3rd Degree's promise of "a new kind of current affairs" was obviously some waffle dreamt up by the people who market the show rather than make it. So it's probably an unfair stick to beat them with. Needless to say this turned out to be hollow promise. And needless to say, I am not alone in picking up that stick.
Things weren't helped by the show's TV promo's in which the hosts, Duncan Garner and Guyon Espiner, try to channel Woodward and Bernstein with a script provided by the Shopping Channel. Again, blame the marketing department; the important thing is to get bums on seats and fingers on remotes. Even on CNN the promos are uniformly embarrassing.
What we got on the actual show was good old-fashioned commercial current affairs. It was a 60 Minutes reboot, and as such Melanie Reid was the perfect weapon to roll out to fire the opening salvo.
Her story about Daniel Clout, the under siege car clamper, was an absolute cracker.
This man had seemingly wound up the entire populace of the Taranaki. Every one hated him including the police, who were depicted as the bad guys of the story. Reid would make a great defence lawyer, although attack is her preferred method of delivery. And attack she did, thanks in no small part to Mr Clout's hidden cameras and the appalling reactions he garnered from conducting his appalling trade. It was like a reverse version of Police 10/7. It was a match made in TV heaven.
I've come to see Reid as a journalistic Howitzer. Having already dealt a near death-blow to the ACC with last year's bombshell, she now has the New Plymouth Police and Mayor wishing they were never born.
There's no denying the entertainment value of the escapade but it was chock full of unanswered questions: Where were the car-park owners? Did they approve of Clout's actions? Did they get a cut and if so how much? Given this was all about the legality of clamping what do the legal experts reckon? And so on.
The trade off seems to be that to make a story with the impact and entertainment value found in much of Reid's work, there is no room for shades of grey. Despite being broadcast in colour, modern current affairs rates best when it's protagonists are in glorious black and white.
The real find of the piece was the spirited pensioner who went ballistic after finding her car clamped. She spat on Mr Clout after giving him a good seeing to with her handbag, "it felt like it had a brick in it" cried the clamper. The lady who clouted Clout, needs her own show. If you're looking for a "new kind of current affairs" look no further. Finally we have found someone with the balls to wipe the floor with Winston Peters.
Perhaps the Anna Guy story was the "the new kind of journalism" we were promised?
This was when 3rd Degree stopped being 60 Minutes and turned into Woman's Day - which is not an uncommon gear change for the genre. We first see Anna Guy driving off to her new life and singing along with the radio "We built this city on rock and roll." (Didn't Mike Moore do that on Frontline?)
The story is all foreplay as we wait for the inevitable "Did he do it?" This comes at the end when Garner and Espiner put 'the hard word' on Anna. Does she reckon Ewen did it? She couldn't say, some days she does but then, not really. "If I knew we'd all know" was as good as it got. "But your mum thinks he did it doesn't she?" pushed Garner. But there was to be no "yes" or "no". It was clear that she wasn't here to dredge up the past. She was here to enjoy the strange fame that has been bestowed upon her by the tragedy. She was here to enjoy the silver lining. She was here for the paycheck.
Then we see Anna 'trying' out as a newsreader in an 'audition' in which she reads out things about Gaza and the weather. Did they really think they would discover the next Hillary Pankhurst? (I know it's Barry but I've had a mental block ever since Judith Kirk became Judith Dobson. These people should realise that they are married to us the viewers, but don't get me started.)
It will be interesting to see how they manage to make the Anna Guy saga hold up as a continuing series now that we know she wont be spilling any thoughts about the guilt or otherwise of her husband. The mouse from The Ridge's may prove useful here.
The debut has been accurately picked over by more professional media nit-pickers than me. Most seemed to like it with reservations directed at the Anna Guy segment. But there are haters. Brian Edwards was not impressed, writing on his blog that it was "an appalling waste of two of the most incisive political minds this country has ever seen."
The clamping story also generated some comedy via the online community: "Glad I don't live in the North Island," said one, in reference to the clamping craze, which apparently hasn't caught on down south. "The Mayor is puce," said another, who was obviously watching as Harry Duynhoven squirmed as Reid turned the screws.
The show has already provided good fodder for National Radio's Media Watch and will no doubt generate some debate on Russell Brown's media soapbox, Media 3.
Like Mr Clout the clamper, these shows like to point out the signs and lay down the letter of the law. Luckily both programmes do it so well that you forgive the high horsing and tut-tutting. And both shows serve an increasingly important function, often providing the background and detail that was missing from the initial broadcast.
Brown is a prolific and respected media commentator and his show Media 3 (nee 7) was one of the flagships of TVNZ7. It's now on TV3, after Nightline on Wednesdays.
On a recent episode, Broadcasting Minister Craig Foss turned up to be told off for being stingy with funding for local broadcasting. Brown wanted to know when NZ On Air would get some more money, noting that their budget has been static for four years now. The Minister pointed out that the police also have a capped budget as has Radio New Zealand. "But your pay has gone up hasn't it?" chided Brown. Naturally this was something that was beyond the minister's control. It was possibly also beside the point, but it did at least create a micro-pause in Mr Foss's well-oiled delivery.
There followed some of the usual blather about broadcasters needing to find "different revenue streams" and a great deal of excitement about "delivering content on multiple platforms."
"What is the vision?" asked Brown. "For taxpayer content to be accessible as much as possible" replied the minister.
More revealing was the feature of the night, a story bemoaning the lack of local TV content aimed at kids, specifically in the area of drama. We were told that although there's heaps of American made stuff aimed at the tamariki, there are stuff-all local shows that feature kiwi characters and culture. A 2007 study apparently showed that NZ came second to last in a list of countries when it came to home grown content aimed at brats. "That's one below Kenya." (Kenya obviously being shorthand for a country that's meant to suck even harder than we do. In New Zealand we might use the words "Palmerston North.")
Again the minister was upbeat about this sobering statistic. Brown brought up the old days when we made lots of kid-friendly dramas like Hunters Gold. Having picked up a few tips from his boss, the minister was pretty relaxed about it all and spun the negative into a positive, suggesting that today's kids can enjoy that show too, by getting it out on DVD.
3rd Degree: (TV3 Wednesday, 8.30pm)
Mediawatch: (National Radio, 9.05am 10.12pm Sundays)
Media 3: (TV3, 11.20pm Wednesday)