Paul Casserly examines the performances of several news networks as the election reaches its climax.

The nightly news during the election foreplay stage is always arousing. And for this election, it has been verging on pornographic. We've had revelations of Dirty Politics, complete with it' ministerial scalp and the emergence of Kim Dotcom and Colin Craig as improbable power brokers. And yet again, the prospect of Winston Peters clutching the very baubles of our national undercarriage.

No wonder our TV journalists are acting like pigs in muck. The well-timed 'piece to camera', with either John Key or David Cunliffe walking in the background, has been perfected like never before. Imagine the mechanics of the set up as Tova or Corin, or some other "puffed up little s***" coordinates with their camera operators to find the optimum moment to start talking.

"Key's in front of the Subway now, I'll cue you when he hits Postie Plus ..." Especially good are the ones where the politicians are in ear-shot but pretend not to hear.

And who doesn't love a nodding yes-man or "henchman" standing next to a politician in mid rant?


Campbell and Hosking played blinders in their respective leaders debates. Even the normally pedestrian Q&A and The Nation have been on fire, while Backbenches has hit a feverish pitch.

Maori TV's Native Affairs and Media Take have likewise found new gears, and now radio's Sean Plunket has returned to TV just in time to chew the last pieces of flesh off the election bone, on Primetime with Sean Plunket (9.30pm, Friday, Prime). The format is that of a studio debate, via a panel. Old School.

Last week's show was a round table discussion about the transport situation in Auckland. Cue footage of peak hour traffic and some happy people who are lucky enough to live near the rail network.

Julie Anne Genter, a Green MP, reckoned that the so called "holiday highway" subsidises drivers, just as much as train customers are subsidised. Which is presumably quite a lot.

Ever the creative, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee invoked child poverty in his defence of the northern motorway that's due to be extended, as "there is a great opportunity to grow the economy up there".

Cameron Pitches of the 'Campaign for Better Public Transport' was having none of it. "It's a toll road so that doesn't make economic sense for people living in Northland".

Naturally, Ken Shirley (CEO Road Transport Forum) liked the road, saying things like "connectivity is crucial". He described something called the 'hockey stick', a trucking-themed diagram that links Whangarei with Auckland and Tauranga. So there they were, the road junkies and the train-aholics.

The Auckland City rail loop is something everyone wants, theoretically at least. It will "eventually be a good idea", said Brownlee and Shirley. "Build it and they will come", reckoned Genter and Pitches. Facts flew through the air, some made sense. Only 30 per cent of Aucklanders work in the CBD, and "only 4 per cent of those use public transport", reckoned Shirley. The economies that built highways, like Greece and Spain, "haven't been rewarded with economic booms", countered Genter. And so on.

It was entertaining enough but was it illuminating? Perhaps it cast the light of a cell phone onto the door of understanding, just enough to get the key in. Which is to say not a lot, but yes, it's better than nothing.

In part two of the show the politicians remained with Plunket to "review" the week in politics. Asked if he was excited by the prospect of a Conservative Party win, Brownlee observed that National now seems to have a lot of friends and then made a crack about the Greens sniffing around and seeking a possible coalition with the Nats. Genter used the words "highly unlikely". They laughed as they talked over each other and disputed each other's 'facts', and then, it was "time for the break".

After the break, the politicians had gone and Sean said goodbye. So a sneaky last break with no content, like those codas employed by Letterman and The Daily Show.

On the radio Plunket can play the part of the redneck and is not averse to putting a bit of bully into his pulpit, but his TV persona is more measured. His ability at directing the traffic of disagreement is impressive; after all, keeping that balance between debate and debacle is what keeps us watching. Facilitating an argument that is clearly too complex and nuanced for the time constraints of TV is possibly a mugs game, but it is definitely an art form. And like the others who have mastered it, Plunket plays circus ringmaster and journalistic inquisitor with equal measure.

This week

* Don't miss the beautiful and funny French film Le Harve, which screens on Rialto on Monday night at 8.30pm. (Also Friday at 9.30pm). I'd call it delightful but there's nothing twee about this piece of gentle genius from the great Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki. Rialto is also currently showing the classy but grim Southcliffe at the moment (Sunday's 8.30pm with repeats, Thursday at 7.35pm). This show is brilliant and if you watch you'll agree that lead actor Sean Harris deserved the Bafta he took home for it. Talk about someone inhabiting a role.

* The final season of Boardwalk Empire starts this week too, (Soho, Mondays 8.30pm) filling the gap left by the wonderful Leftovers, a show that is sure to pop up on many 'best of the year' lists.

* Monday will also be a good night to watch The Paul Henry Show, as the programme will be covering Kim Dotcom's "Moment of Truth" town hall meeting earlier in the evening.

* Season five of the ever-dependable The Good Wife starts Tuesday night on TV3 (11.10pm).

* The final Vote 2014 leaders debate kicks off on TV1 at 7pm Wednesday, with ringmaster Hosking.

* 7DAYS and Jono & Ben go election crazy on Friday night. 7Days with a special featuring the comedic genius of Colin Craig, Paula Bennett and Te Ururoa Flavell, while Jono & Ben promise a "Live Election Results Show",

* Favourite ad this week. The Mitre 10 one with the Rooster.

* Where are you getting your election news from? Post your comments below ...