Mike Hosking and Toni Street have the biggest audience by far of any current affairs show on air. So why don't they make the most of it?

"Stress. For some people it's a daily issue," says Mike Hosking cheerily. "Not for me of course - I love life."

That's the paradox of our most prominent broadcaster right there. Like Paul Henry, he's relentlessly positive about this country, and the life it affords him. But unlike Henry, who was always cracking himself up, Hosking is more about sighing wearily and meta-complaining about people who complain.

He did a really good and almost emotional meta-complain last night. "Why don't you naff off and get a life and stop boring me with your dumb ideas," he said, after revelations the Auckland Council has asked a home owner to remove a private swing from public property. It was a pantomime of outrage, ire as scripted by Gavin Strawhan.

Mike Hosking and Toni Street host the television programme, Seven Sharp. Photo / Seven Sharp Facebook
Mike Hosking and Toni Street host the television programme, Seven Sharp. Photo / Seven Sharp Facebook

It's far from certain whether his ancient vocabulary - on the first night he talked about Boston buns and told Toni "cool your jets" - is an affectation to appeal to TVNZ1's aged audience, or just a nostalgic throwback to the good old Muldoon-era New Zealand society he so misses. Either way, it's not the way anyone else under 70 talks.

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So Hosking: he's very famous and very weird and has bot-like opinions on everything on earth. And yet it's brilliant to have him back on TV. Both because he's a wildly funny kook, at least in this context. And because, at least on its second show of the year, Seven Sharp was, quite unexpectedly, a fun show to watch.

The first episode was like a throat being cleared - segments made in a post-holiday haze, no one quite sure exactly what they should be doing. Sheep were sheared, litter was dropped, lunchboxes critiqued. Despite the year being dominated by Trump and the weekend by a number of legitimate stories out of Waitangi, neither was mentioned in either episode.

This is a shame. Both because Seven Sharp still has by far the biggest audience for any current affairs show and could do more for it. And because Mike Hosking is, for all his unselfconscious biases, actually a very good and fair political interviewer (when he's not playing commentator). His ZB show features a bunch of very direct interviews - it's a shame that we seem unlikely to see any of that here.

Instead what we have is politics at the basic and personal level, where bureaucrats enforce bylaws and decisions made are distant enough from those who make them to have no taint of responsibility.

First show back for 2017 & it's going to be a good one! Join Mike & Toni at 7pm, TVNZ 1.

Posted by Seven Sharp on Monday, 6 February 2017

This isn't without value by any means: Wednesday night's show drilled into the vast differences in the price of petrol, wondering why it's so much cheaper in Levin than central Auckland. This really matters to people: Collins is talking of an inquiry and if enough Seven Sharp viewers get tweaked then inflated margins could tighten nationwide and save the country millions in aggregate.

Surrounding these correspondent pieces is the homely editorialising of Hosking and Toni Street, his indefatigable co-host, who softens his capricious pronouncements and gives us hugely entertaining glimpses into his odd life and preoccupations.

Tiger turf and cleanliness - that sort of thing. She also helps tease out his mangled dad's understanding of pop culture: he confused The Weeknd for both Little Mix and Little Mix for Atomic Kitten, which is pretty amazing.

All this makes Street sound like the junior partner, and she is - both by design and by dint of Hosking's lack of interest in her opinions in anything but a patronisingly bemused way.

But she's integral to the show's success - truly in touch with what middle New Zealand might think and feel, which helps Seven Sharp be what it functionally is: comforting company, some unthreatening talking points, every evening.

Which is well and good and more valuable than it might appear. It's just the overall "what me, worry?" sentiment is just a little too soporific, and if they were less afraid of politics and put the host's undeniable skills to better work then it might be more things to more people. And then we'd all be better off.

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