Sharp? If only

by Diana Wichtel / 07 February, 2013
For now, Seven Sharp is about as banal and generic as its set.
Seven Sharp hosts Jesse Mulligan, Ali Mau and Greg Boyed
Seven Sharp hosts Jesse Mulligan, Ali Mau and Greg Boyed: the mutual bag-fest is a crucial marketing strategy. Photo Michael Craig/Herald on Sunday

On the plus side, Seven Sharp lived up to its name by lurching on at seven, as promised, and by being as enjoyable as being kicked – sharply – in the head. Still, a show that began in the toilet – John Key’s toilet, to be fair – can only improve. Even that idea was hardly innovative television. Heather du Plessis-Allan is allowed into the Prime Minister’s office to be silly: this little ritual has been undertaken by everyone from Mikey Havoc and Newsboy to Paul Holmes over the decades. It worked with Helen Clark. The joke lay in seeing a normally rather ossified leader play the fool. John Key, not so much. He can be counted on to provide unintentional lols – he cheerfully toasted the success of Sharp Seven – but the visit was at such breakneck speed he hardly got a chance to show his chops as a comedy Prime Minister.

The item provided Greg Boyed with some banter fodder. “There’s something about the sign “Members Only”, then a shot of the urinal that makes me feel pretty juvenile. I apologise,” he quipped leadenly. Here was a chance for Ali Mau or Jesse Mulligan to … but no.

Du Plessis-Allan is a serious reporter, which may account for her pre-emptively defensive tone: “Oval Office or not, fluff piece or not, it’s still pretty special to get our cameras into the Prime Minister’s office,” she lectured. This highlighted the main problem with the first night. The show was way too much about the show. Here we are making fun of (yawn) Waitangi Day. Here we are using newfangled technology! Here we are making self-referential jokes about those bastard commentators. “We’re going to give … all those Seven Sharp critics just what they expected!” threatened du Plessis-Allan.

As with similar quality television such as The Ridges, the mutual bag-fest is a crucial marketing strategy. Or as a smirking Simon Dallow taunted at the end of the news, “You’re here to see what everyone is talking about, aren’t you?” But being even more featherweight than our worst nightmares may prove a short-lived game plan.

Then there were the serious bits. An item on a soldier who has suffered post-traumatic stress disorder was so giddily cut as to veer towards the accidentally comic. When the camera simply stayed on the face of the subject, there was genuine power, but apparently we can’t be trusted to pay attention without continual, vertiginous shots of people leaping from planes.

The attempted studio follow-up info-chat was excruciating. “We’re rubbish at seeking help,” noted Greg, of New Zealand men. “Be it night sweats and the cold shivers or a sore head.” What?

There are plenty of individually skilled people involved in Seven Sharp and, Lord knows, they’ve had plenty of time to rehearse. Maybe too much. A sort of crippling self-consciousness doesn’t make for television meant to be “relevant and irreverent”.

The concept seems to be based on The Project, from Australia’s Channel 10. That’s also a largely thinking-free zone but unafraid to fly by the seat of its pants, leading to some great live moments, as when Carrie Bickmore dropped the “c” bomb while trying to say “Qantas customers”. Her co-presenters weighed in usefully. Fun for all.

I don’t think many viewers are against the concept per se. Local current affairs long ago sent in the clowns. And there’s a three-word reply to the contention that news needs to be stuffy: The Daily Show – dangerously funny and sharp as a scalpel.

But at the moment Seven Sharp is about as banal and generic as its set, which insofar as it looks like anything, resembles a vacant family room in Herne Bay. Please let it get better. Meanwhile, break out the defibrillator, quick, and stand clear.

SEVEN SHARP, TV1, weeknights, 7.00pm.

Read more on Seven Sharp:
Diana Wichtel on the launch of Seven Sharp
Seven good things about Seven Sharp's debut. And seven less good
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