Thursday, May 24, 2012

The news game

Tim the weatherman checks his appearance in the mirror, carefully skews his tie slightly off-centre and tussles his hair once more. Wearing his trademark cheeky grin like a badge of honour, he waits for the right moment before turning to face the camera.

The floor manager makes his standard hand movement (index finger raised in a classic ‘up-yours’ gesture) and Tim turns around with a well-rehearsed air of surprise.

“Hullo Noo Zild, gosh it’s nice to see you. Been a bit of a cold old day up & down the country, but we’ll find out more about that a little later on in the bulletin. I’m off for a cup of Bell Tea and a Gingernut and I’ll see you in about 20 minutes. But right now it’s six o’clock.”

As the credits start to roll, Tim looks over to the news anchors with two fingers up in the air.
“And that, boys and girls, is how you do it. Two points for me & we haven’t even started yet.” With a smirk, he turned on his heel and sauntered off to the green room.

Wearing smiles that were both practised and plastic, the two news anchors held their tongue and waited for the floor manager’s signal (a quick grapevine move ending with jazz hands, degree of difficulty 3.2) that meant it was Time. For. The. News.

Anna Macintosh (‘MacSnot’ to her friends) looked up from her notes and smiled at Camera1. Not too big a smile, for she knew the first story was a bad news item which needed a sympathetic opening. Best not to get the plebs’ hopes up with a too-cheery attitude. “Good evening New Zealand, and here is your news tonight.”

Michael Carpenter (‘Carpy’ to his face & ‘Builder’s crack’ to everyone/everywhere else) looked up into Camera2 with his award-winning Sombre Face™ on. “Yes, good evening. We have breaking news just to hand about a major pileup on State Highway One. There are body parts strewn all over the area in what could be the most awesome… I’m sorry, I mean the most gruesome accident on this stretch of road for quite some time. We cross now to our reporter, Shandy Cadwallader, with a live report from the scene.”

As soon as the network feed was no longer showing her co-anchor’s face, Anna leaned over and whispered, “you know that’s an automatic 10 point deduction right there, Mr Awesome”.

“Shut up, I’m trying to pay attention and you’re not helping”, he hissed back.

Meanwhile, Shandy continued with her PTC (prattle to camera). 

“So as you can see now, it’s, well, it’s a bit dark out here, and so there’s not really a lot to see. Although if it was daylight, you’d be able to tell we’re standing just next to a paddock that’s growing those yummy Talley’s peas. But because it all happened hours ago, there’s not even anything to see anymore, that is, if you could see anything out here in the dark. Anywhoodle, it turns out that all the body parts were old movie props from a Peter Jackson film, probably Meet The Feebles. Pretty sure you can get that out on DVD – Grandma will love it*. So, as I was saying, the truck carrying the fake body parts collided with a truck filled with Craig’s Jam, in a variety of delicious berry flavours, which of course made it all look a lot worse than it was. But we missed those scene updates because we were too busy trying to make our satellite link work on the way down here. Back to you in the studio, Carpy.” 

Just before the camera cuts away from the live scene, Shandy raises three fingers in the air and does a celebratory fist-pump after a ‘cross-done-good’. Three points. Top that in a single PTC, Tim, you little prick, she thought to herself.

Anna shuffled her papers with a small-but-noticable furrowing of the brow (the maximum amount her holistic dermatologist said she could do without bringing on wrinkles) and looked up into Camera1. 

“I’m sorry, we seem to be having some technical difficulties there. But now to distract you, here’s a story about a cute little rabbit with no ears”.

Anna tapped her fingers on the desk and added up the scores on the backup script on her desk. Three to Shandy, two to Tim, and minus ten for Mr Perfect. Michael ‘Builder’s Crack’ Carpenter leaned over to have a look.

“Ohhhh shit, are we playing commercial bingo today? I thought it was the P Party, so I loaded up before the bully.” He sniggered like a breakfast TV host who’s just been poached by an offshore TV channel. “That’s probably why the words on the autospew are dancing around like that. Oh well, cutesy bunny story is almost done, time to fake it ‘til ya make it!”

Anna kicked him, and turned to get ready for the pre-commercial break teaser. Beside her, Mr High-as-a-kite Carpenter was still sniggering, and she couldn’t for the life of her figure out a way of getting any products slipped into the next intro. Shit. Can’t even use the cuppa Bell line, ‘cos Tiny Tim snuck that into his first PTC. Mallowpuffs were right out, ever since the ‘Viaduct Incident’ last October during the RWC. Shit. Shit!

Fixing her smiley face in place for the camera, Anna squinted slightly as a frantic message came over the cans. Something about the rabbit. Huh?

Suddenly, the sniggering emanating from the Builder’s Crack turned into a rather loud snort, which was unconvincingly disguised as a coughing fit.

WTF was with everyone tonight? The lights were burning intensely brightly, the floor manager was giving her the hurry-up-&-say-something signal (silent screaming & actual pulling out of hair, degree of difficulty 4.9). The camera was live and she still had no idea what the producer was trying to say.

By now, MBCC had fallen off his chair completely and there was enough of gap in the gasping laughter for her to finally hear the producer clearly. What she heard made her plastic smile suddenly totally inappropriate and so, so wrong for the mood-cue she was supposed to be delivering.

Her face dropped. “Whaddya mean the fucking rabbit died?”

The scary thing about this ridiculous little story is that - as the links show - it's not really that far from the standard of our evening news and free-to-air programming in general. 

There is an alternative. But the end of TVNZ7 is nigh.
If commercial bingo news concerns you, not to mention all the other 'entertainment' offerings available non-stop on commercial TV, please come along to the Save TVNZ7 public meeting from 7-9pm on Monday 28th, at the CPSA building.

Join us, and make some noise for public service television.

Some background reading for extra credit:
Russell Brown: 'Media Mathematics' from Public Address Hard News
Judy Callingham: 'Adopt it out' from Brian Edwards Media

*please, do not actually show Grandma the movie Meet the Feebles. Unless she's the kind of grandma who tripped her way through the 60s with the flower power generation and hasn't come down yet.

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