It’s not often that I decide what my blog is going to be about early in the week – but this week I was ultra organised. Galvanised even. And shock, horror – it wasn’t going to be about how terrible the new Paul Henry Show is because, honestly, my life is too short to devote any time to watching or talking about the Penfold lookalike little douche. Instead, I was going to talk about the importance of TV covering real news and real issues – the things that should matter to everyone, but seem only very few care about. The sort of news that John Oliver – on HBO’s Last Week Tonight – delivered in brilliant fashion last week when interviewing Edward Snowden and lecturing (in an amusing, engaging way) the American public on why they should care about mass surveillance.
But then Thursday came, with the announcement that Campbell Live – the last bastion, I would argue, of ‘real nightly news’ left in New Zealand – is the latest show on TV3’s chopping block. As that news broke I was equal parts irate, disappointed, and guilty. Why guilty? Because, despite being slap bang in Campbell’s demographic (as a middle aged (ouch) leftward leaning TV watcher), I don’t regularly watch the show. But I am firmly on Team Save Campbell Live. Why? Because it does something no other show does these days – it talks about real issues that matter while also dealing with small – but important – stories relevant to everyday New Zealanders. But I don’t watch it regularly, so why do I have the right to lecture others that they should or tell the network who runs it that they shouldn’t axe it? Arguably I have no right to lecture others, but I think I do have the right to tell TV3 they need to make a socially responsible – rather than ratings driven – decision and keep Campbell Live.
I watch Campbell occasionally, when he is covering things I am really passionate about. His series of ‘at home with the leaders’ interviews during the election campaign was must watch TV for me. It gave an insight into the leaders of all the parties that you didn’t get anywhere else. And – despite Campbell clearly being a poster child for the liberal left – he did it in a really non-partisan way. He also gave the minority leaders airtime when they didn’t get it anywhere else. As a result, I felt more informed going into the election which – ultimately – is what shows like Campbell Live are there to do – create a more informed electorate (to steal a line from Sorkin show The Newsroom). And that’s why we need him – and his show – to stay. To ask sludgey ministers like Simon Bridges the hard hitting questions. To run campaigns like his food in schools campaign which draws attention to massive issues – such as inequality – which face our nation. And to bring a more liberal perspective to what, without him, will be a very right wing heavy TV news spectrum. With a right wing government in charge, we need a left wing journo to bring them to heel. And vice versa if, and when, the government changes.
But, as much as they talk about the Campbell Live slashing not yet being a done deal, it very much sounds like it is. Rumours (and they really are rumours – thanks New Zealand Herald for creating some more sensationalism where it really wasn’t needed) that Jono and Ben will replace it are likely untrue, but whatever does take over will be light and fluffy – because light and fluffy is what rates, as Seven Sharp has proven. TV3 announced today that their Sunday night news bulletin will be reduced to half an hour, and Third Degree will be slotted into that second half hour. So, instead of two and a half hours of current affairs a week (plus an additional hour if Third Degree had gone back to its original slot), we are going to get half an hour? Um, no TV3, that is not acceptable.
But, the ratings versus social responsibility to inform debate brings me back to what I was originally going to blog about – John Oliver and Edward Snowden. For those who don’t know, Oliver is a super smart English funnyman who used to feature on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show before being given his own show on HBO. On that show he does something magical – he takes really serious, meaty issues – like mass surveillance – and makes them digestible to the American TV watching public (and the world, thanks to YouTube). He doesn’t do it by boiling them down into something simple, he does it by being funny – by interspersing his warnings of ‘this is a massively serious issue that you should really care about’ with jokes about things like whether goldfish suffer from depression (probably, but only momentarily). And the format works. I ended up watching this thirty minute clip (http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=john%20oliver%20edward%20snowden%20last%20week%20tonight&qs=n&form=QBVR&pq=john%20oliver%20edward%20snowden%20last%20week%20tonight&sc=0-0&sp=-1&sk=#view=detail&mid=CBDBBAF82036589FD8E7CBDBBAF82036589FD8E7 ) late on Tuesday night despite being knackered because it was compelling TV about an issue I care about. I have debated with a few people recently the issue of mass surveillance – and the degree of apathy I have encountered astounds me. There seems to be a general trust in government security agencies and all the people who could and will access information about us that I just don’t have. I don’t take the laissez faire ‘I’m not a terrorist so why should I be worried?’ attitude. And neither does Oliver. Or Snowden. And neither should you. It’s a compelling – and funny – watch, so I would urge you to give up half an hour of your day and watch it.
Then, once you have done that, think about whether this is what we need – if we are in fact getting rid of Campbell Live (please, TV3, no!!!). But I can’t help but think something similar to the Daily Show or Last Week Tonight format – with someone funny talking about news in an informative but amusing way – could be the compromise position. Something that rates while still telling us stuff we need to know. God knows, it would be better than Dancing with the Bachelor on the Block – which will no doubt, given the Mediaworks CEO’s penchant for reality TV, be the next big thing on the TV3 slate. If so, save us, save our souls. Rant over.