Paul Casserly 's Opinion

Paul Casserly watched too much TV as a child.

Paul Casserly: A binge and whinge about 2013

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Paul Casserly casts his eye over TV's highs and lows of 2013, including TVNZ's new current affairs show Seven Sharp.
Seven Sharp's take on current affairs has had some scathing reviews.
Seven Sharp's take on current affairs has had some scathing reviews.

So 2013 has come and gone like a street-kid with a spray can. It's left marks on us but what do they mean? Will they wash off? Should we chase it down and give it a good throttling or just shrug our shoulders and start glazing the ham?

Naturally the answer is all of the above. I think I spent most of the TV year bingeing and whingeing.

Firstly I'd like to consider the 'binge'. It's oft repeated that the novel was once feared as a killer of conversation, radio was seen as the end of reading and TV was set to kill off the cinema, and who knows, maybe the iPhone camera will finish off Obama if not the Danish Prime Minister.

Things change yet we are still mostly watching TV on something that looks like a TV and we are still watching way too much of it. Aside from the almighty MySky box, more and more of us have signed up to services like Netflix and many of us still crack out the old DVD box set for a good binge.

Aided by the explosion in streaming and downloading it became easy in 2013 to indulge in TV as if we were devouring a novel. Validation that being a binger is intellectually okay came via Booker prize-winner Eleanor Catton, who cited box-set favourite Deadwood as an inspiration.

For me, the year was a blur of never-ending feasts of Danish delights like the brilliant political thriller Borgen and the more usual serial killer plots of Broen (aka The Bridge - don't waste your time with the American version) and Forbrydelsen (aka The Killing).

There were killer American shows that I gorged on too, like House of Cards (via Netflix) and the incredible third season of The Killing via Soho. I'm currently happily making my way through multiple episode snacks of TV2's superb Orange is The New Black, which I have stored up for lean times, like some sad televisual chipmunk.

But 2013 was also the year of the whinge. America's Cup Commentator Martin Tasker caused much of it especially as the campaign began to sour. Still, there was something refreshingly honest about his impersonation of a wounded Labrador.

But the most intense whingeing of the year was inspired by a show called Seven Sharp.

It was seen by some as the end of current affairs in New Zealand right from the moment the day-glow graphics flew about quoting supposedly hip words like "tweet", "Facebook" and even "global warming". The first two topics got a good airing as the show progressed, the impending weather based Armageddon less so.

But then the show's remit was to entertain more than inform. The lecturing would be left to Campbell Live, and it was, granting his show its best year yet, and, for a while at least, record breaking ratings. We were told that we should have been happy now that we had a clear choice between two different types of shows. But the moaning didn't let up.

It wasn't that Close Up, driven most recently by Mark Sainsbury, was a deeply loved and revered show, but it felt like the sort of thing that the state broadcaster should be doing.

If something big happened that day, it would be dealt with at 7pm. Tune in now and you're more likely to come across Clarke Gayford telling you about the time he went fishing.

Still, a fair chunk of the old audience eventually warmed to this interloper, and, after a ratings dive, things have picked up. Its success is down to the warmth and naturalness of hosts Alison Mau and Jesse Mulligan, and some solid stories that hide within the shaky structure.

You may have noticed that critics frequently give handjobs to TV3 while giving TVNZ the bash. That's just the way it is. State TV is always held to higher standard. This made Seven Sharp an even easier target and proved fertile ground for much humour, particularly at the hands of Steve Braunias in Metro, whose running gag about the ever-changing lineup was one of the most reliable laughs of the year.

Perhaps it has drawn so much flak because there's still a popular notion of what state funded TV should provide. Seven Sharp seems to embody the rise of the marketing department over the news department. Worse still, it seems as if it is cruising for the most lucrative demographic while the corpse of TVNZ 7 is still wrapped in plastic in the boot. An all the while it is giving the middle finger to anyone over 60.

To some it seems that an old ideal has been defeated and now the victors, aided by Mulligan and Mau and **insert name here** are dancing on the grave marked 'current affairs' and asking us to Facebook them a picture of our cat in return.

But credit where credit is due. At its best, the show succeeds as a congenial friend. A lighthearted sorbet after a stodgy dinner of grim news - even if most of it is sport and weather. Sometimes it makes us laugh, or cry. If you can survive the banter you are often rewarded with stories as good as anything on Campbell Live, thanks to a line up of talented reporters like Gill Higgins, Heather du Plessis-Allen, Dean Butler and the delightfully improbable Greg Stubbings.

But at its worst, especially on days when big stories break, it brings to mind words like "fiddling" and "while" and "Rome" and "burns". If something big is going down, you'd be mad not turn your dial to TV3.

A woman at my bus stop has come up with the best description of the show I've heard to date: "There's too many of them, everyone is too nice, and they talk too much."

History suggests that a change in the political landscape can turn down the knob marked commercial and turn up the one marked public.

Some believe that the election in 2014 will herald a moment of change, and I note that Labour's broadcasting spokesman Chris Faafoi has been making some promising noises. Mind you - given the delights of MMP - Colin Craig could also become the next Minister for Broadcasting.

Which raises an interesting question. I wonder if he's seen Forgotten Silver?

Paul Casserly

Paul Casserly watched too much TV as a child.

It began with Dr Who, in black and white, when it was actually scary. The addiction took hold with Chips, in colour. He made his mum knit a Starsky and Hutch cardigan. Later, Twin Peaks would blow what was left of his mind. He’s been working in radio and TV since the 1990s and has an award in his pool room for Eating Media Lunch.

Read more by Paul Casserly

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