Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler


If it's Sunday...

The launch of TVNZ 7 – our public broadcaster's move into a dedicated factual channel – heralds Russell's true breakthrough into television, but its Wellington briefing included something rather different to whet my appetite for free-to-air digital television.

The briefest of glimpses in the opening montage (viewable under related video here).

I still probably won't get it – shelling out hundreds of dollars for a satellite installation in a flat I might not be in six months from now seems a little extravagant, but now I'll feel like I'm missing out. On the Olympics in high definition too, so I'm told.

[EDIT: Russell informs me that in about a month, I'll be able to get a freeview set-top box that will work through a standard UHF aerial (it's UHF you'll need to get HD broadcasts, incidentally). Now if only I wasn't using bunny aerials...]

Tim is disappointed. I am not. I am a television news junkie, and rolling news channels just do not cut it. A new channel bringing the best of the world to New Zealand is exactly what I wanted.

When TV One and TV3 last swapped American newsfeeds, and TVNZ picked up its exclusive deal with Disney (which owns ABC), TV3 didn't just lose the chance to bid for Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy, we lost World News Tonight with Peter Jennings from free-to-air television. It might have aired post midnight, but for a long time it was the news programme I least liked to miss. But TVNZ got the rights to World News Tonight and then sat on them, preferring to fill all its overnight slots with BBC World.

It's finally back. Peter Jennings may no longer be with us, but World News with Charles Gibson will air nightly at 5:10 and 11:35. In a country where every fatal car accident gets a mention on the six o'clock news, it's fantastic that New Zealanders will again see network news as it is supposed to be done. And in 25 minutes.

Because – as I said – I am a broadcast news junkie (and a network news junkie at that). I've taken to podcasting NBC Nightly News with Bryan Williams most nights ( occasionally watched back-to-back with CBS Evening News with Katie Couric) and can't get enough of it. The startling absence of things at which I can exclaim that's not news, at most one human interest story – and it's actually interesting; and no sport or weather, unless it's also newsworthy (a blizzard, the Superbowl, a world cup final), and gravitas ... why can't we do gravitas in New Zealand?

World News didn't fare its own 1-second spot in the highlight reel, rather it was a brief clip of ABC's Sunday-morning interview show that had my hopes up.

The Sunday-morning interview show has a heritage TVNZ has already sought to tap into. Simon Dallow's time at the helm of Agenda showed New Zealand could do it well. It is now something TV One is seeking to recapture tapping Guyon Espiner to front the interviews.

Unfortunately, the move to make Agenda an actual Sunday-morning interview show came with the introduction of an arts segment, two news bulletins and a weather forecast – effectively destroying the show as suitable for live or as-live viewing. I'm sure the agenda for this year's effort is well-advanced, but a move to ditch the extraneous elements, and to hand the show completely over to the political editor would be welcomed. Not only would fronting Agenda with Espiner show TVNZ is taking it seriously, and show TVNZ is taking us seriously, but it would show TVNZ has learnt the lessons of history.

Sunday-morning interview shows are an institution – the logical consequence of the public service requirement of all free-to-air networks in the United States, who are legally required to run news and current affairs. NBC's Meet the Press is the world's longest-running television show. It's been going so long that it started on radio. And its host Tim Russert has been doing it since 1991. So has CBS's Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer. Having a news organisation's premiere political show run by that organisation's premiere political reporter just makes sense.

The remarkable continuity of service is something New Zealand media would do well to note: Schieffer, 71, has been CBS' chief political reporter for more than 25 years. Peter Jennings anchored his last broadcast at 66 not long before his death. American television news is far from perfect, but the major problems with its quality that you'd readily identify with it are problems with cable news – like CNN or Fox – not the nightly network broadcasts. For all its faults, and all of the Internet's advantages, when done right, the nightly news can bring a focus to the news other media have so far never achieved.

I will remain reliant upon iTunes for my weekly fix of Meet the Press, but should I ever decide to shell out for Freeview (or someone graciously offers it to me free) ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulus will greet me. Stephanopoulus is a former aid to Bill Clinton (he was the inspiration for Sam Seaborn), and a relative newcomer to journalism, but This Week has a pedigree: on-air for more than 25 years. For those after a weekly interview and panel show in the lead-up to the November election, it will be hard to go past.

That there are enough sufficiently interesting guests to fill five such shows each Sunday (the Full Ginsberg – appearing on each show on a single Sunday has only happened four times) is due in part to the US political system. With its weak party structure you can actually have members of the same party engage in a public debate, and with it's separate executive and legislature you can have interesting discussions with either. With our four million souls, we don't seem to be able to sustain an interesting year-round political discourse, and a lot more of it occurs behind a closed caucus- or cabinet-room door.

But perhaps a little honest and civil disagreement from within the Earth's “remaining superpower” will spur the programmers at TVNZ 7 to broaden their horizons in their second round of acquisitions ... or Wallace (or Russell) to reach for the skies on his limited budget. Or me to sign up.

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