New panel show replacing Campbell shows early promise.

What with all the chaos, it's easy to forget that TV3's news division, as well as currently providing the country's best drama, also continues to function on a day-to-day basis. The staff put out bulletins and online pieces for Newshub, deliver often extraordinary investigations and longform interviews on The Nation and now the The Hui. Sometimes, they even launch new products!

Such was the case on Friday when, just an hour or so before news leaked that Hilary Barry was leaving MediaWorks, one of the most problematic holes in the channel's schedule was finally filled on a long-term basis. The Friday Story represents the end of the year-long saga following the end of Campbell Live, which has seen the critical lead-in to the channel's flagship Friday night line-up filled with a succession of no-hopers. First it was Road Cops, then the unfairly maligned Come Dine with Me, then Lip Sync Battle - a choice which had the air of a panicked answer blurted out as the timer ticked down on a game show. Viewers ran for the hills in horror, with fewer than 100,000 watching, a brutal platform for Jono and Ben and the rest of the comedy brigade to try to build on.

April 22's episode of Road Madness will go down in some sad annal of television history - the last of the stinkers - before the following week the channel finally bandaged up its open sore with The Friday Story.

It's a panel show, fronted in alternating weeks by Story hosts Heather du Plessis-Allan and Duncan Garner. They're joined by a trio of guests to digest the week's news, around a nice round table. Occasionally they'll cut away to vox pops or a piece of stunt journalism, but the show will live and die on the quality of its panel and the chemistry between them.


The first show was made up of The Edge's Megan Annear, TV3 political editor Paddy Gower and visiting Australian comic Felicity Ward, and hosted by Garner.

First up was the decision by the chief censor to ban a couple of Wicked Campers vans from the road because of their offensive slogans. Annear and Ward expressed sadness and dismay at the fact the slogans banned were dull drug references rather than the monstrously sexist nightmares daubed on other vans. Then Gower came in with the hammer: "S#$tbox vans, s#$tbox slogans and a s#$tbox company," he yelled. "Get these Aussies out of here."

So it wasn't exactly earnestly conducted intellectual debate, but it was fun. The section was only let down by a bizarre stunt featuring a reporter tagging up a Wicked Campers van they'd rented for the day. Only, they weren't actually tagging it - they had a sheet of paper over it. Which seems to defeat the purpose: why not just deface it and dare those grubby types at Wicked Campers to take them to court?

Ward is an electric talent, and talked frankly and winningly about both sex and voting rights. Annear cut through the risible "controversy" about whether Beyonce's Lemonade was somehow a publicity stunt by pointing out, correctly, that "every song is about personal experience - Careless Whisper by George Michael is about cheating".

The moves away from the studio were less successful: vox pops were as bad as they always are, and a section on the best time of day to have sex featured a reporter jauntily asking "If you're in a rush to get to work, why not try it on with a fellow co-worker?" Which is a question the show should have known better than to pose.

Back in the studio things start to get weird. They're talking about Kriss Kross for some reason, and Gower gets extremely excited: "Zits all over my face. Undercut haircut. Wiggedawiggedawiggeda wack," he yells. "Jump, jump." As a Gower-phile I love it, a lot. But I'm not sure it's good television.

The Friday Story will be, though. Garner and du Plessis-Allan are irrepressible and mischievous enough to give it the required energy, and in time they'll find panellists who disagree more frequently: the only real flaw of the in-studio component was the amount of nodding. The show represents the solution to a long-running problem, and another promising news product launched. It's a great pity that it was so soon overshadowed by the latest episode of the channel's off-screen drama.