Following the return of Seven Sharp this week, surely tens of people across the country are now tearing their hair out trying to choose their 7pm current affairs allegiance. Do you settle into the comfortable two-hander or the pacey panel format? Broadcasters or comedians? Pink background or blue background? Funny videos of people slipping over or Jeremy Wells making a cake in a novelty apron? Never fear, I watched Monday's episode of Seven Sharp AND The Project to see what each is bringing to the 7pm slot in 2018.
It's no secret that The Project is a much, much pacier show – cramming in segments, special guests, live interviews, sketches and viral videos. Conversely, Seven Sharp gives stories room to breathe – an advantage for tackling gnarly news stories, but tiresome when applied to the wrong subject. Monday night's segment about an extreme rock climbing company was 67 years too long at just over four minutes. Over on The Project, a brief, live interview with Julie Anne Genter about tackling sexual harassment felt miles closer to earth, followed by an incredible workplace harassment tutorial featuring Michele A'Court.
So rock climbing might not be the most gripping 7pm story, but what of our new Seven Sharp hosts? Unsurprisingly, Barry was funny, warm and completely back in her element at the tail-end of the day. There's no safer pair of hands to guide you through that frightening, uncertain void between the 6pm news and the rest of your evening. As for Wells? He'll take a bit more getting used to. For a man who spent so long destroying the tropes of studio newsroom, it's jarring to see him on the other side of the coin. If you are hanging out for a reheated Eating Media Lunch, you'll be left going hungry.
Even if his past chaos is not fully realised, Wells' deadpan presence still adds glimmers of subversiveness to Seven Sharp that wasn't there before. For example, he randomly swapped the word 'christmas' to 'chrissy', a wry nod to the dorky middle New Zealand lexicon that he has so skillfully skewered throughout his career. From the shonky Waitangi Day race relations cake – an obvious EML descendant – to signing off with Holmes' "those were our people today, that's Seven Sharp tonight," he's trying his best to wriggle in what remains the same rigid format.
Save for the new hosts, a ferociously pink background and an aloof lack of capitalisation, you could still cut Mike and Toni between the segments and we'd easily be back in 2017. The big difference is that it's really lovely to see a woman on Seven Sharp who is able to say more than two words before getting interrupted by a man boasting about his new astroturf. Seeing Jeremy and Hilary respectfully share the banter – just as Mulligan and Lloyd have been doing on Three for the past year – only works to highlight just how odd the previous dynamic was.
But the banter on Seven Sharp isn't all that it could be – yet. Where The Project was able to flit between four different hosts with ease – and even to the studio audience who always seem to laughing their heads off – the silence in the Seven Sharp studio became deafening at times. Wells lets his offbeat jokes hang in the air just like Thomson does over on Three, but with no studio audience to titter nervously and punctuate the awkwardness, Barry has to pick up the gauntlet everytime. Luckily she's a complete pro, but it still feels like they could have guests or something in the studio to liven things up when the energy slips.
When scrabbling to decide which 7pm show you'll give your precious time, keep in mind that nearly a year ago the shambolic first episode of The Project aired with a bevy of botched jokes and a segment about meth addiction that awkwardly played twice for no reason. Just like Seven Sharp, they were wrestling with new talent combinations, very big shoes to fill in their predecessors and a pile of public pressure. Considering how far they've come, I can only imagine where Barry, Wells and their cake-making skills will be in a year's time.