about half what you’d pay in Whangarei – a much poorer town.

He tells us how “ridiculous” it is approximately 100 times, each of which is appropriate, but collectively the colloquial commentary does help cement what Stuff’s Kathrin Goldsworthy correctly diagnosed as a “talkback radio” feel. It’s no doubt what surveys say audiences want, and I’m mostly fine with whatever you sugar you need to help the medicine go down – but there’s definitely more banter tonight, a trend which continues throughout the week.

After the break Lachlan Forsyth has a story on whether cyclists should be licensed, based off a mad dog Australian pol suggesting it should be so. They illustrate it with a montage of cyclists getting mown down by cars which absolutely should not be on television, and will have made a whole generation of parents determined to never let their child even look at a bike. I’m not sure that was the intention. There’s a few vox pops from members of the public. “[A bike is] as dangerous as a car, if not more so,” says a man, implausibly. By the end the silly notion has been put to bed. I’m not 100% sure what the point was, but if nothing else it gives Forsyth the opportunity to show off his outstanding calves on the internet.

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There’s a weird aside about craft beer (“I just like the normal stuff,” says Garner, surprising no one on earth), illustrated with footage from an establishment known as ‘The Third Eye Bar’. This really gets HDPA excited. “Why did they call it the third eye bar?” she yells. “Do they not know what it means?” I have checked: “In certain dharmic spiritual traditions such as Hinduism, the third eye refers to the ajna, or brow, chakra.” That’s definitely what she was alluding to.

Garner then returns to his probation ankle bracelets story from day one, camping outside First Security’s HQ, telling us that they have “signs… cars… people” – none of which seems too shocking. He’s brought some of his old mates from Parliament along with him. Phil Goff has got concerns. Kelvin Davis has got concerns. Todd “Young Tobacco Lobbyist of the Year” Barclay? “I don’t have any concerns”.

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Next Heather interviews a New Zealander who’s become a celeb in China after appearing on a dating show. It’s a cute little piece, but we don’t get a huge amount of information or analysis beyond ‘lol weird’.

Finally we close out with three minutes of people sucking at New Zealand geography, to the inevitable sound track of that ‘I’ve Been Everywhere’ song. It is not a good song, and this is not good television. The damp houses issue aside, nothing here had anything like the bite of Monday’s opener.

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THURSDAY

Thanks to the odd decision to schedule Lip Synch Battle at 7.30pm on Friday, this functions as the wacky end of the week, a day early. My bet is they figure out a way to push it out to five nights a week sharpish, as Throng reports that only 81,000 hardy maniacs tuned in for the Battle on Friday, versus the very respectable average of 247,000 for Story’s first week.

We start with a good and timely story about a sex offender moving into suburban Auckland. There was an effort to balance to understandable fears of a mother for her children, and the undeniable reality that such people must live somewhere. It would’ve been easy to go full demon on this one, and Story gallantly resisted. That said, the suburb’s description as “family central… packed with schools and parks” wasn’t particularly illuminating. Most suburbs are “family central… packed with schools and parks”, in my experience.

The most creatively presented story of the week was undoubtedly Thursday’s Solid Energy piece regarding their announced sell-down. “Coal started a revolution,” it began, framing the rise and fall of the fuel as a way into the travails of the mortally wounded mining company. “Drama, romanticism, despair, power”. There are quality infographics, provocative facts, and Garner, who knows his government announcements, announcing that it was “not a bad announcement”. He’s developing a habit of offering pithy reviews of corporate communications releases: First Security’s was “goobledegook”, while Foodstuffs and Countdown got “congratulations”. It’s a nice little element which might one day help the PR industry write more intelligibly.

They replayed footage of the astounding cretin found at the club rugby on Tuesday. Garner reviewed him as well. “He’s a horrible bugger, isn’t he?” HDPA looks genuinely shocked: “Are you allowed to call him a horrible bugger?”

“It’s honest opinion,” replies Garner genially, clearly versed with the relevant legislation. “Have you seen any evidence that he’s not?”

They have to run an apology for an unbalanced Campbell Live story, which is quite long and brutal. Part of me wonders whether it was scheduled then as a bit of a riposte to the ‘save Campbell Live’ crowd, showing that the show, despite much posthumous lionising, wasn’t perfect.

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There’s a weird, quite effective intro to the next story, as a speeding ad plays, before eventually Garner speaks, referring to the Herald’s story about the NZTA speeding scandal. “I’m just doing the maths,” says HDPA. “Did they break the speed limit 100 times a day? Is that right?” She stares in shock.

“How many lost their job at NZTA? Zilch.” It’s effective television, but there was the opportunity to open a wider discussion about the way public servants police themselves, the efficacy of speed limits or whatnot. It doesn’t happen.

We’re back on the insulation warhorse, this time a positive story of a Polynesian family who’ve taken advantage of a free insulation programme. It’s not banal ‘good news’, either, never forgetting the life-and-death stakes of this thing. This seems certain to be a campaigning area for Garner, and if it helps lead to major movement in this area then that’ll be ample proof Campbell Live’s legacy isn’t forgotten.

Later Garner gives HDPA some Mad Butcher bbq steaks. And a hot water bottle.

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And they write their names left-handed. I don’t know why any of this stuff happens, but it jars with the hard stuff. Garner and HDPA are happy enough doing it, but it removes the urgency of what is otherwise a mostly serious news show.

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There’s more where the steaks came from. A new Air New Zealand safety video, featuring All Blacks rapping. Pretty tedious, especially given how ubiquitous the damn clip had been that day. There is one good moment though:  “This doesn’t really rhyme, does it?: ‘Smoking ain’t allowed, within your seat or anywhere’,” asks a reporter. “Nah, it doesn’t,” replies Julian Savea solemnly. “It doesn’t rhyme.” Finally a straight answer from an All Black!

Later they survey the office about social media profile pics. Doesn’t seem like a lot of effort involved there. Likewise the images had a big hairy watermark across them, which also seemed a little unprofesh.

We close on some timelapse footage shot by “a guy with a completely unpronounceable surname,” according to HDPA. I’m not sure that a ‘Du Plessis-Allan’ can throw stones in this direction…

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It’s a mixed week, but also a very promising one. It also strongly suggests that when there’s real news around, it will be appointment viewing, thanks to the ruthless interviewing style of the co-hosts. Outside of those moments? The big issues will be done well and often, the rest, less so. But given the time I’d watch Story any night of any week, for its sheer unpredictability and mad, appealing energy.


Story airs on TV3 Mon-Thurs at 7pm

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