Review: Seven good things about Seven Sharp’s debut. And seven less good

By Toby Manhire In Television

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Seven Sharp: the first cut

Tough gig. I can’t remember the last time there was such protracted speculation ahead of a new New Zealand TV show. Holmes, maybe – but that was 1989. The worldwide web hadn’t been invented.

Seven Sharp had it especially hard, with numerous critics denouncing the thing even before it had begun – they were outdone only by those who denounced them for denouncing it before it had begun.

Scanning Twitter tonight, it seemed that the first programme was, for many viewers, a long-awaited laxative; at last they could evacuate their bowels. Much of the vitriol seems to me overhasty, and in many cases unfair.

I’d much prefer a hard-nosed current affairs programme at seven – actually, I’d prefer a hard-nosed current affairs programme at 10.30, bring back Eyewitness News, I reckon.

But that’s a different argument. Seven Sharp does not set out to be a hard-nosed current affairs programme. It should be judged on its own terms.

Moreover, no really meaningful critique can be mustered until they’ve put together at least 20-30 shows. As Russell Brown pointed out this morning, Holmes was a critical and popular flop at first. (Correction: he was referring to his start at Newstalk ZB based in Auckland.)

Still, for the hell of it, some very, very early impressions (note: I missed the bit on Josh Groban owing to a three-year-old requiring assistance brushing teeth).

 

Seven good things

1. The tone

Overall, it was fine. With a couple of exceptions (see the confusingly titled “The tone”, below) you knew what you were being served.

 

2. The personnel

No, it didn’t look like Greg Boyed, Jesse Mulligan and Ali Mau have been drinking buddies for two decades, but nor did it look like they’d never laid eyes on each other, or, worse, that they didn’t really like one another. Put it this way: if you were a visitor from overseas and half-watching, as most people do such things, I doubt you’d guess it was the first outing.

 

3. Ali Mau

The most at ease, likeable without appearing superficial, she’s been under-used by TVNZ in recent years.

 

4. The set

Loft apartment, is it? I was deeply worried about the potential for a full-on pastel assault or something wa-hey in your face, so it was a real relief.

 

5. The John Key office item

Lots of people seemed angry about this on Twitter, but I thought it was jolly piece – looking at the prime minister’s toilet, sipping some of his wine. It’s true, he wasn’t grilled about fiscal policy but, you know, that’s not what it was for. (But, see the confusingly titled “The John Key office item”, below.)

 

6. The Afghanistan and post-traumatic stress disorder item

Very good.

 

7. No pratfalls

There were no pratfalls, literal or metaphorical. And they deserve a drink for that. There were a few minor line fluffs, but that’s par for the course. Live television is a very complex beast, and to get out without any serious blushes is impressive.

 

 

Seven not-so-good things

1. The lack of live-news content.

The Waitangi Day material was as live (in news terms) as it got, but didn’t really tell me anything about developments today (eg John Key’s thorn among roses line warranted at least a mention). The Labour leadership stuff was dressed up to look topical, but was clearly pre-cooked, and not the stronger for it. The Super Bowl blackout palaver was a gift – they should have had something on that. But all we had was a single, humdrum reference to hotdogs being eaten, missing the big talking point (frivilous talking point, that is) of the day. On debut, presumably they decided not to try to throw anything together in a hurry.

 

2. Interactivity

It’s well intentioned and all that, but the online bells and whistles felt about as subtle as Sara Lee pastry. “Join the conversation” feels all a bit 2003. They should let the show be the show and build social media wotsits on ad hoc. As Guy Williams deadpanned on the Twitters: “They’re using the Internet and as a young person that appeals to me!”

 

3. The tone

The shift to the serious item on Afghanistan and post-traumatic stress disorder wasn’t well managed. Should it have come after a commercial break? Maybe there was a commercial break. Can’t remember. Anyway, felt awkward. And the Waitangi stuff erred too much on the joshing-around side – the “kuia coup” and associated poll had to be much funnier if it was going to be so lacking in substance.

4. The tone (cont’d)

At moments I was reminded of the BBC’s show Newsround, which is news for kids. Newsround is good, but for kids.

 

5. The John Key office item

It should have been the final item, not the first.

 

6. Some of the jokes

Gerry Brownlee is fat! Nadzeya Ostapchuk, yeah!? Do better. Mulligan’s Labour leadership backgrounder had its moments, but, personally, I think he’d be better sitting, going down the barrel.

 

7. The absence of studio guests

I was expecting at least one guest – an expert on something – on the panel. Presumably that will come, and again can be put down to keeping things (relatively) simple on opening night.

 

See also: Diana Wichtel’s Seven Sharp review.

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