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Mixing news and comedy

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The 7pm Project, Dave Hughes, Charlie PickeringThe audience cheers as if in adulation of a pop star — it's not the reaction you'd expect for a television segment on finance. But as the title card fades, the reaction suddenly makes more sense: the man on screen is stylish, boyish and blonde; the pitch of the hollering suggests he has more than a few female admirers in the audience.

This is Scott Pape, host of The 7pm Project's finance segment 'The Money Shot'. Pape probably knows his stuff, but during the segment he yarns with grinning affability about prenuptial agreements, with reference to the week's celebrity voyeur-fest, 'Binglegate'. The line between finance and tabloid is efficiently blurred.

Sadly this is characteristic of the program. The 7pm Project purports to combine news and commentary with comedy, but it definitely favours style over substance. Wedged between Neighbours and The Biggest Loser on Channel Ten's evening programming schedule, it is presumably not designed to over-stimulate the brain cells.

Consider the inclusion of acerbic but predictable comic Dave Hughes in the core line-up. It's likely his presence is justified more by ratings potential than by any incisive insights he might offer to the news coverage. That said, his co-hosts, anchor Charlie Pickering and news presenter Carrie Bickmore, present as intelligent and funny.

7pm's rundown of news is shallow, although guests such as George Negus, who fronts Dateline on SBS, arguably Australian television's most incisive current affairs program, lend a keener edge to the analysis. It is not as sharp, for example, as Good News Week, which has mastered the mixture of news and comedy to which 7pm aspires. GNW excels because the comedy is pinned to the news it covers. 7pm is yet to attain this balance.

Still, it does at times find a distinctive entry point to an issue. This week the hosts chatted to comedian Dave Callan about ASIO's much publicised recruitment drive. Callan, as it happens, is a former ASIO agent. So he was able to give an insider's insight, peppered with gags. That seems to be a suitable approach for a show like this.

The goodwill inherent to The 7pm Project's presentation at least makes it a more positive alternative to the lecherous, leechlike approach taken by other commercial current affairs programs. But, inoffensive and mentally undemanding, it's fair to say that it's more interested in ratings than in getting to the bottom of an issue.

By way of comparison, it is worth checking out the ABC's Hungry Beast. Like 7pm, it targets 20- and 30-somethings with a format that exploits the news for entertainment purposes. But the substance and the tone of its presentation is decidedly smarter.

In part an inheritor of the satirical torch passed by The Chaser's War on Everything, it contains sketch comedy alongside documentary-style current affairs segments and animations that take an alternative, edgy approach to recent events.

The latest episode lampooned public apologies (by Kevin Rudd, Tiger Woods and even The Chaser) as insincere 'bullshit', and parodied the paranoid media response to the tacky internet phenomenon of Chatroulette. It also offered more sombre reflections on the implications of voluntary DNA testing and Australia's frightening supermarket duopoly.

Produced by Andrew Denton's production company Zapruder's Other Films, and with a more thoughtful and leisurely pace than The 7pm Project, it does not underestimate the intelligence of the viewer.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. His articles and reviews have been published by Melbourne's The Age, Inside Film, the Brisbane Courier-Mail and The Big Issue. He was Chair of the Interfaith Jury at the 2009 St George Brisbane International Film Festival.

Topic tags: 7pm project, dave hughes, charlie pickering, george negus, hamish and andy, good news week, hungry beast



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Existing comments

Carrie hardly comes across as intelligent. Last night she screeched 'at least Thai names mean something! What does Dave mean?'. Most people know English names do have a meaning. Charlie isn't funny and comes across as smug.

GeGe | 26 March 2010  

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