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The Spinoff’s election season guide to NZ political TV shows

Duncan Greive and Toby Manhire rate the current crop of political shows on New Zealand television right now. 

Most New Zealanders, as John Key was fond of calling them, would very likely be shocked and appalled to discover that our politics shows run just about all year, every year. Irrespective of the election cycle, or whether the house is sitting, or whether anything remotely interesting has happened, they carry on cranking out content into some of the deepest, darkest non-prime-time slots in New Zealand broadcasting.

Yet here we are, just 76 days out from election day, and there’s a chance even those who whose gag reflex is triggered by phrases such as “state services commissioner” or “supplementary order paper”’ will reluctantly attempt to haul themselves up to speed on the issues. To help, here’s a whistlestop introduction to New Zealand’s current crop of political TV shows, from boozy veteran Back Benches to the just-born Banter.

The Nation (Three, Saturday 9.30am and Sunday 10am)

What’s the vibe?

A smorgasbord of politics, The Nation‘s dishes include juicy longform interviews, slow-cooked field reports, a shot of satire and (this food analogy isn’t working is it?) a just-too-small portion of  panel discussion for dessert.

Host appeal?

High. Lisa Owen has zero tolerance for blandishments, and her subjects squirm mightily as a result. She’s supported by Paddy Gower in a more chilled out role than we see him on the f***in’ news (which is still not that chilled out) and reporting from the likes of Mike Wesley-Smith, whose brilliant coverage of families living in cars changed the political agenda last year.

Most likely to hear?

“Please answer the question, minister.”

Politician the show most resembles:

Grant Robertson. Been around long enough to know what it’s doing but not so long that you’re sick of it.

Q+A (TVNZ1, Sunday 9am)

What’s the vibe?

If The Nation feels a bit like Saturday morning sport, Q+A is a gentler start to Sunday, dunking the shortbread into the tea. The panel discussions, especially, get decent time to develop.

Host appeal?

A revolving door since the Paul Holmes/Guyon Espiner double-act back in the day has sometimes led to a lack of personality, but the current bunch of Greg Boyed, Jessica Mutch and Corin Dann make good company. When he’s fired up, Dann is one of the best interviewers in the business.

Most likely to hear?

“Those were the questions, those were the answers.”

Politician the show most resembles:

Bill English. Has been there forever, not that you always noticed.

The Hui (Three, 9.30am Sunday)

What’s the vibe?

“Māori current affairs for all New Zealanders” is what it says on the tin and emphatically delivers. The Hui reverses the reporting/interview ratio with The Nation, and manages to be just as agenda-setting. Some pieces can leave you breathless and broken, given that they humanise the awful statistics around Māori, but they’re too important to be ignored: work on those who’ve experienced abuse in state care has been a highlight of the year to date.

Host appeal?

Mihingarangi Forbes may be the hardest-working person in political journalism, doing stellar work for RNZ through the week, then prodding and poking our politicians with determination and a sly wit at the weekend.

Most likely to hear?

“We invited Paula Bennett on the show, but she once again declined to appear.”

Politician the show most resembles:

Metiria Turei. Earnest, but earnest with a purpose.

Marae (TVNZ1, 10am Sunday)

What’s the vibe?

Māori issues and politics, with a mix of magazine and in-studio interviews. Some weeks the conversation sparks into laughter with panel discussions.

Host appeal?

Scotty Morrison and Miriama Kamo share duties – tending more towards conversation than interrogation.

Most likely to hear?

“Mā te wā.”

Politician the show most resembles:

Te Ururoa Flavell. Avuncular.

‘Banter’ (Duke, Tuesday 8.30pm)

What’s the vibe?

Banter so bantery that there are inverted commas around the word banter. On this new show it’s all panel discussion, sometimes including a politician, sometimes not. Filmed live before a studio audience, though you can barely hear them, probably because the laughs are on the thin side.

In keeping with Duke’s commitment to “male skewed” content, just about everyone here is a man. The last episode was 100% male panelists, including Cameron Slater in a leather vest, plus a Mike Hosking cameo.

Host appeal?

Comedian Tim Batt has improved over the first three episodes, but struggled to keep the conversation – sorry, banter – jogging along. The Ralston Group it’s not, but still early days and shows promise.

Most likely to hear?

“And that’s all we’ve got time for.”

Politician the show most resembles:

David Seymour. At times refreshing but can test your patience.

Back Benches (Prime, Wednesday 9.30pm)

What’s the vibe?

Now in its ninth year, Back Benches packs out the titular pub across the road from parliament every week, with media, politicians and activists indulging in two of their favourite poisons, argument and booze.

Host appeal?

Wallace Chapman retains his impish enthusiasm and disarming ability to look constantly astonished, by politics, by people, by his own existence. He’s got a knack for knowing when to flick from light-hearted joshing to demanding a serious answer. Charlotte Ryan has hit the ground running as new co-host, effortlessly navigating the bibulous crowd. But no more of that Donald Trump impersonator, please.

Most likely to hear?

“Somebody tweet that!”

Politician the show most resembles:

Marama Fox, easily New Zealand’s most skux MP.


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