Friday, 8 February 2013

"Seven Sharp" Needs A Point (Of View)

Perfecting The Sales Pitch: Seven Sharp's young target audience was raised in a culture completely saturated in commercial values. The measure of the show's success will be in how successfully it subverts those values; how viciously its presenters bite the hands that feed them. Seven Sharp's producers should look for inspiration not to the late, NZ Establishment-loving, Paul Holmes, but to the bitingly satirical US broadcaster, Jon Stewart.
 
BY THE TIME you read this Seven Sharp will be four shows old. Some of the nervousness evident in the first outing of TVNZ’s new prime-time product will be gone – replaced, one hopes, by the easy rhythms and rapport so essential to this kind of television. On the basis of that first outing, however, Seven Sharp does have a future. Traditionalists may balk at the judgement, but to my eyes, at least, the show has positioned itself squarely in the zeitgeist’s postal-code.
 
Seven Sharp’s critics will object that the show lacks seriousness: that the multiple economic and social challenges currently assailing New Zealand deserve something more from prime-time free-to-air television than the hip flippancy of Ali Mau, Greg Boyed and Jesse Mulligan.
 
Those critics will certainly get no argument from me concerning the seriousness of the problems facing New Zealand. Where we may part company, however, is over the tone in which a commercially-driven television network might best address its target audience.
 
Just consider the 18-34 year-olds at whom Seven Sharp is directed. At the top of the band we’re looking at people born in 1979;  at the bottom, at kids born in 1995. All of these young New Zealanders grew up during or after the Rogernomics “revolution”. None of them have any personal memories of what “public service television” looks like. Most of them grew up with a TV remote in one hand and a computer mouse in the other. The doctrine enunciated by Lord Reith, the first Director-General of the BBC, that broadcasting should “elevate, educate and entertain” the ignorant masses (and in that order) would be laughed out of court by Generations X and Y.
 
Many older New Zealanders like to dismiss these generations as narcissistic know-nothings. But Generations X and Y aren’t so much selfish as sceptical. The grand transformational “narratives” of the Twentieth Century were all busted flushes by the time they were old enough to even notice capitalised nouns like Socialism and Fascism. And their relationship to the last grand narrative left standing – Capitalism – is analogous to the relationship of a fish to the sea. They live in it, they live with it, and they can’t live without it.
 
These are the generations who regard just about every attempt at communication – including their own – as a sales-pitch. Only a sap takes words and images at face value. Maturity is defined in terms of how completely one is able to see through and decode the World’s deceptions: by how finely-tuned one’s ears have become to its “spin”.
 
Jon Stewart: Exposing the absurd realities behind the Establishment's ever more elaborate lies.
 
The name we give to those who guide us through the world’s deceptions, exposing as they go the absurd reality behind the lies - and who then reward our attention with the gift of laughter - is “comedian”. It’s why, to so many members of Generations X and Y the journalists sound like clowns, and the clowns sound like journalists. President Barack Obama owes more to comedian Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show than he does to the New York Times or Washington Post. It’s why YouTube has more to say to Generations X and Y than TVNZ or TV3.
 
Seven Sharp’s producers, Raewyn Rasch and Tim Wilson get this – sort of. It’s why they’ve set the ambient mood of the show to “Sceptically Humorous”. Mr Mulligan understands – sort of. And Ms Mau and Mr Boyed will pick it up soon enough. But they’ll only “nail” that flibbertigibbet zeitgeist when they summon up the courage to ride their comedic horses off the reservation.
 
On Monday-night’s show it was Heather du Plessis-Allan who came closest to escaping TVNZ’s leaden conservatism. Revealing a PM who eats Wattie’s Baked Beans from the can at the end of a long day. Somehow – please don’t ask me how – that mattered.
 
But why-oh-why did Jesse Mulligan think it was funny to follow the lead of TV3’s Patrick Gower and put horns on David Cunliffe? Since when do we laugh at comedians who kick the victims of political duplicity? And why didn’t Seven Sharp ask their army veteran what lay behind his PTSD-induced nightmares? What had he and the NZ Army done to those Afghan civilians?
 
The young people whose eyes Seven Sharp is so determined to capture will not stay focused on humour that butters-up the Establishment, or watch pre-recorded items that gloss over its crimes.
 
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 8 February 2013.

15 comments:

Shazza said...

You hit the nail on the head describing the attractiveness of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to my (20s/30s) generation, as well as describing how Seven Sharp are missing the mark.

We want to deal with the nitty gritty, we want to see something resembling "real" journalism. We want to laugh at the hypocrisy because the reality is so pathetic the only other option is to get mad (or sad). We don't want to resort to cheap shots and baseless slander.

Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert absolutely nail the fine line between journalism and comedy. But I watched ten minutes of Seven Sharp and it has a long way to go. I cringed the whole ten minutes. I'll check back in six months or so.

