Monday, March 7, 2011
After a build-up bigger and longer than the advertising campaign for Avatar (where were the 3-D glasses?), ABC Television's revamped current affairs flagship 7.30 Report went to air for the first time on Monday under its "new generation" hosts the televisual Leigh Sales and Chris Uhlmann.
As expected, there was a new set - leaving the flame-haired Leigh up on her feet, weather and finance presenter style, and accompanied by an animated slideshow over her left shoulder. While the graphics were a welcome addition in explaining number heavy stories (why has the ABC never used them before?), the actual package was depressingly formulaic, reflecting a style that hasn't changed in television for 40 years.
That style is lots of pretty pictures (in this case ships at sea), interspersed with set-up shots, brief grabs, a droning voice-of-god voiceover and an occasional piece to camera. The old 7.30 Report's style was to dramatise the news by doing slow-mo shots of politicians getting out of cars to a sinister music track.
Whether the 30-something version of the show does the same remains to be seen, but on the basis of the first episode they are not taking any particular risks either.
The "big story" was an investigation into the Royal Australian Navy's "rust bucket armada", another ritual expose of mismanagement and over-spending in the Defence Department. The response of this blogger was: "And this is news?" When hasn't the Defence Department been accountable and when hasn't it sought to white-ant attempts to fix it? The better story might have been to take a step back and iterate how the department has resisted reform for decades.
Chris Uhlmann, perhaps suffering from nerves and the inevitable comparisons with Kerry O'Brien, overdid it with his interview with the minister Stephen Smith, repeatedly interrupting and rushing questions when there was no suggestion at all that Smith had anything to hide.
The other major segment - Ms Sales' interview with Westpac boss Gail Kelly - I thought could have been turned into a better lead. Kelly said she supported a carbon price mechanism and wanted an ETS running ahead of the government's timetable. Given the huge topicality of the carbon tax, I would have used that as the stepping off point for a story about business' undeclared support for action on carbon (for instance, Graham Bradley of the Business Council is a passionate advocate for greening corporate Australia).
But apart from a lack of acuity in news judgement, my major quibble with the program was its worthiness. Good television current affairs should take public issues and look at them in a fresh perspective. That means playing with conventional television narrative techniques, defying audience expectations and subverting journalistic cliche to get at the truth. It often helps to have an attitude - as Jon Stewart does so well on The Daily Show. We last saw this in Australia back on the ABC with This Day Tonight in the late 1960s and early 1970s and by the early days of A Current Affair with Mike Willesse on the Nine Network.
Ultimately, and admittedly based on just one episode, the makeover of 7.30 appears to have gone no deeper than a change of set, the insertion of a couple of younger and better looking presenters and the loss of the word 'report' from the title. To this bloggers' eyes, it's all a bit beige and one is left to conclude that at least stories about dodgy plumbers would be entertaining.
PS: If I were EP of 7.30, I'd poach one of the creative young minds from Hungry Beast. They at least explore new ways of telling stories outside the extremely codified narratives of television journalism.
Posted by Mr D at 9:52 PM