Three has fired the first shot in the battle for 7pm current affairs supremacy, with The Project back to air three weeks ahead of TVNZ 1 rival Seven Sharp.
The Project returns to screen on Monday night - with producers revealing to the Herald its guest panelists during week one include PM Jacinda Ardern.
Across at TVNZ 1, Seven Sharp will not return with its new-look hosting duo - widely tipped to include Hilary Barry - for another three weeks.
As the February 4 return date nears, TVNZ remains tight-lipped over who will be fronting the show after the surprise resignation of co-hosts Mike Hosking and Toni Street.
An announcement would be made closer to the first broadcast of Seven Sharp, a TVNZ spokeswoman said.
They have similarly not yet said who will be anchoring other flagship shows this year - including Breakfast, which will need a new co-cost if Barry takes up the fronting duties on Seven Sharp.
And as the wait continues for confirmation of who will host Seven Sharp, there is speculation Radio Hauraki host Jeremy Wells, who has graced Kiwi screens as Newsboy on Mikey Havoc's comedy show in the late 90s and again in Eating Media Lunch in the early 2000s, is among those being considered to co-host.
And if Barry does make the move, that leaves a vacancy at Breakfast which she hosts with Jack Tame. Those being considered to replace her are understood to include Melissa Stokes and Jenny May Coffin.
Wells and Barry didn't respond to requests for comment and the Weekend Herald could not reach Coffin for comment.
Stokes declined to comment.
The Project, co-hosted by Jesse Mulligan, Kanoa Lloyd and Josh Thomson, will return to screens next week featuring a guest in the panel's 'fourth chair', with one of those taking the spot being Ardern.
"Our first week covers everything from chatting with A-Listers such as Irish actor Liam Neeson and English comedian Jimmy Carr, and catching up with author and comedian David Downs to hear about his journey on the anniversary of his cancer diagnosis," producer Jon Bridges said.
Media commentator and former TV frontman Bill Ralston said while it was interesting that The Project was launching well ahead of Seven Sharp, he didn't know if that would lead to a long-term ratings spike over its TVNZ rivals.
Viewers were likely to switch over to Seven Sharp to see what the new hosts were like, flip-flopping between shows before settling on which they preferred, Ralston said.
"Really until daylight savings go off [we won't] see where the audiences end up. It really won't be apparent for four or five months who's winning," he said.
Ralston believed there was enough inhouse talent at TVNZ to replace Hosking and Street on Seven Sharp without the network having to poach from Three.
"But I may be going down completely wrong track by even mentioning journalists."
TVNZ may want a lighter, more entertainment focused show to rival the Project, which is heavy on humour.
"It's a matter of whether TVNZ management decide to keep it as a news and current affairs style program ... with more news focus, or whether they make it some kind of light entertainment show."
Looking further afield, it was possible TVNZ could try to poach RNZ broadcasters like John Campbell or Morning Report's Guyon Espiner, Ralston said.
"John Campbell and Hillary Barry, that's an interesting combo."
Campbell was loyal to his RNZ producer Pip Keane, however, and it was unlikely he'd move without her, Ralston said. Keane is a 7pm veteran - previously producing the hugely successful Holmes Show on TV1 and Campbell Live for Three.
Campbell did not respond to a request for comment.