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Tube Talk: Over The Hill

TUBE TALK With John T. Forde

Over The Hill

There’s nothing sadder than when a national news network starts believing its own PR. TVNZ’s much-hyped news revamp seems, sadly enough, to have equated to nothing more than new advertising.

Despite the racy techno on the soundtrack, the series of banal promo ads set to Coldplay where Judy Bailey drivels on about “a nation of individuals” united by the “One News Centre” and huge scary Mao-like billboards with Mike Hosking’s mournful face cluttering up highway space everywhere, the mediocre quality of its news reporting – y’know, the stuff we actually watch the news for – hasn’t changed.

Even the new prize pony, Face to Face with Kim Hill, hasn’t yet lived up to expectations. One of our most highly respected radio journalists, Hill has frequently expressed her dislike of TV’s ratings-and-ads driven format, and her chequered TV history (including a spot on Fair Go in the early Paleolithic period) reflects her uneasy relationship with the medium.

But after hosting a successful series of pre-election interviews on TV1 last year, Hill was wooed back for her own interview series (Thursdays, 9.50pm, TV1). I would’ve loved to have seen TVNZ put their money where their mouth was and give Hill a timeslot where she’d get a serious audience. Stuck in the problematic late night graveyard slot, though, it’s an uphill battle to make the show a success.

Hill certainly has energy to burn – flying into her first night’s interview of Richard V. Allen, a crusty old Reaganite politician, with the ferocity of a caffeinated piranha. Well, maybe a little bit too much energy. Adopting a take-no-prisoners stance from the first, Hill seldom gave Allen time to finish his answers, frequently shouting him down with a barrage of cross-examination.

Admittedly, he was a flag-waving patriot with a firmly pro-war agenda and an annoyingly patronising Daddy-Knows-Best manner. After five minutes of his reminiscences about the good old days of Reagan, I wanted to beat him over the head with a copy of the Fifth Amendment.

But for Hill, the pressure of having to squeeze an interview into ad-bound 7 minute time slots took its toll. Her interview, though certainly well-researched and quick witted, lacked her trademark control and cool unsentimentality.

Things weren’t helped by some ridiculous NYPD Blue camera work with close-ups of Hill wielding her pen or pointing an accusatory finger. It’s a stupid attempt to celebritise Hill that flies completely in in the face of the show’s claims to be serious journalism.

Hopefully, Hill will settle into the driver’s seat, lose the high school debater’s aggression and find a way to shoehorn her considerable skills into a slippery medium. Whether TVNZ will be able to attract an audience to ensure her an audience is anyone’s guess.

On the other end of the evolutionary scale, TV3’s 20/20 (Sundays, 7.30pm) hit a trashy high this week with Barbara Walters’ unintentionally hilarious interview with diva-in-distress Whitney Houston. Under the comforting glow of soft-focus lighting, Barbara asked Whitney how she’d descended from pop star to dope fiend. “Crack is cheap!” Whitney snarled.

Crack is cheap, and Barbara is cheaper – proving that even an off-colour Kimmy is head and shoulders above the rest of the competition.


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