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Seven Sharp – Two's company, three's a crowd

The best comment I’ve heard about Seven Sharp came from Canterbury University senior journalism lecturer Tara Ross who said: "We were invited to tweet and we were invited to vote, but what were we invited to think about?”

My answer would be: little of any consequence.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that – the utterly brilliant QI deals almost exclusively in ‘quite interesting’ ephemera. I can watch, and have watched half a dozen episodes on the trot and could happily have watched half a dozen more. Informative, irreverent, rude, challenging, side-splittingly funny. All the things Seven Sharp isn’t.

Given the quality of talent available to the BBC, the comparison is of course unfair. And QI makes no claim to be anything other than an (admittedly somewhat intellectual) entertainment.

Television New Zealand’s head of news and current affairs Ross Dagan, on the other hand, does a disservice to the producers and presenters on Seven Sharp, not to mention its viewers, by continuing to insist that Close Up’s replacement is still a ‘prime-time current affairs’ programme.

It isn’t, at least not in the common usage of the term.  Collins English Dictionary defines ‘current affairs’ as ‘relating to events and developments taking place in the world now, or the way in which these are covered or presented by the media’. The only prime-time network programme that currently comes close to that definition is Campbell Live.

Had Seven Sharp been billed as a ‘magazine programme offering a light-hearted and occasionally serious look at the events of the day’, its producers and presenters would have been spared the tsunami of criticism and viewer disappointment that has all but swept the programme away. 

But whether you regard it as a current affairs, magazine  or entertainment programme, Seven Sharp has structural problems that will be nigh on impossible to fix.

Each of the presenters is miscast.

Jesse Mulligan is a comedian, at home  in  improv, stand-up, and the irreverent,  salacious and  frequently downright obscene comedy of Seven Days which, incidentally, is pre-recorded and heavily edited. His role on Seven Sharp is to make mildly satirical observations about people in the news, primarily politicians and to do so live and without the benefit of editing.  Unsurprisingly, his efforts to date have disappointed viewers.

Ali Mau is a journalist, primarily known here as a first-class television newsreader and, more recently, Fair Go co-host. The skills required in both formats are mainly to-camera presentation skills. She has also co-hosted Newsnight with Marcus Lush and Breakfast with Mike Hosking and occasionally Paul Henry. These are late night and early morning programmes with two co-hosts. Close relationships tend to develop between presenters working these unseemly hours and their individual roles and status are clearly defined.

Mau’s role on Seven Sharp is ill-defined and she appears uncertain of it herself. Neither comedian nor hard-line interviewer, she is expected to engage in banter and tag-team interviews with not one but two other presenters. This is the most difficult and least productive form of interviewing, since sequential follow-up is virtually impossible. Tag team interviews are inevitably all over the place.

Greg Boyed’s background is also in journalism. He is best known as a newsreader and an increasingly hard-line current affairs interviewer, most recently on Q & A.

He is currently the dominant performer on Seven Sharp, overshadowing both Mulligan and Mau.

Boyed is reputed to have a good sense of humour, but his attempts on Seven Sharp to date have been clumsy. More importantly, his tough interviewing style is wasted in the tag-team format where ‘getting stuck in’  to interviewees would seem out of place and the allocated time, now even shorter than it was on Close Up, would in any event make it impossible.

Interestingly enough, Friday’s edition of Seven Sharp, when Boyed was not in the studio, was the most comfortable and fluent of the week. I don’t intend this as a criticism of him. It merely demonstrates the truth of my assertion that a presenting duo can achieve an intimacy and mutual understanding that conveys itself to viewers and that this is a much more difficult ask for a trio.

Television audiences, I suspect, often imagine that there’s a romantic or sexual attraction between a male/female duo. Was Paul Henry really in love with the gorgeous (and occasionally motherly) Pippa Wetzell? And would Mike Hosking fall for Kate Hawkesby? Well, he did.

This sort of audience fantasising is probably good for ratings. But a presenter ménage à trois is unlikely to enter the mind of the average viewer, least of all in this case.

Perhaps the major by-product of the miscasting of these three presenters is the lack of edge in the banter and the show at large. Mulligan’s humour cannot really offend, Boyed cannot really get stuck into a guest, and Mau, whose strength is as a host/presenter has little opportunity to shine.

Nobody really knows why they’re there and no-one can do their own thing.

