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Debating which of the leaders’ debates was the best debate

Everyone is talking about which party leader ‘won’ the first round of major leaders’ debate, but nobody is asking which debate ‘won’. Until now. 

Unlike every other audience trend in traditional media, the numbers actually increased on 2014 when the 1 News Leaders Debate aired last week. Drop your e-readers, stop the Snapchats and put down your Netflix: broadcast TV is back baby!

As people up and down the country funnelled into the ancient nook known as “the lounge” to turn on what our distant ancestors pronounced as “the television,” how did the first two major leaders’ debates do in the entertainment stakes? TV experts at The Spinoff put the two channels against each other using highly scientific science.

HOST

Hosking wore a giant tie and a pair of suit trousers, rather than his usual heavily distressed Italian jeans. All the pre-debate petitioning goaded him into a severe and sharp performance – he opened with “Why are you losing?” to Bill English, and never really let up.

Paddy has felt a step behind this whole election – not through any fault of his own, it’s just the way the polls and scandals have been dealt. He prepared like an Olympic athlete for the debate, foreswearing all that is good about life to try and make the debate great. He didn’t quite succeed, thanks to the lack of aggro in the combatants, but he got close. In prompting some quite extraordinary on-the-hoof policy announcements from both English (on child poverty) and Ardern (on Super) he edges the narrow winner. / Duncan Greive

ONE-LINERS

According to Bill English, people might not be able to go shopping with values – but they most certainly can judge a debate on the rate of zingers per minute. These two were pretty evenly matched. Let the history books remember Bill English weirdly saying “cannabinoids” like a martian trying to fit in with the teenagers by wearing a backwards hat, and Paddy Gower talking about an ounce of marijuana being “about the size of a muesli bar.” But funny weed fumbles aside, a truly historic utterance came in Jacinda Ardern plainly stating on abortion: “it should be out of the Crimes Act”. What a moment. / Alex Casey

AD BREAKS

Watching the ads on broadcast TV for the first time in years was a beautiful relic of the old world, like reading a tea-stained book or eating a scotch egg, and added a surprisingly enriching element to the debate experience. According to TVNZ, nothing keeps you in the mood for hard-hitting political debate like a disturbing ad where a woman may or may not be having sex with a huge, horny, anthropomorphised M&M. If that gets the old heart racing, never fear: Outrageous Fortune star Robyn Malcolm is here on a stool to sell you heart pills.

Conversely, Three’s debate was packed to the gills with political propaganda to fill the ad time as you filled your drink. From a white room that can only be read as heaven, Jacinda Ardern addressed us down the barrel, cooing us with niceties all the way to the pearly gates. In a later break, National’s finest were all sat around a boardroom, and Bill English was grinning alone in the Waterview tunnel. It was a jarring shift of address, like being in class and then seeing your teacher later at the pub. Yikes. / AC

SET

Was the TVNZ1 debate filmed in the deep recesses of space? With two lonely light-up lecterns, a handful of disembodied heads belonging to eerily silent audience members, and a scrolling autocue that could well have said ‘a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away’, TVNZ1’s set felt alienating. Hosking was positioned on a plinth across a deep, black void and, even though they used a split screen to fit everyone in the same frame, it made things feel all the more distant. Good job on the non-partisan purple graphics though.

On the flipside, Three’s wall-to-wall bleachers of undecided voters and the roomy, vaguely school-hall setup contributed to a much rowdier debate. They should have just pulled up a chair, cracked open a beer and gone full Back Benches with it. Seeing the real-time reactions of people in the audience – shout out to the guy who made the sign of the cross – was a good leveller as well. It doesn’t matter how persuasive your delivery is, there’s always going to be a joker behind you who can pull a funny face. They’re the ones voting, after all. / AC

CONCLUSION

Even though it ran longer than The Lion King, Three’s debate won by fraction of a weed-sized muesli bar. Till the next one. 


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