There was a moment at the end of Tuesday night’s 7PM Project when Shaun Micallef raced through the set to tell Charlie Pickering to hurry up and get to Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation. I tried to yell out “Wait! Stay!” to Micallef but in a flash he was gone….
It was a fleeting reminder, in television fantasies, of what might have been. How ironic that Micallef had also previously presented news but not as we know it, on SBS’ wry NEWStopia.
It’s now been a week with TEN’s newest baby and there has been much debate about how it has performed. On this site alone it has generated more comment than any single topic (ratings excluded). That shows awareness and engagement with the product. It would be far worse if nobody had an opinion. Some critics scored its first night a Pass, just. In fairness to the show, I’ve held off comment until it had a week in the bag.
On the positives, TEN was right to try something new. Hit reality shows notwithstanding, the timeslot has been a dog for too long. It was even right to try a genre such as this. The news premise is worthwhile (more on the execution shortly). The set looks bright and lively, the live element adds a sense of danger and, individually at least, the cast are appealing.
On the negatives, it’s format, format, format. This show doesn’t know what it is yet. It’s attempted to be bold by saying it will present news irreverently. But it isn’t working well enough yet as either a news and information show, or as light entertainment. Aiming for a middle ground, so far it ends up missing both.
Central to this is a desire to cram so much information into its 30 minutes, causing news item to arrive as a mere headline accompanied by a punchline. Suggestions that the show will go behind the news or provide some analysis, even comedic analysis, are yet to be realised. On Friday a cross to the premiere of Balibo lasted 50 seconds. An interview with Tony Moclair lasted 90 seconds. Putting less on the running sheet would allow more food for thought, unless this is a smokescreen to disguise the possibility the team has little depth to offer (none of which would be their fault, they are hardly experts on these subjects).
The hierarchy of news items is also questionable. On Thursday the Miss Australia winner ranked higher than the charging of a mother over the murder of her disabled son. On Friday the third news story of the day was a possible 5c rise in stamps. And for a team that promises to talk about the serious news it already shows a habit of avoiding many sensitive issues. One internet bullying subject was tackled, with Ruby Rose talking about her high school experiences and advice from Dave Hughes to “Just don’t do it.” Hiring a News Editor in journalism could address some of these points.
The live element has kept the team on their toes. It’s been a week distinguished by shaky cameras, presenters not knowing which camera to address, talking over one another, pregnant pauses, vision switching issues and three network cross promotions. Nine’s THIS afternoon showed just how difficult it is to talk about news events and so far The 7PM Project demonstrates it is yet to show the way forward.
The casting of the five personalities is yet to prove diverse enough to warrant a nightly conversation with the audience. Unlike the robust debates on Q & A, there is little black and white here. Dave Hughes is a funny guy, Charlie Pickering is a likable guy, but so far there isn’t enough to justify why their opinions, or those of the other cast, warrant a nightly visit.
Bickmore’s sing-song voice-overs accompanying video packages are too light and too identified with Rove, undermining her television shift as a serious newsreader. There is a reason female newsreaders have an Alto vocal range -to add gravitas.
It is hard not to compare the show with TEN’s former Panel, which similarly borrowed many elements from radio. That show benefitted not just from a later, weekly and longer slot but also a thoughtful discussion that took time to smell the roses. 7PM could do a lot worse than read all the news headlines at the top of the show then work out which ones it was going to dissect for the remainder of its airtime with some insight. Radio does it all the time.
That said, TEN should stick with the show, even with some lowly figures. It’s still a good idea if it is allowed some fine-tuning and addresses its news make-up with more conviction.
The 7PM Project airs weeknights on TEN.