We don't call Jon Stewart a comedian. We call him brilliant.

Anonymous said...

No one, least of all TVNZ's unfortunate strategists, has understood quite why this show is such an abject failure.

They have simply focus-grouped and committed identity theft on their target audience and packaged it up to present back at them, whereas the seemingly irreverent socially-apathetic hipster attitude of the youth is a response to culturally-enforced requirement of political disaffection and the deep confusion engendered of progressive contemporary identity.

Doesn't mean the youth don't believe in ideals, it's just they don't want to be seen as archaic moderns. They want cultural authorities to present subversive ideals out of the stealth of satire.

The horror of the show is for the target demographic be presented with the image of its self with all the concealed hope and radicalism having been distilled out of it. They see only the nihilistic, the fatalistic, and the mindlessly inane; the show is a crafted insult.

Anonymous said...

I teach at a university. They are narcissistic know-nothings. Most can't really read or write properly and our McDegree granting university won't let us fail them because of money. Basically, they're a write off. The fact that they see themselves as media savvy is the biggest joke of all.

danial young said...

Like Kiwi humour Anonymous.

Jigsaw said...

It's time to sell TVNZ..past time.

Grant Hay said...

@Anonymous 5.43. Are you in the wrong line of business? Sounds as though it's eating you up.

Anonymous said...

What Anon at 5.43 meant to say:

I teach at a university – I lecture off age-browned handwritten notes and the occasional OHP sheet. With the exception of a one-year sabbatical, I have held the same position for twenty years.

A precocious child, I learnt the subtleties of English prose reading Biggles.

I publish three little-read articles in obscure economics journals every year to remain “research active.” They are largely unacknowledged thefts from footnotes in von Mises and Hayek, albeit bloated to article size with the current jargon.

I maintain, indeed cultivate, a petty sense of superiority by year-on-year lazily regurgitating the commonplace concepts in my field to people who have never encountered these concepts before.

Fern said...

@Anonymous at 11.45pm: Sounds very much like the professor in the excellent 2007 film The Visitor.

Anonymous said...

WE TOO are disappointed - we waited & waited to be impressed - to be informed - to be oh so that is what happened -

we looked at her little bit of cleavage -

we looked at his false hair-do & greg was so uncomfortable with this fast false ness .... grimacing

... waiting ... waiting ...
diana & 3 friends

Anonymous said...

HC -

"The doctrine enunciated by Lord Reith, the first Director-General of the BBC, that broadcasting should “elevate, educate and entertain” the ignorant masses (and in that order) would be laughed out of court by Generations X and Y."

In your blog you refer to gen X and Y not being familiar with traditional public broadcasting and rather with mobile phones, computers and You Tube.

Yes, you are right with that, but I think gen X and Y are fooling themselves in regards to their smartness, modern autonomy, independence and freedom to view, analyse and judge competently.

Media and information was never so "influential", manipulated AND biased as these days, and 'Facebook' and others gather heaps of "information", to sell for "commercial" use, most do not even know about.

With the end of "collective" communication and broadcasting, and the responsibilities and structures that came with that, we have now billions of individualistic, cyber geeks and nerds, who are actually believing in "faked" freedom, independence and "democratic" power.

Manipulation and misinformation is rife, and Seven Sharp is exposing moderators not of age X and Y, who are supposed to cater to them, but who do not even understand that generation.

So it is a fail in many respects. RIP 7 Sharp

Anonymous said...

Sorry Chris but you give my generation far too much credit.

Paulus said...

From the poll readings it appears that many of the people this programme was designed for are still with fantasy land of Shortland Street.

Victor said...

Perhaps it's a case of Mau means Less.

Anonymous said...

There's nothing wrong with focussing on a young audience.

TVNZ had a choice on choosing to try to attract the many smart young people who keep themselves informed, have values and principles and think deeply about current issues or the dumb young people think they are too clever to commit to participating in the society we all belong to.

Guess which one they chose?

Gaetano said...

In my job writing advertorial I interviewed the owners of a shop that sells streetwear etc. They described themselves as "counter culture" which made me think afterwards why this didn't fit with my notion of "counter culture", being of an age where I belonged to one. I realised the element that was missing in associating the shop (and many like it) with the use of this term was that they didn't have a political position. You can't be counter culture or "alternative" without taking a political position vis a vis the predominant culture. Otherwise all you really have is counter culture "style" such as you might find in Cuba Street Wellington or among Goths in Palmerston North. It's a bit like journalism - you do have to take a position to engage with a story. Otherwise its just style. A viewpoint from your car as you drive past an event, that tells you nothing about why it is occuring. Not objective or impartial but disinterested. Producing neither great entertainment nor great news. Anyone looking for either will probably find more satisfaction elsewhere. (but a stimulating commentary nonetheless)