Has Two of Us sold its soul? For many Melburnians and Sydneysiders, flicking through Good Weekend — The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald magazine insert — is a sacred Saturday ritual. Perhaps the most popular page is Two of Us, in which two people, speaking in the first person, discuss their relationship with each other. Originally inspired by a similar feature in the UK Sunday Times, the 16-year-old column was even turned it into a 13-part SBS TV series a few years back.
As a rule, the column features a pair of ordinary Aussies sharing a moving personal story (from nonagenarian Holocaust survivors to lovers who bonded over Lego). Sometimes it stars a public figure — comedian Anthony Ackroyd or V8 Supercar driver Craig Lowndes — with an interesting tale to tell. But over the past four weeks, something unprecedented has happened: the Two of Us page has been used for shameless spruiking by people with a product to push.
First it was SBS Eurovision hosts Julia Zemiro and Sam Pang. Here’s the footnote to the piece:
Next up was horse-trainer Zelie Bullen, who happens to have a book out, and her husband.
Most recently, Channel Ten’s globe-trotting heart throb Hamish MacDonald featured with his cameraman mate.
Here’s the sign-off:
With a loyal, 1.4 million-strong readership, it’s no wonder savvy PR operators are trying to sneak their stars into the column. It’s certainly cheaper than buying ad space — or sponsoring a series on how to be a better man. Good Weekend boss Ben Naparstek didn’t respond to Crikey’s request for comment this morning. We’ll keep an eye on whether this is an extended aberration or if the spruiking, long resisted by past GW staffers, is here to stay. — Matthew Knott
News makes a TV comeback. Suddenly, TV news and current affairs is booming — back to being a growth industry for the free-to-air networks. There are three new shows appearing in a month and two more on the way (well, at least one is a replacement). The resurgence in news and current affairs programs in the thinking of TV programmers and CEOs tells us that recycling is back in full swing (no format or idea is ever forgotten).
Last night brought the debut of The Observer Effect on SBS ONE, tonight it’s the turn of the struggling Ten Network to reveal Hamish Macdonald’s The Truth Is?. Yesterday we saw yet another (weak) episode of The Financial Review on Sunday on the Nine Network (which started just over month ago), and now the Seven Network says it will launch a new program called The Daily Edition shortly, hosted by former Today Tonight reporter Sally Obermeder.
The Observer Effect (produced for SBS by Shine Australia, the Murdoch family company) won’t trouble the ratings meters. It’s a worthy effort (and full of former staffers from Nine, from host Ellen Fanning to producers, especially the Sunday program) and attempt to go beyond the simplistic efforts of Sunday Night and 60 Minutes, which now resemble adult versions of Today Tonight and A Current Affair. Tonight’s debut of Macdonald’s new program is in the same vein. Both are what you call star-driven programs — the biggest cost for both would be the salaries of Fanning and Macdonald.
Seven’s new program is lower down the scale — more quick bite than long meal. But there’s also specific reason for Seven’s new program. It already has an hour-long 4.30pm bulletin Monday to Friday, and Seven is considering whether to end Today Tonight and go with the huge gamble of an hour-long news program with some longer format stories in the second half of the program, as the network did in January before deciding to return Today Tonight to the schedule in 2013. Today Tonight is sagging this year (as is Seven News) and part of the problem is the week ratings for Deal or No Deal at 5.30pm, which is now being thrashed most nights by Hot Seat (with Eddie McGuire). Seven can replace the 4.30 bulletin with The Daily Edition, or it can keep it, run the new program at 5.30pm, make sure there’s a bit of Today Tonight-style material for the 6-7 pm news. That will be a big call. — Glenn Dyer
Guardian cooking up a firestorm. The challenges faced by newspapers in integrating with the online world have been grinding on for some time. Among the myriad issues they face is the one about how solid newsy features are packaged and presented in a slick and savvy way. The old days of wordy expositions with an occasional pic are disappearing as online readers search for jazzy visuals, less text-heavy, scroll-obliging stories and degrees of interaction. The Guardian, as part of its Australia launch, offered a new template which may have a significant influence on how newspapers face up to this new news landscape, using the techniques of documentary film-making and interactive media tools.
It effort, Firestorm, a multimedia documentary presentation of the devastating bush-fires in Tasmania earlier this year, seeks to take the newspaper feature to a place where the print-on-the-page presentation is not the primary version of the piece. The piece uses video with a scroll-down side text, short audio grabs and some compelling stills to tell the story of one family in particular as they faced the state’s bushfire emergency in January. Running time is flexible but took me around 25 minutes. We spoke to one of the producers, Francesca Panetta via Skype from London, who told us The Guardian has been one of the first movers in merging the worlds of newsprint and multimedia. — James Rose (read the full story at Truth To Tell)
Guide kills off another show. For the third time this year The Sydney Morning Herald‘s TV liftout The Guide has put on its cover a program that has already aired and bombed. This time its promoting the weak US sitcom/spy drama The Americans, which aired on the Ten Network last Wednesday and flopped.
It averaged 480,000 metro and 665,000 national viewers and was the 82nd and 86th most watched programs in metro and national markets. It is now on Ten tonight at 9.30pm. Brave move. The most egregious earlier example of The Guide being behind the game was Parade’s End on Nine, which had started, flopped and been moved to the GEM digital channel before The Guide appeared with its front-page promotion. — Glenn Dyer
Video of the day. Mr Yunupingu — the indigenous performer and leader — has died. Bob Gosford at Crikey blog The Northern Myth pays tribute; in this video from last year Mr Yunupingu talks about being inducted to the ARIA Hall of Fame and renews his commitment for recognition and reconciliation … please note that this video contains images of a deceased person.
CORRECTION: The original version of this article said that the first of the four relevant Two of Us articles to be published was on Rachel Leahcar and Delta Goodrem. It was, in fact, Julia Zemiro and Sam Pang. The article has been amended.