There is, if you’re desperate, nothing wrong with having breakfast for dinner. It’s lighter, there’s less to chew on, and it’s cheaper, too. That is what TVNZ found after it turned Seven Sharp into a post-news lifestyle guide, with its many one-interview-with-an-expert stories, helmed by Hilary Barry and Jeremy Wells on a big, soft couch.
Meanwhile, Three’s The Project was more of a long lunch, a tag-team-presented, big-production buffet of the serious and the entertaining. Until, that is, Warner Bros Discovery decided that making a good show to dwindling broadcast audience ratings while paying a licence fee to the format’s Australian inventors wasn’t worthwhile.
Next year, Three’s 7pm slot will be filled by a new show fronted by Ryan Bridge, until now a co-host of the network’s AM morning show and the tallest beard in NZ TV. The show is yet unnamed.
“Bridge” would certainly be a gift to the nation’s headline writers. Though “Bridge Live” does sound like a worrying warning to motorway traffic. Though using his first name could lead to some nifty regular features – on whistle-blowers (“Braving Public Ryan”) and global warming (“Saving Climate Ryan”). No doubt the consultants – the ones who made Patrick Gower “Paddy” for Paddy Gower Has Issues – are focus-grouping it right now.
The news of Bridge taking it to primetime came as part of WBD’s 2024 line-up announcement for Three.
The new show is described as a mix of interviews and panels, with Bridge saying we should “expect lively debate, context around the day’s big stories and both local and international guests”.
Says Sarah Bristow, senior director news at WBD ANZ, “We’ll challenge, provoke, entertain, spark emotion and drive a live conversation with our audience. The show will be gutsy, courageous, and won’t shy away from the hard topics.”
All of which seems to be pitching it as a gruntier, shoutier, newsier option to the middle-class comfort-zone of Seven Sharp. In theory, that’s going to make life interesting for the producers of our weekend morning political interview shows.
But it’s a rare talent who can sustain as the solo face of a daily half-hour current affairs show. Paul Holmes and John Campbell did it, with more experience, in what were different eras.
Three seems to be putting its faith in Bridge to become the next one. But a prediction: “Bridge Live” will be – or will become – a half-hour AM in the late pm. It is, after all, a cheaper and less cheerful replacement for The Project. That’s all it needs to be.
The dwindling audiences watching live TV at 7pm, even the hard-core newsers, are now used to being infotained in that slot. True, we have a government insisting on turning the clock back to a time when Holmes ruled the airwaves. So, maybe the Bridge show is catching the retrospective vibe of the times.
In other news …
Among Three’s other newsy announcements was that Patrick/Paddy Gower would be returning in his “On” and “Issues” formats. The latter again will be featuring Karen O’Leary, winner of “Entertainment Presenter of the Year” at this week’s NZ TV Awards, where Gower also picked up the News and Current Affairs Presenter.
Gower is taking on the climate crisis in another of his specials, while other local Three 2024 documentary offerings include true-crime series Black Coast Vanishings, about the disappearances of six people at Piha, the Auckland west coast beach.
Comedian Dai Henwood takes his forthrightness about his stage-four cancer to a doco entitled Live and Let Dai.
Meanwhile, in the entertainment department …
Three has always been a risk-taker with its local comedy shows and dramas – albeit ones funded by tax dollars through NZ On Air. Its local comedy crown might be a little dented, but 7 Days, New Zealand Today and 2023 newbie Guy Montgomery’s Guy Mont-Spelling Bee are returning next year.
Drama-wise in 2023, Three’s Far North was the best local mini-series by some distance. Next year, the channel has a couple of possible new contenders for that title.
Friends Like Her is a drama about a surrogacy deal going wrong between two friends living in post-earthquake Kaikōura. It’s written by novelist and screenwriter Sarah-Kate Lynch, and has a cast headed by Morgana O’Reilly.
Madam is a based-on-a-true-story dramedy about an American woman who started an “ethical brothel” (“hello, is that the Overseas Investment Office?”) in Whangārei. It has Australian star Rachel Griffiths in the lead, with Martin Henderson in support in what must be something of a change from his Virgin River series on Netflix.
What might be the most risk-taking of Three’s offerings, though, is Vince, the story of a household-name television presenter whose career is upended when he finds himself “at the centre of an unfortunate incident”. It’s written by and stars Jono Pryor. It sounds like a show where the usual “any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead” will be in a bigger point size than usual in the credits.
Elsewhere, Three’s new local offerings include Happiness, a musical set in Taranaki, which the publicity says is “New Zealand’s answer to Glee” (hopefully without the cast fatality rate).
And there is n00b, set among a bunch of teenagers in Gore in 2005 “who use the newly invented internet to escape their depressing everyday realities”. Surely, that’s what country music was for? Gore’s famous for it and, yes, the internet is older than that. The show, says Three, is “New Zealand’s answer to Sex Education”. Sex and Gore? Well, it worked for Game of Thrones.
Three’s overseas drama acquisitions for 2024 suggest a couple of things: it’s vying increasingly with TVNZ and Sky for prestige BBC shows, and that it’s as much aiming them as bingeable content for its streaming platform ThreeNow, while leaving broadcast primetime a reality-heavy zone.
Case in point, ThreeNow is streaming the first of three new BBC Famous Five telemovies from December 15 at the same time as the UK. In the New Year, via the Beeb, it has real-time train thriller Nightsleeper – described as a “global hit” in the publicity, despite having not left the station yet anywhere – as well as an adaptation of the best-seller A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder.
So, it would appear Three, for all its financial woes, might be taking a turn for the classy.
Never fear. The channel is also bringing back Married at First Sight NZ.
See what TVNZ has in store for 2024 here.