There are other problems. Presenters and viewers are expected to make sudden mental gearshifts between light-hearted banter and sometimes emotionally challenging stories. There seems to be no realisation that the expectations of Twitter and Facebook followers are not the same as those of the average prime-time television viewer. And, in trying to be all things to everyone, Seven Sharp ends up being neither flesh, fowl nor good fresh herring and satisfying no one.

If the programmes is to succeed, TVNZ and the producers of Seven Sharp are going to have to decide what it is. You can’t blame a loss of 200,000 viewers in one week on the weather or a public holiday.

Media trainer and commentator Dr Brian Edwards blogs at Brian Edwards Media

Comments and questions

The only thing sharp about this show is the critcism.

Right on the button Brian Edwards.Its early days so we'll look with interest at the format and the content and what happens to the viewing levels.

The answer is simple

Get rid of Jesses Mulligan - he and his humour don't fit a current affairs/news programme

Jesse is a very clever and witty guy but just doesn't fit this show and time slot.

Ali and Greg together will double the old Close Up ratings but as a threesome the show is dead

Well of course Brian Edwards has a vendetta against the show, or more accurately - the presenters. One in particular, Alison Mau. It wasn't that long ago that he was critisising the Fair Go show - no doubt she wasn't right for that either. The only thing sharp about your post Brian is, oh wait....nothing.

Wow, conspiracy theory run riot! I've checked every reference to Ali Mau I've made since I started this website. 1: 'I'm a huge fan of Ali Mau'; 2. Suggested she would be a great replacement for Pippa Wetzell on Breakfast; 3. 'The gorgeous Ali Mau is the best reason for watching Fair Go; 4. Referring to Pippa and Ali, 'both very talented women'.

This is my 'vendetta'? I usually can't be bothered replying to people who haven't got the guts to put their names to their opinions. But in your case I think it's a good idea. No-one will know who the idiot is.

No one dare disagree with Brian Edwards, he'll shoot you down in flames and call you an idiot!

Watched it in full on its first night, to be fair , but wont be watching it again. I am one of the older viewers that TV1 dosent want, Campell live will do me for my current affairs. Incidently these comments do not relate to the presenters, who sadly have been given a dog of a programme, to host.

I'd be happy to see a show with just Greg Boyed in the studio. Put the other two to use as field reporters. Boyed proved himself brilliantly on Q+A.

I'm clearly not in the demographic for TV1 any more. It would appear that I've been constructively dismissed by them as a viewer. Why don't they go the whole hog and just hire Julie Christie to produce it? News and current affairs for those who are mercifully free from the ravages of intelligence.

I do hope TV3 hold their ground and do not feel compelled to head in this direction as well.

It would be interesting to see a New Zealand show along the lines of Jon Stewart's Daily Show.

However, we likely don't have anyone with the requisite delivery skills (e.g. see Mike King's abortive attempt to replicate Letterman), nor perhaps the writers to support it strongly enough. (Though possibly the writers who script all the jokes for '7 Days' may be useful.)

I agree. But then you have to remember the huge pool of interviewee talent available to the wonderful Mr Stewart, including of course the President of the US of A.

You don't need top-notch presenters of BBC calibre to put on a show with journalistic integrity about newsworthy stories.

The TV law show that Greg King presented was brilliant. He wasn't a great presenter, but he had credibility and he asked big questions of experts to examine pertinent issues in NZ. It's a very simple format our dear TVNZ producers would do well copying at prime time.

I love the show. Hang in there, it's very entertaining.

The only problem with this programme is it should have been....7AM NOT 7PM

I have watched every programme so far, and feel it is getting better. It covers topics that are interesting and relevant to all age-groups (I am not one of the target audience TVNZ are looking for). I will continue watching with the hope, that as time goes on, it continues to improve.

If any changes were to be made, it might be good having just two studio presenters as I feel three is a bit overboard. Keep Ali and Greg in the studio, and send Jesse out into the field.

We have so few free to air channels in this country - the fact that one of the major players has replaced a good news programme with this does effect the overall quality of our tv. 10 pm great, dear god not when we get home from work. There's enough noise & pointless banter in everyday life.

We have so few free to air channels in this country - the fact that one of the major players has replaced a good news programme with this does effect the overall quality of our media. 10 pm great, dear god not when we get home from work. There's enough noise & pointless banter in everyday life.