Review: Seven Sharp’s dull-edged premiere

I suck at watching awkward television because I always feel personally responsible for that awkwardness. I can’t get through an episode of American Idol without squirming into the back of my couch, flinching as every one of Simon Cowell’s barbed remarks point directly towards me. Their failures are my failures, and that’s why I couldn’t stand the first episode of Seven Sharp, which was more cringe-worthy than watching a chalkboard being scratched for thirty minutes.

The individual talents of co-hosts Jesse Mulligan, Ali Mau, and Greg Boyed—who have all worked on successful news shows before—never came together during last night’s premiere. Mulligan wasn’t funny, Mau wasn’t informative, and Boyed wasn’t whatever it is he was hired to do. The sum of the parts never quite equalled the whole, and it was awkward watching the trio trying to force some rapport. 

The dialogue from the hosts were either dutifully scripted or over-rehearsed. There were some slip ups with the teleprompter, but this is forgivable in the grand scheme of things. The moments that were off-script fell flat, and by the end of the show the trio seemed to just stop trying. 

The lack of energy could be acceptable if TVNZ’s successor to Close Up delivered with its news content. While over on TV3, Campbell Live was discussing housing affordability in Christchurch and the binge drinking culture at the Wellington Sevens, Seven Sharp gave the nation a tour of the Prime Minister’s office, and interviewed singer Josh Groban. 

The one redeeming moment for me was a very short human interest piece sandwiched between the two, about an ex-soldier with PTSD and depression. Even this didn’t get nearly enough air time to explore the depth of the issue, and felt completely out of place surrounded by the fluffiness of the rest of the programme. Right after Mau gave the contact details for a suicide hotline for people seeking help to talk to, Mulligan makes a joke about Ponsonby-types overly sharing their emotions. 

Seven Sharp’s producers hinted the programme would be skewed towards a younger audience, with its graphic presentation style and use of social media call outs. Graphics wise, the show uses bright colours and doodle-animations, the kind you might see on a Sunday morning kids educational programme. Donna Chisholm, former Sunday Star Times deputy editor, says the lighthearted format and presentation style is what’s needed to get apathetic youth interested in the news again.

From all the talk of social media interaction the show would have, I expected something grand and CNN-esque, probably called the Social Media Command Centre. Instead we were given three hosts with iPads, and a website with a poll. Every four minutes, one of the hosts would ask for feedback from Facebook, but these call outs never felt married in with the rest of the show.

It’s easy for me to criticise Seven Sharp from my armchair, and with the protection of several layers of internet. I would never have the guts to create such a programme for the 7pm slot, or the cajones to front it as a host. I genuinely want Seven Sharp to succeed, because I want current affairs programming in New Zealand to succeed. But as a member of the youth Chisholm mentions above, hip graphics, light fluffy news, and patronising social media call outs aren’t the way to get us interested in current affairs. 

It’s still very early days, and things will presumably evolve as the three talented hosts get into their groove. Heck, the ratings show the programme, like Close Up before it, outperformed Campbell Live

Already the show’s hosts have shown they are open to feedback about improving the programme. After the last night’s airing, Jesse Mulligan said: ”Thanks for feedback. Enjoyed the constructive stuff. Agree: should make the much discussed *social media* content less self-conscious. Agree ‘the hosts will warm up’, but remember audiences take a few eps to warm up too. Predict we’ll meet each other half way.Will have to fwd concerns about ‘pixellated logo’, ‘bad white balance’, ‘shaky camera’. Although we can’t fire the camera guy, he’s a robot.Greg and Ali are first class. It’s likely I’m the ‘sound problem’, having learnt my am-dram projection style at Hamilton’s Riverlea Theatre. Happy to ask about anything else you notice. But if you don’t think David Parker rejoining his alien family is funny, we can’t be friends.”

What did you think of Seven Sharp’s premiere last night? Is this what New Zealand needs to get whippersnappers—and advertisers—more interested in the news again, or is it the dumbing down of current affairs?

Your Verdict:

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