As the ABC mulls the falling ratings for its flagship 730 current affairs show, it might want to consider whether the problem isn’t so much the presenter or the physical set or the stories – but the conventional television narratives that have become so hackneyed that no-one can be bothered paying attention anymore.
A typical 730 pre-recorded package includes obligatory slow-mos (to differentiate straight news from current affairs), self-consciously portentous music (Ride of the Valkyries for smart-arse reporters smelling the Canberra napalm), ritual set-up shots (man works into a room, flicks through a report, picks up phone), recycled B-roll (story about trade – container ships; story about financial markets – men stare at Bloomberg terminals; story about consumption – waist-high shots of people in the mall carrying bags).
A typical 730 political interview involves Chris Ullman playing cat-and-mouse with an over-media-coached politician, trained to avoid saying anything mildly surprising or interesting – as long as he/she doesn’t make the dreaded “gaffe”. It’s like Kabuki theatre, it is so formulaic.
The wonder is this creative bankruptcy continues at a time when visual/digital journalists have never had such exciting new tools at their disposal. On that score, the ABC’s brilliant young team at Hungry Beast show how to tell stories visually without resorting to television cliche.
Against that vivid comparison, the cul-de-sac of traditional TV news and current affairs narratives look very tired indeed – a moving wallpaper of heavily ritualized forms, cut and pasted together by droning reporters seeking to appear arch and slightly detached for an audience that watches more out of habit than desire.
Guardian media critic Charlie Booker shows how the sausages are made here: