Calum Henderson writes about (mainly terrible) television.

Review: Intelligent offerings give Duke a sporting chance

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Elton John and James Corden's Late Late Show duet was not the testosterone-laden start Duke's branding hinted at. Photo / Supplied
Elton John and James Corden's Late Late Show duet was not the testosterone-laden start Duke's branding hinted at. Photo / Supplied

TVNZ's new "male-skewed entertainment channel" Duke finally launched on Sunday night with British talk-show host James Corden and Elton John singing a tender karaoke version of Your Song in Corden's car.

Not exactly the relentless onslaught of testosterone many had been led to expect from the channel's branding and social media, which made it seem like Freeview channel 13 (Sky channel 23) was being converted into a poorly ventilated man cave with a big old BLOKES ONLY sign nailed to the door.

TVNZ's Two and a Half Men. Photo / Supplied
TVNZ's Two and a Half Men. Photo / Supplied

In fact, while Duke still boasts a proudly "male-skewed" lineup of two-star action movies, extreme sports and Two and a Half Men, there are encouraging early signs that it might not be nearly as bad as it first seemed.

The show that kicked it all off on Sunday night, The Late Late Show with James Corden, looks to be the channel's trump card, anchoring its weeknight lineup at 7 o'clock - an early early time slot for a Late Late Show, but one which could turn out to be a stroke of programming genius.

Monday night's episode (which aired last week in the US) started with Corden and his crew going door-to-door trying to find a house in which to film the talk show. "This is the worst show ever," the host giggled as he stumbled down the street with camera crew in tow.

The line between "worst show ever" and hugely entertaining TV can be thin, though, and Corden managed to keep just on the right side of it.

After inviting a trio of fairly big-name guests (Colin Farrell, Wanda Sykes and Demi Lovato) into his new mates' house, the unlikely highlight of the show was a game of celebrity hide-and- seek - ridiculous and way funnier than it had any right to be.

Corden's biggest hit since taking over the Late Late Show last year has been the equally simple-yet-effective Carpool Karaoke, where he drives an artist around and they belt out some of their hits.

It's a bold move putting him head-to-head with the likes of Shortland Street and Seven Sharp, but his existing profile - Carpool Karaoke segments rack up tens of millions of views on YouTube - means the Late Late Show could manage to carve out its own audience in the hotly contested timeslot.

Duke currently broadcasts only six hours a day and still seems very much a work in progress.

The lineup has its fair share of filler - nightly repeats of Two and a Half Men and reality shows like Bondi Tattoo Crew which were clearly unwanted by TVNZ's mainstream channels (interestingly, the only other place you'll find tattoo reality shows is Sky's heavily female-skewed TLC).

The Indestructibles. Photo / Supplied
The Indestructibles. Photo / Supplied

But this filler seems pretty well balanced with more worthwhile additions - the comedy lineup with acclaimed shows like Brooklyn 99 looks reasonably solid, and there are hidden gems like Sunday night's The Indestructibles.

The British show takes a troupe of personable stunt lads and sets them a challenge which they have to plan how to complete each week - a surprisingly engrossing combination of Jackass, Mythbusters and Grand Designs.

As an entertainment channel, Duke is probably the equal of our other male-skewed free-to-air channel Four, but it has a big point of difference in its growing stable of free-to-air live sport.

The channel will absorb the NFL and AFL games which were previously being shown on TVNZ's sports pop-up, and has secured a weekly live NBA game every Wednesday.

Hopefully it's just the tip of a free-to-air sports iceberg.

- NZ Herald

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