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Colin Hogg: Campbell limbering up for battle

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TV3 show still extraordinary and sometimes marvellous as it enters sharp end of the showdown at 7pm.

John Campbell is no longer the new boy on the block. Photo / Richard Robinson
John Campbell is no longer the new boy on the block. Photo / Richard Robinson

As we await, with shortened breath and sharpened axe, the arrival of Seven Sharp, the new TV One current affairs vehicle, Campbell Live, has lolloped back on to our screens, two weeks ahead of the competition.

And lollop is one of those words you might use for or about John Campbell, the show's lugubrious star, who has been on our screens in this spot (7pm, Monday to Friday, TV3) for an extraordinary - and sometimes marvellous - eight years.

Before that, he read 3News for seven years and before that he was a Radio New Zealand business reporter - escaping to that from his previous career as a share trader.

Which is to say that John Campbell has been with us for quite a while and though he retains his youthful vigour, insatiable professional curiosity and powerful hair, he turns 49 in a week or so and is, in fact, slipping out of his own demographic.

Still, as some other major players in television consider ways to dumb down and entertain up their news and current affairs shows, Campbell Live seems determined to keep on doing the decent thing.

Though what else could they do, given that the show has been left holding the journalistic high ground of local current affairs TV? Sensibly, they've decided to dig in.

Launching into 2013 two weeks ahead of Seven Sharp might have seemed the right thing to do, but these have been thin days for stories and Campbell Live started out serving up several stories they'd prepared earlier.

Campbell himself spent most of his first week lying back and linking the field stories from his big new furniture-free set. His hair was looking calmer than usual and so was he.

But there wasn't much to get excited about on his first show - a small bananas story about a couple seemingly living the high life in Fiji on ACC benefits. Followed by something on Kiwi firefighters helping out in Aussie and a new take on the perennial veges-on-verges story.

On Tuesday, they fell excitedly on the first decent story of the week - bird-loving money guru Gareth Morgan's anti-cat campaign - before Campbell himself finally stopped stalking around his studio and strapped on his guns to interview Steven Joyce about the Cabinet reshuffle.

But there wasn't anything particularly substantial until Thursday's lead item looking at the myth of the 100 per cent pure New Zealand. It was eight minutes chock full of experts being prodded to put an actual figure on our purity, which is nonsense, but the piece was witty and informative.

And, taking an average on the experts' opinions, New Zealand turns out to be 56.6 per cent pure - or thereabouts. Or not.

Of course the trouble with frontmen is that they can get in the way of the story. But the saving grace for Campbell is that he can be a masterful interviewer. He can also be a gushing fan boy and, occasionally, a honking heat-seeking prat.

Campbell Live has a strong reporting team, a nice instinct for a story and, increasingly, an issue.

They're just limbering up for an interesting year at 7pm. It might be that all they have to do is stay true to their roots.

Suddenly, after all this time, Campbell is not the new kid in town.

- NZ Herald

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