By GREG DIXON



The cameraman adjusts the banana and the two mandarins atop the television monitor. He's trying to get them just so, so a little experimentation is required as the four-minute ad break ticks away.



First he tries it with the banana's bend pointed up, then to the side, then with it down. He giggles when he thinks he's got it right.



Across the floor of the TVNZ studio, Flipside co-host Mike Puru looks on with what appears to be mild bemusement. The fruit is all part of an elaborate gag at his expense. It's National Penis Day and, well, this visual joke is going to leave little to the imagination.

Advertisement


Seated at the back of the studio, I ask whether they'd like me to starting filling out the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority right away. Puru and co-anchor Evie Ashton grin.



The ad break over, the TV2 youth news-and-views show opens its second segment with the camera, the fruit and Puru aligned in what might best be described as a fruit cocktail shot.



It's the sort of thing not likely to be broadcast from down the corridor, where One News is also going out live at the same time. But then, as the engaging Flipside team will tell you, that's rather the point.



Since launching in July last year, Flipside has garnered a loyal audience by doing exactly what most news shows try to avoid — having fun.



But the show stands as something of a brave decision by TV2, not just because the twice weekly programme gleefully breaks the usual TV news formula. Youth — and the show's target audience starts at 15 — aren't exactly keen consumers of what adults like to call current affairs.



Flipside has the tricky job of delivering news and information to an audience which has a pretty low boredom threshold for the same. Puru says it was quite hard when Flipside first aired. "People used to come up to me and say 'you're the [expletive] who took over from The Simpsons'.



"All of a sudden it made me realise what we're trying to do here, to take an audience that would traditionally watch The Simpsons when One and TV3 news were on and start giving them a news bulletin."



The show is a two-screen affair. While Flipside broadcasts at 6pm and a late edition on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the show's website (www.flipside.nzoom.com) is a non-stop concern providing an enhanced version of the show.

Advertisement


The website is incredibly important to the package. Producer Jude Anaru, a former bFM boss and Ice TV producer, was essentially given a blank sheet for Flipside, so to "recreate the news paradigm" she looked to the new modes of communication.



"What I hoped is that it would leave behind the traditional news sources and that we would have a new portal of information coming back to us through the internet. Right now it's a two-screen experience, but what I'm hoping is it's going to evolve into a revolution in news storytelling."



Anaru keeps in mind the web journalist Mike Drudge's maxim: "By virtue of a modem, news can become participation absolutely realised."



Technology is also key to another of the show's briefs: to provide a forum for discussion. Flipside viewers are encouraged to air their thoughts by text messaging or emailing the show, which runs their comments on issues using a bottom-of-the-screen ticker throughout the show.



It also provides instant audience feedback on each show. Research was initially sought to find out exactly what this picky audience was looking for.



"We never, in terms of our resources or intention, were going to be a one-stop [news] shop," Anaru says. "The thing that we had to be careful of was to stay away from doom and gloom and to tell their stories, find out what is their news. And to them, news is fashion, music, culture as well as headlines and a little bit of weather and sport."



Says Ashton: "It's reflecting what our target audience perceived as being news, which is different from TV One and TV3. And because we're not formulaic — though there's a structure to the show — our audiences don't necessarily place expectations on us like One and 3 have. So their job is more difficult in many ways."



Ashton says they will only cover the big issues when they can see a way into it from a youth angle. The power crisis, for example, was covered by a humorous story on how to save power.



Puru reckons they're in a unique position where they're allowed to say things that people are thinking but mainstream news wouldn't necessarily cover.



"The other night we did a poll about farting. The whole time I was reading that out I was thinking I can't see Richard and Judy or John and Carol doing a poll on whether farting is offensive or not."



That's not the only difference between Ashton and Puru and local TV's other news pairings.



Puru is a country boy, raised in the Southland town of Gore before going to Christchurch to broadcasting school. He's also a night-time radio jock who has been with The Edge radio station since 1995.



Ashton, who has also worked at TV3, has a BA in women's studies from Victoria University. As well, she has a half-finished book in her desk's bottom drawer.



Flipside's trio of reporters — Vanessa Clark, Oliver Sealy and Sacha McNeil — also have atypical CVs for TV newshounds. Only new assistant producer Anna Thomas, a long time Fair Go presenter, has been in journalism for any length of time.



The freshness of the talent is undoubtedly an advantage in the show's approach.



If, in general, the mainstream media looks for the negative in any story, Flipside's approach is, well, the flipside of that.



It looks for the positive — and the bananas of course — in daily news.