During its new season launch last year, a somewhat subdued MediaWorks announced that Story would be replaced by a local rendition of Aussie show The Project.
At the time, MediaWorks chief news officer Hal Crawford promised it would be “news delivered differently”—a statement which could have easily have been dismissed as nothing more than PR line, delivered as part of the new season hype.
The extent of the difference Crawford referenced was only hinted at later, in December, when it was announced that the panel would be made up of Jesse Mulligan, Kanoa Lloyd and Josh Thomson, three entertainers rather than hardcore journalists.
Now, with the release of the first promo for the show, it’s apparent that MediaWorks is taking a sharp turn away from the well-worn current affairs path.
In lieu of promises of hard-hitting investigative journalism, the MediaWorks creative team has delivered a singing-and-dancing explosion of colour perfectly timed to coincide with the La La Land Oscar hype.
“It’s not the same old song and dance,” belt out Mulligan, Lloyd and Thomson as they prance and backflip their way through a habitat The Stepford Wives would feel comfortable living in.
In taking this approach, MediaWorks doubles down on its promise that The Project will not just be another brand of the current affairs programming New Zealanders have come to expect at 7pm.
“With the tagline of The Project being 'News delivered differently' we knew the marketing launch campaign needed to establish this position with viewers very early on,” says MediaWorks marketing manager Reuben Wiremu.
“We're so happy our amazing hosts took a huge 'jazz-hand' leap out of their comfort zones and delivered an amazing performance. ”
In a somewhat unusual step, MediaWorks had two marketing managers working on this campaign, with Wiremu working alongside Rebecca Saunders to make sure everything went according to plan.
The reason for this lies in the importance of the show to MediaWorks in 2017.
Until now, Seven Sharp has had a pretty strong hold on the 7pm time slot. And while Story did register a few ratings wins against its competitor, it never seemed likely of usurping Seven Sharp.
“[Story] maintained an audience in a challenging environment, but the audience demand has evolved,” says MediaWorks chief content officer Andrew Szusterman.
By coming out with a bold and ambitious show that plays to its comedic strength, MediaWorks is giving viewers a clear choice between a more traditional current affairs show and one that offers a few genuine laughs along the way.
“The Project is the first real modern entrant to the 7pm hour,” says Szusterman.
The Mediaworks content chief adds that just because the show has a comedic emphasis doesn’t mean it will only be covering fluff, pointing out that the Australian version has won acclaim for the quality of its reporting.
Looking further abroad, the likes of John Oliver and Samantha Bee have also shown that comedy can help to give big (and sometimes ignored) issues further reach.
In fact, research out of the US shows that viewers of satirical programmes tend to be better informed on complex issues.
“As audience demands change on Free-To-Air TV, the way we deliver daily current affairs is changing,” Szusterman says.
He adds that the replacement of Story by The Project should not be understood as an indication that MediaWorks is pulling back on its commitment to the news.
“Newshub and its service hopefully speaks for itself,” he says.
“We’re heavily committed to news and current affairs content with an incredible news service across TV, radio and digital. One programme, even at a peak time, isn’t the only news we provide.”
It’s also worth noting that in the past, traditional current affairs shows played an important role in providing an in-depth analysis on the breaking stories of the day.
But with the explosion of online video content, these issues are often well covered across digital news sources by the time 7pm rolls in. And the last thing viewers need is another talking head providing a rundown of information that has already been splurged across social feeds.
The point here is that viewers aren’t moving away from current affairs shows because they’re uninterested in the news, but rather because the traditional approach rarely offers anything new or, god forbid, entertaining.
In this context, the opportunity for The Project is perhaps summed up by the show’s executive producer Jon Bridges (who previously worked on 7 Days) who says: “It's like dinner party conversation, but if your guests were professional comedians with all the power of a world-class news organisation behind them. ”
And if that conversation successfully manages to straddle the line between being funny and informative, then there’s every likelihood that viewers could be joining the conga line led by The Project’s song and dance.
Creative Director: Ant Farac
Director: Jeremy Wadzinski
Art Director: Juita Tambunan
Marketing Manager: Reuben Wiremu
Marketing Manager: Rebecca Saunders
Brand Manager: Rachel Langford
DOP: Alex McDonald
Post Production: Mikee Carpinter
Music Production: Smoke Music - Nic Manders and Mark De Jong
Choreographer: Momentum Productions - Kayla Paige and Andrew Cesan
Graphic Designer: Musonda Katongo
Producer: Patricia Phelan